Lori Keenan, 57, is a candidate for mayor in the Feb. 23 Evanston primary. A long-time community activist, this is her first run for elected office.
Evanston Now’s Jeff Hirsh interviewed Keenan about key issues in the campaign, including police staffing, affordable housing and the city’s reparations program.
A frequent speaker at City Council public comment sessions, Keenan has not previously served on any appointed city boards or commissions.
Keenan owns Smarthinking PR, a marketing and public relations firm. She received a bachelor’s degree in English and Journalism from Hillsdale College in 1985.
She offered the following information on her background and what she views as the key issues in the campaign in response to an Evanston Now questionnaire.
I’ve lived in Evanston for 22 years and my husband Peter and I have raised our three kids here. In that time, I’ve been involved in a number of local issues, holding leadership roles and volunteering my time and skills to do good things for our community.
I’ve been involved in some big grassroots wins along the way – like saving the branch libraries and advocating for a west side branch 10 years ago, establishing The Mighty Twig independent library and Evanston Public Library Friends, working as a Founding Board Member of the Dajae Coleman Foundation, and supporting other community issues, including the preservation of Harley Clarke, supporting 5th Ward residents who opposed environmental racism with a pumping station placed in their ward, and many more.
Professionally, I’ve run my own public relations and marketing firm for more than 20 years, and have managed people, budgets and projects for national campaigns of industry-leading organizations in both the commercial and not for profit sectors. My professional experience in crisis communications as well as day-to-day management of important messaging has been vital during Covid 19, and during other challenging times. I’ve helped to launch local businesses and worry when I see a downtown that isn’t thriving. I question decisions that are being made which decimate the character and charm of our downtown, with little upside potential to the residents or businesses that are currently here.
I’ve always championed a principled, responsible government that is responsive and accountable to the people who elected them. I think we can do better.
Some of the key issues I will focus on in my campaign include affordability and livability and the fact that too many Evanstonians are being priced out of town, especially our Black population; responsible development and economic and affordable housing strategies that look beyond luxury development — perhaps leveraging our creative community and green reputation to becoming a hub for environmental or sustainable businesses; and ethical and fiscally responsible government that prioritizes the residents who currently live here.
The mayor should be an active leader and consensus builder across all wards — someone who can understand and represent various positions in a fair and equitable way. When money and access are allowed to buy influence, everyone loses. That’s true on a National scale, but more importantly, here at home. Listening, building trust, and providing transparency and accountability start at the top. I would hope to amplify residents’ voices for better governance that includes the electorate in decisions that affect their lives, and our community, including equity, sustainability, affordability, livability, taxes, health services, policing and public safety.
People, including me, are worried about losing the essence of Evanston. Change can be good, but I would prioritize protecting our diverse population of all ages, races and economic backgrounds, our independent businesses, and our natural and built environments. Poor planning and worse decision-making have gutted the livability and affordability of our community and made everyday things — like parking, for instance — so onerous that it’s become uninviting to the people who currently live here, much less visitors and our downtown businesses have suffered. Sharpening pencils, while championing resident voices and good ideas will be a priority that I think can help to get us back on track.