Mayor’s State of the City address keys on people, programs moving Evanston forward Job ‘lonely’ at times because of all the anger

By Bob Seidenberg

It has been a great year for the city, said Mayor Daniel Biss, leading off his State of the City address on May 23.

There’s been a number of really exciting developments and personnel at the City of Evanston that have really enabled us to begin to take off in our achievement regarding our most significant promises,” Biss said Tuesday.

The mayor, who has passed the halfway mark of his first term in office, highlighted a number of them in a nearly hourlong speech before a full audience at Evanston SPACE.

Crucial appointments

Biss started with the City Council’s elevation of Luke Stowe, a longtime assistant administrator with the city, to the city manager position in August of last year Stowe’s appointment came after three national searches where the city came close to hiring someone from the outside.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve had a steady hand leading our staff in the execution of this community’s values,” said the mayor, who is getting his first dose of local government after serving in the Illinois legislature from 2011 to 2019.

Biss described Stowe as someone who is “very open, very inclusive, and the way that he approaches his work and the people around him – it’s just made an enormous difference, and you feel it every single day.”

The mayor also spoke about other personnel changes, pointing to the promotion of Sarah Flax, like Stowe a longtime administrator with the city. Flax moved up to the city’s community development director post in March.

“[The] Community Development Department is an overworked and understaffed group of heroes,” said Biss, who unlike council members maintains an office in the Civic Center and interacts with employees on a regular basis.

The mayor included the April election of Council Members Krissie Harris (2nd Ward) and Juan Geracaris (9th Ward) in his list of positive developments too.

The mayor had appointed the two to temporarily fill council seats after incumbents in those wards stepped down.

They won their elections with large mandates, he said, “because their residents saw the work they’ve done, saw their commitment to public service [and] saw their commitment to bring people together to actually solve problems and move our city forward.”

Endorsement rationale

Biss acknowledged his endorsement of the candidates was a bit controversial, with some maintaining a mayor should not be “involved in campaigns like that.”

To questions of that sort, Biss told his audience, “I feel like stating my position on important questions in our community when I think that there’s a lot at stake is not just something I can do, I think it’s something I should do. … It’s really part of the contract that I entered into with the community, as someone who was asked to be a leader, to weigh in, to share my thoughts.

Not to expect everyone to agree – not to expect people to take direction from me. This is Evanston, after all,” he added, to a murmur of assent from his audience.

“But to make sure that when something seems significant, when the stakes seem high, I can explain why I believe that is – and not to withhold that information from people when they’re making an important choice.

“And so, that’s the approach I’ve taken the last two years, that’s the approach that I’ll continue taking, and I know that is something that some people love, and some people love less, but I wouldn’t feel like I was doing my job if I didn’t follow through on that commitment,” Biss said.

On to key issues

“And we have now in place the team that enables us to really start running aggressively on key difficult important issues that are essential to substantiate the values of this community.”


One of those things, Biss said, was the council’s May 22 approving the permanent usage of the Margarita Inn by longtime advocacy group Connections for the Homeless as a shelter for unhoused individuals.

This (approval) is something that is really, really meaningful if we are going to make good on our commitments regarding affordable housing, if we are going to make good on our commitments regarding social justice, economic justice and equity,” the mayor said, “and something that was difficult, something that was difficult in a variety of ways. It was technically difficult. It was emotionally complex. It was politically difficult, but it was the right thing to do.”

Biss thanked council members, who he said did the right thing on the issue, “the kind of thing that a lot of elected officials are scared to do.”

News from the lakefront 

Some other personnel changes also have brought change, the mayor said.

Audrey Thompson, who was named permanent parks and recreation director in April 2022 “has been transforming things, making an enormous difference cleaning up processes and working to make the entire department open and inclusive.”

One of the changes will be on view when the beaches open, the mayor said.

The lifeguards, who return May 27, are not going to be under the direction of the Parks and Recreation Department, but under the direction of the Fire Department.

Biss said the city will manage the lakefront through a collaboration among a large number of people, including Thompson and Fire Chief Paul Polep.

The officials will be figuring out a way “to ensure, first of all, a professional environment, where everyone is safe and respected and treated with the dignity that every human being deserves,” said the mayor, who came into office at the time a lakefront scandal was unfolding, as female lifeguards reported wide-scale sexual misconduct on the part of male supervisors.

Bag ban, guaranteed income, recovery

Some other developments the mayor touched on:

• The City Council’s approval, also the night before, of a ban on single-use plastic bags issued at the point of sale. Believed to be the first in the state, the ban is expected to go into effect Aug. 1.

Share this post

Post Comment