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Key questions for 8th Ward candidates

Evanston Now asked the candidates for 8th Ward alderman to respond to questions about several key issues in the city. Here are the responses we got.

Five candidates are running for 8th Ward alderman in the Feb. 23 primary, with the top two finishers to face each other in the April 6 general election.

Evanston Now asked the candidates to respond to questions about several key issues in the city.

Efforts to reach write-in candidate Joshua Hall were unsuccessful. An additional write-in candidate, Christine Leone, told us she’s withdrawn from the race. Here are the responses we got from the other four contenders.

QUESTION: Do you support the 7% reduction in sworn police staff implemented this year by City Council? Do you favor more police staffing reductions in the future, and if so, what would you do with the money should there be any savings?

ANN RAINEY (incumbent): Supports latest reduction, but has doubts about additional cuts. “Short of getting rid of dead wood and eliminating vacant positions, there’s not much more fat in the police department.” Willing to look at police funding again, but says efforts to streamline police budget often end up costing more.

DEVON REID: Supports latest reduction as well as reallocating some police spending to other types of response. “I don’t think we need to send a city worker armed with a gun if someone steals a package of diapers from Jewel.” Amount of any future cuts requires community and council discussion.

MATTHEW MITCHELL: Supports latest reduction. Evanston should become a “national leader in changing the model of policing to deal with root causes of crime.” “Open” to some additional police staffing cuts with money used for different types of public safety programs. Could consider some reallocation in future budgets, such as funding for school resource officers. Money could be used for social services.

SHELLEY ANN CARRILLO: Find savings, but not via layoffs. If savings found, could use money for special response teams such as with social workers or mental health professionals, and/or for reparations, youth programs, affordable housing. “Every phone call does not need a response from an armed police officer.”

QUESTION: What specific steps, if any, can be taken to help Evanston businesses recover from the pandemic? Separate from the pandemic, what steps can be taken to improve the local economy? Do you favor the use of incentives such as tax breaks, subsidies, or zoning changes?

REID: City does not have money now due to pandemic to offer direct COVID relief. Generally not in favor of government subsidies anyway. Zoning changes can be used to aid in development. Favors “shifting the burden” to “larger institutions, corporations, and wealthy individuals.” City should add universal high speed internet to “prepare our community for the economy of tomorrow which is here today.” City can recoup cost from some sort of user fee, which would be cheaper than commercial internet due to lack of profit motive on the part of the city.

MITCHELL: Small, individual zoning changes can help development of specific projects, but not in favor of large scale rezoning. Hesitant to “over-develop downtown.” Community input needed on zoning issues. Post-COVID world could benefit Evanston, as many workers “don’t see going back to downtown Chicago.” Evanston ideally situated to benefit from businesses looking for urban environment with transportation access as an alternative to downtown Chicago. “Evanston has so much going for it.”

CARRILLO: Supports incentives if they provide for entrepreneurship opportunities for local residents. More should be done to help with COVID financial recovery, even if it means going door to door to help raise funds for food pantries. “It’s tough with COVID, but you mask up and do what you can to help.”

RAINEY:
Favors potential use incentives and zoning changes for development. Need to take a “more liberal” approach to development in order to expand the tax base. Can’t just put up four-story buildings. “We can’t go anyplace but up. Those who deny development are the same people who demand additional social services.”

QUESTION: What specific programs, if any, do you favor to increase the amount of affordable housing in Evanston, and should any city subsidy be involved?

MITCHELL: “Open to” incentivizing affordable housing. Possibly more Section 8 housing, which can be a “win-win” for landlords and tenants. Affordable housing especially important in Ward 8, where there is a high percentage of renters. “As a community, we need to have some loyalty to the folks who make up Evanston.”

CARRILLO: Subsides OK but needs more discussion. Aid to developers depends on “if they align with what Evanston is.” Also need help for renters so they can move to ownership: financial literacy courses so people can better understand loans, mortgages, etc. Not enough affordable single family houses. Zoning can be relaxed a little “if our goal is to have a truly diverse Evanston.”

RAINEY: Has “problems” with city providing subsidy or using tax dollars for such development. Says the affordable housing fund can be modified so developers help pay for affordable housing outside of downtown high rises. “I like having the developers pay to opt out [of requirements for affordable housing as part of high rises] and pay us, and we’ll put the housing elsewhere with that money.” Notes the city has allocated $500,000 for rent relief.

REID: “We don’t have a goal.” Need a steady source of revenue for the affordable housing fund. Increase developer opt out fee. Let developers build affordable housing off-site of their primary development. “Issues of folks without access to power are important to me.”

QUESTION: Do you think that the recent 1% property tax increase, the lowest in many years, was too high? If you would like a tax cut, what services would you reduce due to lower revenue? Do you see any untapped sources of revenue, including the sale of city assets such as perhaps the Civic Center?

CARILLO: “We’re just taxed to hell.” Wrong to raise property taxes during pandemic, but now that it’s done do not rescind it. Northwestern is a potential revenue source. City should “stop being so passive” towards NU. Stop property purchases unless they pay “fair share.” Selling Civic Center “depends on who gets it.” In general, opposed to sale of city assets as it is a “band-aid” of short term dollars.

RAINEY: “I was the one” who got the increase down to 1%, but beyond that “there better not be lower revenue or we’ll be in a place we’ve never been.” Less revenue means having to either cut people or services: “I’m not willing to cut services and we are down to bare bones on staff.” Uncertain financial future due to COVID. “This town has to survive. I think we’re doing the best we can.” Northwestern University needs to pay for fire and rescue services. “We cannot wait another week.” Civic Center: “not in favor of putting a for sale sign in front of it to raise money due to panic over COVID.” Could possibly use half of it as city hall, also put police department there. Could sell some parking lots elsewhere in city.

REID: “Poor timing” for 1% tax increase due to COVID. Should search for alternative revenue sources. There are “plenty of progressive sources of revenue,” such as large businesses. Not supportive of cutting services but could reallocate from police budget. Northwestern “not paying their fair share.” Could assess more fees and fines against NU. “We have a lot of leverage. They’re not going to pick up and move.” Civic Center: open to conversation about selling it, possibly for use as affordable housing. Not in favor of selling parking lots.

MITCHELL: “I don’t think property taxes should have been raised during the pandemic.” However, do not see any property tax cuts over the next two years due to economy needing to recover from COVID. Northwestern is a potential revenue source: “unconscionable” that they don’t pay for fire and ambulance services. Could use fines and fees as leverage. Would consider sale of Civic Center but only along with a plan for a new seat of government. Could sell recycling center and use money for services and improvements.

QUESTION: Do you favor increasing the reparations program/fund, leaving it the same, reducing it, or even eliminating it?

REID: Favors an increase Bring in former judges who have dealt with class action cases to “determine the harm and how much the city owes.” Need additional revenue sources besides cannabis tax. Possibly out of general fund. Should move beyond using reparations for housing-related issues and “look at direct payments and other programs which make sense.” “If you are Black and live in Evanston you should qualify for it.”

RAINEY: Supports program. No more public money other than from new cannabis licensees if awarded to Evanston. There is “enormous support from the community” as well for additional money. The “committee worked hard to get it right” on how money should be distributed.

MITCHELL: Program is “worth doing.” “Extremely complicated” to administer it fairly. Sees additional revenue from new cannabis licensees. “Excited about the opportunity” to do that.

CARRILLO: Full support of a “true reparations program.” Tie to housing is good, but also could provide tuition assistance. “Absolutely believes” in direct cash payment to individuals, but “it isn’t worth it if people won’t get any life-changing amount.”

QUESTION: Are there any specific 8th Ward issues you would like to mention?

MITCHELL: “Day to day policing” is a bigger issue in the 8th Ward than in some other parts of town. Residents want to feel safe but “not feel over-policed or burdened by police presence.”

CARRILLO: Problem with how city added parking in 100 block of Callan/makes it harder for Fire/EMS to get through. Annoying rodent problem in southeast end of ward.

REID: 80% of units are rental. Need more property standards officers to inspect units as well as City Council passing additional tenant protection measures.

RAINEY: COVID has slowed things down, but still major reconstruction of Howard Street, new 60-unit affordable senior housing going up. “I shepherded that.”

QUESTION: A reader survey by Evanston Now about how well city government serves residents’ needs saw a majority of respondents saying they were reasonably satisfied, on a scale of 1-7. If you are a non-incumbent, how do you convince voters to elect you if many people are satisfied with how things are now? If you are an incumbent, do the survey results indicate that changes are not needed?

RAINEY (Incumbent): Agrees that services are “at least above average,” although it is hard to compare to other communities. “Very impressed with the way our staff delivers services.” Alderman can help solve constituent problems. “I think I do that well.” Time it takes to obtain permits should be faster. “Before COVID this city was on a roll. There’s no reason why we can’t get that back.”

REID: Evanston works great for a lot of people, but there is a subset of individuals of color or low income who do not have the same experiences. “There’s a long way to go before every resident can answer the survey with a six or a seven.” Environmental issues need more attention, reducing carbon emissions.

MITCHELL: Tends to agree that people are generally happy with city services, however “with the amount of property taxes we pay, people will expect and receive excellent services.” You can expect those services not to change whether incumbent or non-incumbent is elected. “I do believe I’d be the best advocate for the 8th Ward.”

CARRILLO: Satisfaction with services “depends on the demographics you’re speaking to.” Council needs a “fresh perspective.” A lot of the people in the ward “feel neglected.”

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