EVANSTON, IL — Ahead of Evanston’s Feb. 23 primary and April 6 consolidated municipal elections, Evanston Patch provided candidate questionnaires to all candidates on the ballot. According to the Cook County Clerk’s Office, the primary ballot will contain races for mayor, city clerk, 4th Ward alderman and 8th Ward aldermen. After former Ald. Jane Grover
EVANSTON, IL — Ahead of Evanston’s Feb. 23 primary and April 6 consolidated municipal elections, Evanston Patch provided candidate questionnaires to all candidates on the ballot.
According to the Cook County Clerk’s Office, the primary ballot will contain races for mayor, city clerk, 4th Ward alderman and 8th Ward aldermen.
After former Ald. Jane Grover pulled out of the race in the face of a challenge to her nominating petitions, there is only one candidate for city clerk on the ballot: Stephanie Mendoza.
But six other candidates declared their intention to run as write-in candidates. Under state law, that triggers a primary election, with the two top vote-getters advancing to an April runoff election.
Age (as of Election Day)
Town/City of Residence
Does anyone in your family work in politics or government?
Bachelors in Political Science at Northwestern University (2017), J.D. from Loyola University Chicago School of Law expected May 2022
Previous or Current Elected or Appointed Office
I have not served in public office before.
The single most pressing issue facing the Evanston’s city government is _______, and this is what I intend to do about it.
The single most pressing issue facing the Evanston city government that I would have the ability to directly address would be the lack of transparency/openness and the unwillingness to be accountable to their residents that much of this current City Council has demonstrated over the last four years. The City Clerk plays a key role in ensuring that the citizens of Evanston have adequate opportunities to check the power of the Evanston City Government and to hold their elected officials accountable. I would continue to work towards that by making as much of the legislative process, including the writing and drafting of proposed ordinances and resolutions, open to public scrutiny even before the City Council has to vote. I would also want to further publicize the different ways citizens can make their voices heard, in addition to making public comment at council and committee meetings. Lastly I would do what I could to encourage more first time candidates to run for office, and to lower the barriers to doing so.
What are the critical differences between you and the other candidates seeking this post?
All of the candidates have some level of valuable experience or knowledge, but none of the other candidates can approach the office in exactly the same way I can. I’ve been involved in local Evanston politics for a long time, and have seen the way the Clerk interacts with the rest of the elected officials during public meetings. Through my assistance with the legal work when we were trying to keep the Evanston Voter Initiative on the ballot, I did a lot of legal research on what both Evanston and State law currently provide for the City Clerk. I learned how much more that office could be doing, what the opportunities for expansion are that could be taken immediately, and what sort of changes we would need to advocate for on a state level. Through the process of that litigation I also got a closer look at how the Clerk’s office intersects with the rest of Evanston City government behind the scenes, and how the needs of that office are currently being suppressed. This unique combination of experiences makes me well suited to do the job meaningfully if I am elected.
What do you consider the official duties and powers of the City Council as a whole? How about individual aldermen?
I see the role of the City Council as two-fold. One is to manage, maintain, and grow the infrastructure of our city. This means ensuring that roads are well upkept, new construction is handled appropriately, all our necessary city services remain funded, and, in other words, that the city keeps on functioning. The other part is to identify areas of law which local municipalities have control over, where Evanston can make bold new changes. Evanston can lead on issues like racial justice. We already have a reparations fund, which is more than essentially any other municipality in this country has done. We as a city need to do more to listen to our black residents and let their needs reflect how the fund is managed, rather than prescribing specific solutions to them, but I am still proud of that work and excited for the future. Our city can take meaningful action on issues like the Freedom of Information Act, making sure all local employers contribute their fair share, and creating a transformative affordable housing plan.
Likewise the role of individual aldermen is two-fold. Aldermen need to listen to their constituents, understand what their communities needs are, and advocate to make sure those needs are met by the city government. However, they also need to recognize that sometimes Evanston is nine wards, but other times it is one city, and be able to advocate for solutions which are in the best interest of our entire city.
What steps would you take to address the city’s budget challenges?
The only way I as Clerk would be able to have a direct impact on the budget would be through management of my own office. And frankly, I would not enter this job with the goal of lowering spending in the Clerk’s office. The Clerk is a crucial position for maintaining a transparent and open government, and as such needs adequate funds to operate effectively. What I would want to do is implement common-sense solutions to streamline processes that go through the City Clerk’s office. For example, documents released through the Freedom of Information Act can remain public for a short period of time to cut down on repeat requests being made. Encouraging the City to preemptively make certain information publicly can also reduce the amount of FOIA requests for documents that need to made public as well. These sorts of solutions can ensure the Office of the Evanston City Clerk is functioning as efficiently as possible, but I would make these decisions in terms of how best to work towards transparency and accountability, not how best to balance the budget.
Describe the other issues that define your campaign platform.
This campaign and the changes I would want to make all center around increasing transparency and accessibility, and generally making sure that the that both city services and the ability for citizens to access their elected officials is equitably available to residents in all of Evanston’s communities. Evanston’s city government has historically worked to exclude sometimes large portions of Evanston’s communities, including the black and latinx communities in Evanston, but it does not have to be that way. The City Clerk can do something about that, and I have the training and experience to get it done.
What accomplishments in your past would you cite as evidence you can handle this job?
My involvement with The People’s Lobby, Reclaim Chicago, Reclaim Evanston, and People’s Action for the past six, going on seven years, is a big part of why I know I could handle this job. That kind of relationship building is going to be crucial, finding common goals between myself and other staff in the Clerk’s office, and staff in all other city departments, is going to be crucial for working collaboratively to make Evanston government more accountable. My community organizer training has also taught me how to hold people accountable, both in person to person public relationships, as well as how to hold public officials accountable, and I would leverage all of that in this job.
I have also done extensive legal research and writing on the democratic process at the local level, focusing specifically on direct democracy and what more can be done to let citizens really have oversight over their elected officials. I assisted with the cases of Harned v. Evanston Municipal Officers Electoral Board to try to get a direct democracy system on the ballot, and I assisted with Morgan v. White in federal court to try to get electronic signatures allowed. I also spent a summer helping to demystify local government across the Chicagoland area with the Citizen Advocacy Center. I know the system, both for local governing processes and I know the barriers that prospective candidates face to getting on the ballot, and I know what would need to be done to help in both of those areas.
Why should voters trust you?
Although I haven’t had as many opportunities to really prove myself as some other candidates or elected officials might have, what I done publicly in my life up until now has always been consistent. Every experience I’ve had, every accomplishment I have been able to put on my resume, has always been in the pursuit of greater accountability for elected officials, greater transparency to the system overall, and creating governments at all levels that listen to their citizens, do what is needed to actually take care of EVERYBODY, and really represent their communities in the most meaningful sense. And by that I mean not just diverse representatives with the same status quo political ideals, diverse representatives that are actually accountable to the voters who put them into office. I have a community that I have become a part of through this work that I would be able to fall back on when things get tough, and who would hold me accountable if they thought for a second I had compromised on any of my values. Whenever I am able to get into office, what I say during the campaign is going to be exactly what I work to accomplish.
If you win this position, what accomplishment would make your term in office as a success?
There are a number of things that would make me consider my first term a success. If at least a third of the candidates who file to run for office during the 2024 and 2025 elections are first-time candidates, I would consider my efforts to lower barriers to running for office to have been successful.
If I am able to implement a system that lets residents view proposed resolutions and ordinances before the City Council is required to vote on them, I would consider my efforts to make the governing process more open to oversight and criticism to have been a success.
If I am able to implement a streamlined system for Evanston residents to create petitions, collect signatures from their neighbors, and send those petitions in through an online form for the Clerk to read both the text of the petition as well as the names signed onto it, at the next City council meeting, I will consider my efforts to give citizens more ways to make their voices heard to have been a success.
These are just a few of the many accomplishments I would want to see.
What are your views on fiscal policy, government spending and the handling of taxpayer dollars in the office you are seeking?
The City Clerk does not have any direct control over what the revenue streams the city is relying on are, so I cannot say anything directly to that part of the issue. As to how taxpayer dollars are spent through the office, I would not want to limit the office in any particular way. The Clerk is crucial for maintaining transparency and general accessibility of local government, and doing that job properly will require maintenance of systems like NextRequest. It will require staff to manage those requests and to assist in interfacing with other Evanston departments. There are miscellaneous other costs associated with maintaining an open and accessible office. There are common sense solutions that could be implemented to limit redundancy, but I would not want to limit the budget and ability for an important office to spend what it needs to.
Do you support Black Lives Matter and what are your thoughts on the demonstrations held since the death of George Floyd and the shooting of Jacob Blake?
Absolutely I support Black Lives Matter. Asking my thoughts on the demonstrations is a bit of a broad question, because the kind of anger and outrage that those demonstrations showed is not new. Sadly, shootings like what Jacob Blake experienced and deaths at the hands of the police like what George Floyd experienced have been happening essentially since this country began, in one form or another, and our black communities more than any other have had to find a way to try to live through the shared trauma that entails. The demonstrations that happened after George Floyd and Jacob Blake didn’t teach us anything that we shouldn’t already know. America’s justice system and law enforcement systems don’t work for everybody. But those systems are not exactly broken, they were never designed to work for all people. Racist policing needs to end. Lynchings at the hands of state officers needs to end. Accomplishing those things will require deep structural changes. Evanston’s reparations fund is a good example of the kind of action that will need to be taken, but even that is nowhere near enough on its own.
What are your thoughts on the national and local coronavirus response? Do you favor measures such as limiting operation of non-essential businesses and restricting indoor/outdoor dining? And do you favor a local mask mandate?
All of the examples given in this question are common sense solutions. There is no excuse not to be following all of these measures. Local non-essential businesses have of course suffered during the required quarantining and social distancing, but the solution to that problem is to provide specific financial aid to these business owners and their workers, not to allow them to return to normal service in an environment that is still not safe. Vaccine rollout will take some time, so until that vaccine rollout is completed some combination of limited non-essential business operation and little to no indoor dining allowed will be necessary. And I do support some sort of local mask mandate, perhaps in the form of a ticket being issuable by local law enforcement officials anytime someone without a mask fails to abide by social distancing outside, and requiring all indoor businesses to require every person who comes indoors, employees and customers included, to wear a mask.
What are your thoughts on the state and local coronavirus vaccine distribution, and how do you think local governments should work together to handle vaccine rollout?
Local governments need to ensure that they are on the same page as far as what the State and National plans are for vaccine rollout, and to ensure that they understand what the required steps are to continue to move forward. Just like how Evanston is sometimes 9 wards and sometimes one city, so to are we sometimes different municipalities, but other times on state. Coordinating on coronavirus vaccine distribution, as well as on other measure to fight the virus, is one of the situations when we are all one state. If Evanston has a strong prohibition on indoor services and limitations on all other non-essential businesses, but neighboring municipalities are not being as careful, that is a problem. Evanston residents will sometimes go to other municipalities, and residents of other municipalities will sometimes come here. We need to work together to ensure that we are all getting vaccine doses to our essential workers and to our most vulnerable populations. The only way that we can guarantee moving forward steadily through the reopening process is by assisting our neighboring governing bodies when they need help, and asking for assistance when we need help. To make this work, we need strong leadership from the state government, as well as open lines of communication.
Is there any reason you would not serve your full term of office, other than those of health or family?
The best advice ever shared with me was:
The best advice I have ever gotten has always been that you should be willing to fall back on your friends, fall back on your family, fall back on your community, whenever you need support. There is very little that anybody can do truly by themselves, particularly when people are trying to make political/social changes. Individual action has rarely if ever made meaningful change, but groups of people working together, collectively struggling for one goal, has. “Don’t be fooled into thinking that a small group of friends can’t change the world. That’s the only thing that ever has.” None of us should feel like we need to struggle alone. I couldn’t say who gave me this advice first, but I have heard this from a number of different sources, and everytime it has always been incredibly impactful and helpful.
What else would you like voters to know about yourself and your positions?
Just to specifically know that I am a community organizer by training. I have been doing that in some form or another for almost seven years. That training is the foundation of everything I would want to do in elected office. The Clerk is not a “community organizer” position the way Alderman should be, but those skills are still needed not just to manage the office but also to manage the relationships between that office and the various other public entities the office needs to work with. That plus the limited legal experience I have had being just over halfway through law school makes me confident I could handle the massive amount of details and miscellaneous knowledge I would need to have to do the job effectively. I also enjoy research, and once I am able to truly digest and understand something, I don’t easily forget it.
Lastly, I do want voters to know I have experience managing other people. In 2018, I worked as a Regional Field Director for the Michigan Democratic Party, and I supervised 9 Field Organizers over a territory that was approximately 26,000 square miles in size. This was various counties in the Northern Part of the Lower Peninsula, as well as Michigan’s entire Upper Peninsula. I was based in Traverse City, and had to figure out how to manage 9 people over a large area, and I got it done. I know I could manage an office the size of Evanston City Clerk if given that opportunity.