By Bob Seidenberg
Longtime Second Ward City Council member Peter Braithwaite has taken a job as Director of Procurement, Diversity and Community Engagement at Northwestern University, marking the first time in recent city history two members of the Council are employed by the University.
Braithwaite, previously in a sales job with Grainger Industrial Supply, disclosed his new status during Council consideration of Mayor Daniel Biss’s appointment of Juan Geracaris to fill the vacated Ninth Ward Council seat at the Feb. 28 regular Council meeting.
Geracaris is a senior network systems engineer at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management.
Braithwaite recused himself from the Council’s 7-0 vote confirming Geracaris, explaining he was now employed by the University.
Reached about the matter on March 1, Braithwaite said he was concerned about the appearance of one Northwestern employee’s voting for another.
In selecting Braithwaite, Northwestern followed a standard recruitment process for the job, including posting the position online, said Dave Davis, the University’s Executive Director of Neighborhood and Community Relations.
Braithwaite emerged “as the strongest candidate” for the position in a competitive process that involved several rounds of interviews, Davis said.
Braithwaite will report to the University’s Procurement and Payment Services Office, where his role calls for developing, implementing, and managing the University’s diversity portfolio, Davis said.
He said Braithwaite’s work area will be much larger than Evanston and cover a number of other communities as well.
Draws on city experience
Braithwaite has served as longtime chair of the city’s Minority, Women and Evanston Business Enterprise Development Committee and has been one of the rotating chairs of the City’s Economic Development Committee.
He said he is really excited about his new role. “It allows me to leverage over $700 million dollars that Northwestern procurers,” he said. “It really does take into account that I’ve been in sales for a large portion of my adult life. I’ve always had a focus passion for helping local businesses.”
He said serving as Council member of the centrally located Second Ward, the “most racially and economically diverse ward,“ should serve as an advantage too.
The ward includes two of the city’s major food stores, Valli Produce at Dempster-Dodge, and Food 4 Less, at 2400 Main St., he noted.
Council positions are technically part-time under Evanston’s Council/Manager form of government, with a number of Council members holding outside jobs over the years.
Only a few, however, have held jobs with the University, which is the City’s largest property owner and the needs of which on occasion have bumped up against the city’s.
Coleen Burrus, then senior director of corporate engagement at Northwestern University, served as alderman of the Ninth Ward from 2005 to 2015, the first Northwestern employee to serve on the Council in years.
Burrus would recuse herself on issues where Northwestern’s direct interest was involved.
But the pressure against ties with Northwestern, the town’s largest property owner, may come under stronger focus
A number of activists winning election to the Council in 2021 advocated a stronger financial contribution from the University, which is exempt from paying property taxes.
Darlene Cannon, Braithwaite’s opponent in the 2021 election, ran a close race, losing by close to 75 votes.
Braithwaite said Tuesday he has always held full-time jobs during his time in the Council.
He said other Second Ward Council members before him have, too, naming the late Dennis Drummer, who ran a drapery business, and Lionel Jean-Baptiste, a law practice.