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2nd Ward applicants introduce themselves in NAACP forum

Seven 2nd Ward residents applying to fill the ward’s vacant City Council seat introduced themselves and shared their visions for the community at a public forum Tuesday night.

The virtual forum was co-sponsored by the Evanston/North Shore NAACP and the Evanston chapter of Iota Phi Theta, and was moderated by Willie Shaw, the Rev. Khalif Crutcher and the Rev. Michael Nabors. More than 30 community members were present at the forum’s peak, including Peter Braithwaite, the former City Council member whose resignation in July created the vacancy.

Applicants were asked a mix of prepared and audience-submitted questions over the hour-and-40-minute forum, covering topics such as supporting local businesses, addressing violence in the community and balancing between developing new housing and rehabilitating existing properties. Highlights of each applicant and their answers are listed below, in alphabetical order by last name.

Note: Applicants Mindy Scott and Jesus Vega did not attend the forum.

Keith Banks

Banks is a financial representative at COUNTRY Financial, and serves as executive director of Reba Place Development Corporation, a faith-based advocacy and development organization for affordable housing.

Banks emphasized that housing is the “core stability of our community” and said that whether it is affordable will influence whether or not a community will stay cohesive or fracture further. He said that a balance of new developments and rehabilitation will be needed, pointing to examples like The Aux and Temperance Beer Co. as examples of rehab successes.

“We need to take vacant spaces, lots that are under-utilized by the city and create new developments that are mixed-use, you know, commercial space at the bottom, residential at the top,” Banks said. “We have to be progressive about how we take advantage and utilize rehabbing and doing new development. They go hand in hand.”

Darlene Canon

Cannon is a community organizer who sits on the city’s Equity and Empowerment Commission and the board of the Democratic Party of Evanston. She previously ran against Braithwaite in 2021, ultimately finishing 71 votes short.

Cannon said she has noticed some conflict within the current City Council, and said she would approach each of her colleagues with compassion. She said she would focus on taking her constituents’ opinions and concerns into account when voting and avoid making disagreements into personal conflicts.

“Although we might not always see eye to eye, in the end, I have to think about what’s best for this community and what’s best for the residents,” Cannon said. “And if things didn’t go the way that we had hoped it would, at least (the residents can) know that I put forth the effort in a polite, rational manner to represent them.”

Matthew Farrauto

Farrauto has lived in Evanston for three years, having moved here in 2019 after a career in national politics that included directing the Democratic Party of New Mexico and serving as director of communications for the Peace Corps under former President Barack Obama. He said his mother has lived in Evanston for 20 years, and that he moved back to care for her after she suffered a stroke.

He said although he doesn’t personally have a long history in Evanston, he believes the skills and experience he’s gained from working in national politics can help advance work at the local level in Evanston.

“I have a long history of working with candidates and elected officials in the legislature, and in various capacities that I think are all relevant to the challenges that Evanston faces,” Farrauto said. “This is an opportunity to potentially give back, and I would love to serve the community on your behalf.”

Patricia Gregory

Gregory is a physical education teacher at Lincoln Elementary School and a member of the city’s Parks and Recreation Board. She holds three master’s degrees in curriculum instruction, physical education and special education.

Gregory said continuous support for and collaboration with every part of the school system is vital to ensuring students’ success, and that she hoped all of the applicants would continue to put in work for the community’s benefit after the appointment process is finished.

Krissy Harris

Harris is a lifelong Evanstonian and administrator at Oakton Community College whose mother previously served as principal and assistant superintendent of Evanston Township High School. She is an Evanston NAACP member and previously served on the board of the Evanston/North Shore YWCA.

Harris said she would approach issues like affordable housing as city-wide issues, highlighting 5th Ward City Council Member Bobby Burns’ project to build affordable housing on vacant lots on Emerson Street as an opportunity for collaboration and consensus-building in a critical area.

“We have to realize that our wards are separated by air, so we’re one Evanston at the end of the day, there are no distinct lines of separation,” Harris said. “Being a consensus building council is so important to get the work done … what affects the 5th Ward, the 2nd Ward, the 1st Ward, affects all of us.”

Blanca Lule

Lule is a longtime 2nd Ward resident who sits on the city’s Citizen Police Review Commission. She also helps organize Evanston Latinos’s biweekly cafecito discussions at the Robert Crown Community Center, where Spanish-speaking Evanstonians are invited to build community and talk with officials such as interim Police Chief Richard Eddington.

Lule said that if appointed, she would especially want to address the lack of Spanish-speaking representation and accessibility in the city government. She shared how the most recent cafecito meeting resulted in numerous Spanish-speaking families being able to sign up for the city’s Guaranteed Income Pilot Program thanks to assistance with translation.

“One of the biggest complaints I get from our residents … is that they don’t have anyone that they feel understands their background, their values ​​or even their language,” Lule said. “One of my big goals would be to make the Spanish-speaking community feel more included, and maybe even educate them on some of the services and things that the City of Evanston can provide to them.”

Anya Tanyavutti

Tanyavutti is a board member for Evanston/Skokie School District 65, previously serving as the board’s president and vice-president. She was first appointed to the board in 2016 and won full terms in the 2017 and 2021 elections.

Tanyavutti said her framework for reducing violence includes not just acts by individuals, but also the violence of systemic oppression and exclusion. She said breaking those systems as a method of harm reduction is a critical part of interrupting the pathway that leads people, and especially youth, to commit violence.

“It’s an important act of violence reduction, for our institutions to commit to ensuring that every single resident has the opportunity to fulfill their full aptitude,” Tanyavutti said. “We deserve to be safe from violence, and that is our human right. We need to be organizing all of our resources, and all of our institutions to make sure that we are investing to address the need that is being expressed.”

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