Evanston City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz and several dozen other residents took a bus to Springfield Wednesday to buttonhole state officials on local issues. Here’s his recap of how the day went.

Over fifty Evanston residents, elected officials and community leaders, led by Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, traveled on Wednesday March 13 to the State Capital for the fourth annual Evanston Day in Springfield.   This event is a unique opportunity for Evanston issues to be heard by our state leaders and provides the delegation from Evanston an opportunity to get to know one another in a way not always available here in town.  One part of the experience that sets it apart is that it is one day.  Most of the group travels by bus together leaving Evanston in the early morning and returning in the late evening.  The bus trip is as much a part of the experience as anything else.

Joining Mayor Tisdahl in Springfield were Aldermen Jane Grover and Coleen Burrus, representatives from District 65 and 202, the Evanston Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Evanston, the Chicago/North Shore Convention and Visitors Bureau, Youth Organization Umbrella (Y.O.U), North Shore United Way as well as residents just interested in the making Evanston’s voice heard in Springfield.  In conjunction with the event, Northwestern University also participates by timing its annual visit to Springfield on the same day.  President Morton Schapiro held a dinner Tuesday evening for NU alumni serving in the Illinois General Assembly.  The dinner included Mayor Tisdahl and several NU students who traveled to Springfield to join in Evanston Day.  Mayor Tisdahl worked the room in her usual great way and by the end of the evening convinced a State Senator to locate a branch of his family’s chain of restaurants in Evanston.  President Schapiro spent Wednesday morning meeting with Governor Quinn, Speaker Madigan and other leaders.

Evanston Day started with a luncheon in the Governor’s Mansion.  The program began with remarks from Mayor Tisdahl and President Schapiro.  The group then heard  presentations by NU Professor Chad Mirkin, Director of NU’s International Institute for Nanotechnology and Adam Pollet, Director of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO). The Nanotechnology Institute was started in part through a grant from DCEO and the update of the work of the Institute in Evanston reinforced Evanston’s role in developing tech businesses.  Director Pollet’s comments praised the work of Evanston in economic development and pledged greater support by his Department of the City’s efforts.  Also in attendance at the luncheon was Evanston resident, Julie Hamos, the Director of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services.

The group then moved to the Capitol where we first met with Governor Pat Quinn.  Governor Quinn praised the City once again on the Gigabit grant that he recently announced in Evanston, but was most interested in discussing our efforts to improve and expand our water infrastructure.  Governor Quinn encouraged us to work with his administration on our efforts and use state loan programs (which we do) and discuss other opportunities where the state may be helpful with water.  Governor Quinn’s Budget Director, Evanston resident Jerry Stermer, was also present at the meeting and expressed his interest in discussing Evanston water issues further.

Next the group moved on to meet with Senator Daniel Biss.  Senator Biss discussed his effort to pass legislation to reform the state pension system.  Mayor Tisdahl and other representatives expressed their concerns about city and school pension issues, city and school funding issues and the continuing debate in the General Assembly about gun control.  The group then met with Representatives Robyn Gabel and Laura Fine were similar issues were also raised.  The representatives from Districts 202 and 65 met separately with State House Republican Leader Tom Cross to discuss school pension and funding issues.

The final meeting of a long afternoon was with Representative Kelly Cassidy.  The group was scheduled to meet with her earlier in the day, but the meeting was cancelled due to the House of Representatives extended debate on gun issues.  That didn’t stop Matt Swentkofske, the City’s Intergovernmental Relations Coordinator and organizer of Evanston Day, from getting a meeting.  Matt practiced the long standing Illinois statehouse tradition of sending his business card onto the floor of the House with a Sergeant at Arms letting Cassidy know that the Evanston group was waiting for her outside the House Chambers.  After she spoke on the floor regarding guns, she came out into the crowded lobby outside the Chamber (where the Evanston group was waiting between the Illinois Beef and Pork Producer representatives) to meet with us.

Cassidy described the debate in the House on a conceal gun carrying bill and the debate on where and where not a concealed weapon should be allowed in Illinois.  She marveled at the differences of opinion of legislators from the Chicago area versus downstate where guns are viewed very differently.  She also talked about her hopes for pension reform this Spring.

The group had planned to also meet Senator Heather Steans and Senate President John Cullerton, but those meeting were cancelled when both were in a Senate hearing on Biss’ pension bill.  Mayor Tisdahl spent part of her afternoon in the hearing.

At the end of a long day, the group returned to the bus for the ride home to Evanston.  The only glitch of the day…the deliver person from the Springfield Jimmy John’s with boxed sandwiches for the ride home was 20 minutes late.

Evanston Day in Springfield is a unique opportunity to bring together leaders in the Evanston community as well have our collective voice heard in Springfield.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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