April 7 Municipal Elections for Alderman (6th and 7th Ward) and Mayor:
CSNA Board Community Guide to the Campaign
Informal discussion, open discussion at our annual meeting, and membership response to our e-mail survey all indicated a membership preference for some evaluation and guidance as to the municipal elections. However, there was not majority support for going so far as to endorse candidates or work for them (although many would have supported that level of involvement as well). What the Board determined to do, in the end, was to issue questionnaires, hold forums, solicit membership and community input, and then provide some textual guidance to the community, and a rating of "highly recommended," "recommended," or "not recommended" to candidacies, with the option of not making any recommendation whatsoever in a race.
These are not "endorsements" and we are not "telling anyone how to vote" at this stage in the organization's development. Our touchstone question was, "Is this a candidacy we would recommend to a friend or neighbor?" with the underlying question being whether a vote for the candidate would be likely to result in City decisions more in accordance with our positions. This takes into a complex set of sub-questions, not only as to where a candidate stands, but their likelihood of success and effectiveness, both in this election, and on the Council.
After reviewing candidate questionnaires, their performance at our forum, member and non-member response cards from that forum, and other information available, the following is the CSNA board's assessment, in alphabetical order, of the candidates for mayor and alderman. We have not evaluated the school board or township assessor races.
Alderman: 6th Ward
Even many of those who supported the incumbent alderman, who is not running for re-election, are looking for a fresh approach for the next four years. Sixth Ward voters have three good choices, candidates who each offer promise of increased responsiveness to resident concerns about community character, and much greater communication with constituents.
Mr. Hart, known to many ward residents through his long association with the "Y" and Camp Echo, would bring thoughtfulness and an emphasis on team-building to the post of alderman. His positions appear to be in general agreement with CSNA's principles. We say "appear" because these are sometimes difficult to determine: Mr. Hart's assertions are sometimes more thematic than specific. Case in point would be Mr. Hart's vague citizen comment to the Council on the 708 Church St. "tower." We suspect that Mr. Hart would have clearer positions had he been more involved in some of the civic debates that have gripped Evanston over the past few years. On the other hand, on some issues, such as inclusionary housing or extension of the Eastwood project, Mr. Hart is more willing to take a stand than some other candidates.
Both forum attendees' and Board response to Mr. Hart were generally positive. He is seen as intelligent, caring, and good-tempered. Overall we find him a candidate we would "recommend" to friends and neighbors.
Mr. Sloane, like the other two candidates, has not been visibly involved in the municipal controversies of recent years. He has, however, been a member of CSNA for some time, and through his role on the parks and playgrounds board has been part of at least one city planning process, the lakefront plan. Endorsed by the Evanston Review, he brings some governmental experience to a potential tenure as alderman.
With his business and financial background he would be the most likely of the three candidates to challenge staff cost and spending figures that many residents feel currently are routinely rubber-stamped. He is also more likely to urge salary and benefit freezes or even cuts. He is likely more conservative than the ward as a whole, which may at times be at odds with an Evanston predisposed toward progressive community solutions.
Mr. Sloane impressed forum attendees with his forthright, un-nuanced, and less "political" answers, garnering significantly higher marks than the other two candidates. He has also engaged in more outreach to CSNA. For these reasons he is "highly recommended."
Mr. Tendam has many friends in the ward, and in the political and nonprofit spheres of Evanston. He ran a respectable second in the last aldermanic election. Given that showing, many found his absence from civic debate in the past four years, and especially from the Central Street planning process, harder to understand than that of his two opponents (who were also absent).
Mr. Tendam is a graduate of the Leadership Evanston course, and has served on the city's signs committee as well as attending dozens of mental health board meetings. In most of his positions Mr. Tendam shows thoughtfulness, general agreement with CSNA positions, and a progressive approach. On some, such as the Civic Center, where Mr. Tendam has suggested "decentralization" of services and relocation of others downtown, Mr. Tendam would benefit by more engagement with the residents he wishes to represent on a "full-time" basis.
Reaction at the forum showed more concern with Mr. Tendam's candidacy than with any other aldermanic candidate. Possibly his strong Democratic support is a polarizing factor. However, his marks were still positive by almost 2:1, and he has a demonstrated record of service to community and organizations. On balance Mr. Tendam is a candidate CSNA would "recommend" to friends and neighbors.
Alderman: 7th Ward
As with the 6th, the 7th Ward will bring a new face to the City Council. As with the 6th, we have three likeable and intelligent candidates, all of whom suggest that they will bring a heightened degree of community engagement to their tenure.
Ms. Grover has a demonstrated commitment to Evanston through the Evanston Community Foundation and her involvement with school and child safety issues. A non-practicing attorney, she would bring thoughtfulness and a quick mind to the City Council. She has the support of former 7th Ward Alderman Steve Engelman, as well as Mayor Morton.
Ms. Grover's positions are in general agreement with those of CSNA, and she was an early member of the organization, actively participating with us in discussions with city staff on the need for a moratorium during the Central Street Planning process. She recognizes the disconnect between residents and city government. She sees both sides of issues, which some feel results in her predisposition to gravitate to a compromise position. Her tendency not to waste words comes across to some as bluntness. Yet others like these traits.
Ms. Grover received significantly higher marks at our forum than the other two 7th Ward candidates and also impressed Board members by organizing a post-forum get-together for all candidates, including her opponents. She is viewed not just as a likely effective alderman, but as a possible new leader on the Council, and is a candidate we would highly recommend.
Mr. O'Connor is a multi-talented businessperson best known to north Evanston residents for a long-running battle with the City over a zoning variance. He turned that unhappy experience positive by guiding a change in the zoning ordinance itself. He has shown energy and tenacity in this race. He does not mince words in his approaches to issues.
Mr. O'Connor is highly supportive of CSNA and generally agrees with our positions. He is the most vocal critic of the current City Council, and would not be a rubber-stamp. He's been a quick study on many issues. But Mr. O'Connor's lack of previous involvement in City issues and organizations has hampered his entirely self-funded candidacy. His directness is perceived by some as confrontational. Lacking an electoral base, Mr. O'Connor has targeted 7th Ward voters who are not fans of Ald. Tisdahl, criticizing her record at forums where she cannot respond – a clever but arguably unfair tactic, since his opponents are not running as clones of the incumbent.
Mr. O'Connor has characterized his unorthodox "reboot Evanston" campaign as one he does not expect to win, a factor to consider in casting a ballot. However, his asking, "After Evanston's greatest building boom in our lifetimes, why is our city government and its finances in such a mess?" is sincere and refreshing. For that reason he is given a "recommended" rating.
Mr. Zbesko, a current trustee of the Mosquito Abatement Board, has the only direct governmental experience of the 7th ward candidates, albeit on a governmental body many feel is unnecessary. A past president of the Democratic Party of Evanston and longtime volunteer, he also has the most political experience. Mr. Zbesko was a strong supporter of the movement to save the Civic Center and can also draw on that base.
Mr. Zbesko generally agrees with CSNA positions and joined CSNA about the time he started his campaign. A stock analyst who touts his economics background, he would be a potential policy wonk, and likely to challenge City spending on matters relating to computer hardware and software. He is a graduate of the Leadership Evanston course. However, he has not been signficantly involved in any of the City planning efforts, and his personal, gut-response approach to some issues, while forthright and heartfelt, could sometimes benefit by deeper consideration. He tends to look to technology as a solution to many problems. In situations where there's simply a tough political choice to be made, it appears Mr. Zbesko will look for an ethical and popularly-supported position.
Mr. Zbesko has attempted to draw fine distinctions between himself and Ms. Grover, but they agree on far more than they disagree. He is respected by CSNA's board for his integrity and his earnestness, and is a candidate we would "recommend" to friends and neighbors.
The post of mayor of Evanston requires a toolkit that includes public relations skills, diplomacy, a quick mind, creativity, patience, a real grasp of the issues facing Evanston, and genuine empathy for its citizens' desires and aspirations. All four candidates show intelligence, and care for Evanston. All, if elected, could serve. However, each brings different assets to the campaign, and to a possible tenure as the city's chief executive. The following is the CSNA board's assessment, in alphabetical order.
Mr. Dinges has brought unprecedented energy to the 2009 mayoral race. His public presentation, his professional background, and his campaign itself all indicate that he would be an effective marketer for Evanston. His business background is a plus, and he has more effectively tapped the sense of Evanston that change is needed in city government than have any of his competitors. Mitigating against these qualities are Mr. Dinges's lack of experience in Evanston issues prior to this race, both professionally and as a citizen. Even some of his admirers at CSNA feel that he would benefit by some greater time engaging with Evanstonians, and learning more about City issues. Additionally, some feel that Mr. Dinges is too amenable to trading Evanston's character for hard cash; his commentary was noticeably absent from recent discussions on "The Tower," which he generally favored.
Mr. Dinges has probably knocked on more doors than any other candidate in this race. Yet he still remains a question mark on many issues to many voters. Despite the unknowns, Mr. Dinges is admired as a quick study, respected for his forthrightness, and supported by many as a departure from the status quo. On balance, the Board of CSNA finds Mr. Dinges a choice we can "recommend" to friends and neighbors.
Ms. Lindwall, the first candidate to enter the race, began the campaign with a large possible reservoir of support for a "change" candidate. Her urban planning background would be an asset to a city about to begin implementing multiple plans, and she has impressive background knowledge of many Evanston financial issues. She is appropriately skeptical of City government.
Ms. Lindwall has raised good questions on City economics, but not as many answers. Her website is comprehensive although the stated positions are more aspirational than specific. We haven't seen the force and clarity of the well-articulated statements we've seen Ms. Lindwall present, as a citizen, to the Council and other civic bodies. Ability to work with NU remains a concern.
Many CSNA members admire Ms. Lindwall's qualifications, share many of her perspectives on the issues, respect her activist background, and feel that she has the best sense of what is wrong with City-resident relations. However, in a four-way race, use of the ballot becomes an issue. Of the candidates favoring balanced development, Ms. Lindwall has had less success in building upon her base and reaching out to all parts of Evanston. We hope that Ms. Lindwall will have a strong role in City planning going forward, but do not believe that a vote for Ms. Lindwall will have an impact on this race, except in ways a voter may not intend. For that reason a vote is not recommended.
Mr. Opdycke displays consistent candor. You know what you will get with him. His passion for Evanston is unmistakable, and he has also shown wit and force in his campaign. Like Ms. Lindwall and Ms. Tisdahl, Mr. Opdycke came into the campaign with a large base, with many decades of experience and networking in the city. He has a demonstrated record of service, at no pay, as a school board and then Plan Commission member.
What Mr. Opdycke has failed to get across to many voters is a sense of identification with their issues. Residents want not only leadership, but responsiveness – leadership on the things that matter to them. Mr. Opdycke's refrain that he likes Evanston just the way it is fell flat among those who love Evanston but are routinely frustrated, sometimes outraged, by its government. His position on downtown development is at odds with those of the CSNA board members and, we believe, most residents. He received the lowest marks at our mayoral forum. Mr. Opdycke and his record of service are deeply respected by CSNA, but a vote is not recommended.
Ald. Tisdahl, the presumptive front-runner in the race, inspires the strongest feelings among many. While garnering the most "highly recommended" ratings at our forum, the responses indicated polarization. Some antipathy lingers from the Evanston Theater site redevelopment battle or other ward issues. Ald. Tisdahl was, however, CSNA's best Council ally on the Central Street Plan, the first on the Council to act to repair the Civic Center, and recognized from the first (secret) meeting the problems with the scale of the 708 Church project. She is also a member of CSNA.
Ald. Tisdahl in the mayoral race has leveraged her association with other local elected officials, including partisan Democratic leaders. Many residents do not see potholes and pension shortfalls as lending themselves to party-based solutions, or are leery of further politicizing City government. CSNA also doubts the viability of looking to Springfield and Washington as a longterm solution, when earmarks may be an endangered species. However, many members also see Ald. Tisdhal's associations as pluses for Evanston.
Ald. Tisdahl brings the most extensive Evanston governmental experience to the race, and has assembled a broad coalition. While some would like to see her speak out and challenge conventional wisdom more often, she rarely exhibits impetuousness. Her commitment to sustainability is commendable. On balance, CSNA finds the candidacy of Ald. Tisdahl a "recommended" choice.
The CSNA Board was not unanimous on the above assessments and does not pretend that, at this stage in its development, all members will agree. The organization, as an organization, is not supporting or opposing or "endorsing" any candidate. All CSNA members including Board members remain free to support any candidate they desire. We urge our members, and all voters, to thoroughly investigate the candidates' positions and records. And, of course, to vote!
-- March 30, 2009