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Mayoral forum: Lots of agreement, and a few zingers

Candidates try to present themselves as best prepared to lead Evanston.

Mayoral candidates Daniel Biss, Lori Keenan and Sebastian Nalls speaking at the Southeast Evanston Association forum tonight.

Lori Keenan wants to use $150,000 earmarked for a parking study to help pay the parking tickets of community members who cannot afford them.

Daniel Biss says current City Council meetings sometimes seem like “trench warfare.”

And Sebastian Nalls says the city’s Climate Action plan has “become an antique almost because times have changed.”

The three candidates in Evanston’s Feb. 23 mayoral primary answered questions in a Zoom forum run by the Southeast Evanston Association on Tuesday night. The event was not a debate. Each candidate answered individually.

Biss, a former state legislator, said, “Look at us. Who is the best prepared” to lead Evanston, by assembling a “broad diverse coalition to lead us forward?” Biss said he’s been endorsed by members of City Council who “never agree on anything except I’d be a good mayor.”

Keenan, a long-time community activist, said, “There’s no question who has the Evanston experience. I have always shown up.”

Nalls, a 20-year old college student, said, “Residents often don’t know whom to turn to,” and said he could be the one to relate to Evanstonians.

The three agreed that changes are needed in how Evanston is policed, that the city has to take additional steps in dealing with climate change and that more has to be accomplished in bringing additional affordable housing to the community.

Biss said the “fee in lieu” paid by developers should be increased, to add dollars for affordable housing. He also suggested zoning changes, to permit more housing options.

Keenan said there have been too many “giveaways to luxury developments.” She added that the city needs to look to “best models” in other localities to find ideas which can work here as well.

Nalls suggested working with the city administration on a ten-year plan that would include affordable housing goals and ways to reach them.

As for policing, Nalls called for “bias tests” for Evanston police officers, so that they “fit the model of what Evanston wants.” He said changing police philosophy and spending could take several years, but suggested using more money for early child care and youth programs instead of for the police department.

Keenan called for a forensic audit of the department, with an eye towards “reimagining policing” and reallocating dollars to help communities “which have been over-policed,” spending some of that money on child care and early literacy programs.

Biss also said there should be a review of what police should do and do best, and of what might be done better by other agencies, such as dealing with mental health and substance abuse calls. He also suggested training 9-1-1 operators with a flow chart of options to better determine response.

The format did not lend itself to any back and forth between the candidates, so the forum was pretty low key. Keenan, however, said “she was not looking” at the mayor’s office “as a stepping stone for something else down the road.”

That may well be a theme Keenan repeats, directed no doubt, at Biss. But because Keenan spoke last, Biss did not have the chance to rise to that bait, or just let it pass.

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