Political turnover in Evanston has welcomed newcomers at high rates. Here’s what you need to know about our city’s fledgling leaders. Turnover in Evanston brings many newcomers to city leadership
Content warning: This article contains mentions of sexual assault.
With a new city manager selection on the horizon, Evanston’s cohort of new leaders continues to expand.
In areas like education and municipal leadership, local elections and searches have overwhelmingly selected people new to Evanston politics over the past three years.
From the mayor to City Council members to key players in Evanston schools, The Daily took a look at the city’s fresh faces in leadership.
LastFriday, City Council announced his intention to appoint John Fournier, current assistant city administrator of the City of Ann Arbor, as Evanston’s next city manager.
Fournier’s appointment comes after a several-month stretch without a permanent city manager, as well as a period of rapid turnover as the city cut multiple internal roles facing budget cuts during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Kelley Gandurski became interim city manager last September following former city manager Erika Storlie’s departure the previous August.
Storlie resigned after a July WBEZ investigation highlighted allegations of a culture of sexual misconduct within Evanston’s lakefront staff.
The city’s 2021 municipal elections also saw a high turnover rate, with four newcomers defeating incumbents. Alds. Clare Kelly (1st), Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th), Bobby Burns (5th) and Devon Reid (8th) joined the council. Stephanie Mendoza — an organizer, translator and Evanston Latinos community outreach coordinator — succeeded Reid as city clerk.
After former Ald. Cicely Fleming (9th), who had represented the 9th Ward since 2017, stepped down In February, Mayor Daniel Biss appointed skate park activist, PTA member and Evanston Latinos Vice President Juan Geracaris to the vacant seat. Geracaris is the city’s first Latine council member.
Since Geracaris’s appointment, a majority of city councilmembers are now newcomers to the position. This last happened in 2009.
These five new council members have prioritized changes like increased transparency between council and residents and stronger oversight and structure for Evanston’s Climate Action and Resilience Plan. They’ve also brought a variety of backgrounds in corporate, school and philanthropic leadership to City Council.
The council has tackled issues such as allocating federal American Rescue Plan Act funding, creating a residentially focused tax increment financing district, distributing reparations payments and rebalancing the city budget.
Bit was sworn into office as Evanston’s mayor last February, winning more than 73% of the vote. This is Biss’s first leadership position in the city. Challengers Sebastian Nalls and Lori Keenan both worked as community organizers in the city.
Biss previously served the Illinois House of Representatives for two years and the Illinois Senate for six years. He also ran for governor in 2018, ultimately losing to Gov. JB Pritzker.
As a first-time mayor, some of Biss’s measures included prioritizing environmental policies other new public safety measures such as the creation of a Reimagining Public Safety Committee last May.
Members of Evanston’s school boards generally have more experience. Two full boards of mostly returning members reelected in 2021 will endure parallel changes in leadership.
The Evanston/Skokie School District 65 board elected Sergio Hernandez as president this April, succeeding Anya Tanyavutti as her two-year term concluded. Marquise Weatherspoon was elected vice-president, taking over from Elisabeth “Biz” Lindsay-Ryan. The district also recently voted to extend Superintendent Devon Horton’s contract through 2026.
District 65 runs elections every two years for half of the board’s seven seats, with three or four seats open during alternating years. Board members each serve four-year terms.
Meanwhile, Evanston Township High School District 202 board members unanimously reelected their president and vice president in 2021. Pat Savage-Williams and Monique Parsons have served for seven years and six years, respectively.
Unlike City Council elections, the 2021 school board elections saw significant support for incumbents. The school boards saw little turnover, with the exceptions of new members Donna Wang Su and Weatherspoon.
Additionally, the district will welcome a new superintendent. marcus campbell, the assistant superintendent and ETHS principal will succeed current Superintendent Eric Witherspoon, who is set to retire in June. Taya Kinzie, the district’s associate principal for student services, will fill both of Campbell’s former roles.
Parks and Recreation
Evanston’s Parks and Recreation Department welcomed Audrey Thompson as its new director last month. She had held the interim role since February.
Thompson previously worked in the Community Services Department overseeing the young adult division and the senior services program.
Thompson replaces former Parks and Recreation Director Lawrence Hemingway, whose February resignation came one week after WBEZ published an investigative story revealing new information on the city’s mismanagement of lakefront sexual misconduct allegations.
In her new role, Thompson said she will continue to prioritize improving the lakefront structure to create a safe environment for all employees.
Thompson isn’t the only newcomer this year to the Parks and Recreation Department. Tim Carter, the former program coordinator at the Levy Senior Center, became lakefront manager also in April.
Michael Callahan, who served as the forestry supervisor/arborist for Evanston’s Public Works Agency became the new assistant Parks and Recreation director in April.
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— City Council announces intent to appoint John Fournier as city manager
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— City manager finalists Poche, Fournier speak at virtual town hall