Community members honor former Council Member Ann Rainey at surprise party

By Bob Seidenberg

Former City Council Member Ann Rainey was originally scheduled to go out to dinner to celebrate her birthday on June 29.

Instead, she was rerouted to the Palmhouse, a banquet hall at 619 Howard St., in her beloved Eighth Ward, where waiting supporters serenaded her as she entered.

Rainey served 34 years as alderman of south Evanston’s Eighth Ward before losing in the municipal primary for another term in February 2021.
Rebecca Rainey, the alderman’s daughter, organized the celebration, dubbed “Ann Rainey Day.” She said she was originally hesitant when approached by others about holding an event honoring her mother.

Once invitations started going out, she said, “everybody couldn’t have been more excited. … I got so many emails like, ‘You’ve got to invite this person; you’ve got to invite that person.’”
Coleen Burrus, who served as the Ninth Ward council member from 2009 to 2015, came in from Princeton University, where she heads the school’s Corporate Engagement and Foundation Relations Department, to take part in the celebration.

“You know, I was the junior alderman coming in the Ninth Ward, and Ann really helped show me the ropes,” she said.

“I think what Ann is really great at, and I think continues to be great at, is bringing people together and knowing how to make a deal happen,” she said.
“Understanding people, I think, is really important. And one of the things that I think that not everyone fully realized about Ann is her integrity. … She always wanted to do the right thing and get things done for the betterment of the organization, and I think if you go into any job thinking that way, you’re going to be a better person.”

‘Politics is politics, but she still wanted to get things done’

“She knew more about city government than anybody else, from reading the packet (several hundred pages of meeting materials in those days) front to back … for all the committees – and not only like that, trying to build coalitions and get stuff done,” said Retired Evanston Firefighter-Paramedic Dave Ellis. “Politics is politics, but she still wanted to get things done.”

As for her efforts to revitalize Howard Street, he observed, “she did that relentlessly for decades.”

Burrus seconded Ellis’ comments about Rainey’s preparation. “I was pretty thorough about reading my packet, but Ann would find things, because she was doing it line by line by line.”

Former Mayors Steve Hagerty (2017-21) and Elizabeth Tisdahl (2009-17) also attended.

“I’m here because Ann Rainey is an institution here in Evanston,” Hagerty said. “I mean, a lot of the development – not only here in the Eighth Ward, but in downtown Evanston that has made a huge difference in Evanston – is because of Ann Rainey, because she is a fighter,” he said. “She is super supportive of making sure that the tax base in Evanston grows and it’s a vibrant city, and she has a tremendous amount of respect from me.”

Rainey and Tisdahl served together as aldermen on the council before Tisdahl gave up her seat to run for mayor. She spoke of the critical role Rainey played on her council.

Former Second Ward Council Member Peter Braithwaite called Rainey an “institution in Evanston. She’s been doing economic development before we had an economic development committee. She’s a great model of how to represent her residents and public service.”

Did they have their moments?

“Who hasn’t had their moments?” he said. “But at the end of the day, you always knew where she was coming from.”
Attention to detail

Patrick Hughes Jr. recalled that she had little regard for drones when she was on the City Council. Hughes is the founder and CEO of Inclusion Solutions, which worked on the Americans with Disabilities Act issues.

“I took her out, and we were droning one day and she kind of got excited about it,” said Hughes. “And we were [at] James Park, and I flew the drone over the community garden and she lit up. ‘Oh, that’s my community garden.’”

Similarly, they made a video about the intersection at Howard Street and Chicago Avenue, which was in very bad shape, and she presented it to the city and showed in what poor condition the intersection was. “It changed the investment level” for that intersection, he said.

Johanna Nyden, Evanston’s former community development director, noted the alderman’s strong vision working with the department in the revitalization of Howard Street, one of the city’s main east-west streets.

The Palmhouse, where the event was held, was formerly a Sherwin-Williams paint store, she noted.

“This was not a place that you would imagine in your wildest dreams you’d be having a cocktail party, birthday party, with fancy colored balls and glasses,” she said.

“You would never imagine this, because she had a vision, and she executed on it ruthlessly and relentlessly,” said Nyden, now the community development director in Skokie. “I came to the City of Evanston early in my career, and she really, like [with] many people in local government, took them under her wing, and said, ‘Here’s how things are.’

“She was incredibly tough, and her ways were sometimes unconventional, but she respected staff for what they did. Looking back on that, I know colleagues working here said she was tough, but she was engaged on what you did. She cared.”

Meanwhile, Rainey made the rounds. A reaction? “Twenty minutes ago I found out about this,” she said.

“You have a lot of friends here who really support what you did, and are doing,” it was suggested. “How do you feel about that?”

“I think they’re traitors, and they didn’t tell me,” Rainey said, in characteristic Rainey fashion.

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