Lori Keenan: Evanston advocate runs for mayor

Photos+Courtesy+of+Lori+Keenan

Sari Oppenheimer

With the conclusion of the general election cycle, Evanston residents are shifting their focus to the upcoming municipal election. This election will enable Evanstonians to vote for different city elected officials including aldermen, city clerk and mayor.
The primary election on Feb. 23 is steadily approaching, and three candidates have announced their bid to be counted in the run for mayor. Among these candidates is ETHS alumnus Sebastian Nalls, former state senator Daniel Biss and long-time Evanston resident Lori Keenan.

Keenan has spent the past 22 years living in Evanston with her husband and three children, all ETHS graduates. She balances her time between her principal role in a women-owned marketing and public relations business and volunteering with various grassroots organizations throughout the city. Although Keenan’s campaign marks her first involvement in government, she was inspired to run in the hopes that she could help enact real change within the city and bring new ideas to the table.

“I truly believe that what you bring to your community, the passion and energy are really, really good. I’m concerned because it feels like some of the city council is not listening to the public. The current mayor even ignores people and called them CAVE people, citizens against virtually everything. You can’t solve new problems with old ideas, [you need] fresh blood and new leadership,” Keenan said. “It’s exciting to see new faces, fresh ideas.”

Prior to her run for mayor, Keenan has been involved with multiple volunteer organizations around Evanston. Her past volunteer work includes advocacy for creating a west side branch of the Evanston Public Library and working to protect the library’s budget from being cut. Keenan believes her deep involvement with community-based organizations will help her as mayor to listen to the different voices of Evanston residents.

“I feel like I’ve really been in the trenches; I’ve been very involved in a number of different ways…. I always feel like when you see these sort of grassroots movements, they really reflect what the community wants, what the public wants. It’s complicated, and I feel like we need somebody who has really focused on Evanston,” Keenan said.
At the core of her campaign, Keenan has been outspoken about the issues she feels are most pressing to address among Evanstonians, including tackling the livability and environmental stability of Evanston.

“Affordability and livability. That can be as big as affordable housing or big as parking; if parking becomes untenable or expensive, or whatever else, I don’t think that’s helping our independent businesses. I don’t think it’s helping our downtown,” Keenan said. “When we talk about sustainability and the Climate Action and Resilience Plan [CARP], let’s really capitalize on that…. How can we attract sustainable businesses as a model?”

CARP is a plan adopted in December 2018 to guide Evanston in the fight against climate change. This plan includes strategies for climate mitigation and resilience with a focus on carbon neutrality by 2050. Keenan hopes to expand on the implementation of CARP and hold Evanston accountable for taking action to combat climate change.
A major discussion point among Evanstonians is equity and the creation of equitable spaces, an issue Keenan feels very passionate about as a mayoral candidate.

“There are certainly progressive issues that are also Evanston issues, but I don’t think that we can create a blanket policy because Evanston is so unique and has so many different nuances,” Keenan said.

Evanston is a unique community with its own strengths and challenges, thus when considering national issues—such as systemic racism and climate change—it is important to consider Evanston’s diversity to create plans that work for everyone.

“How does Evanston do this? Yes, this is a national issue, but what can we do in Evanston? What are our strengths and challenges here? Because I think it’s not a one-size-fits-all,” Keenan said.

More recently, youth movements, including groups in Evanston, have been gaining attention as they work to mobilize people for actions around different important issues. Evanston is home to many youth activist groups, including Evanston Fight for Black Lives and E-Town Sunrise and Talking Whiteness on Central Street. 16.8 percent of Evanston residents fall into the youth demographic, an age group Keenan hopes to work alongside and share ideas with.

“I have kids who recently went through the high school. I understand that population really well,” Keenan mentioned.

Keenan acknowledges the importance of Evanston’s youth voices and wants to highlight the role that they play in the political dynamic by inviting them to be part of the conversations about making changes in the city.

“They’re often educating me way more than I am them, and I think that we should really be bringing them into the mix,” Keenan said. “I think that youth voices are informed and intelligent people who know how to do things. They’re the future, and I feel like the future’s bright, especially in Evanston, which is such a unique place. You’re so lucky [to have] such a formative experience…. and we should be really capitalizing on what they bring to the picture.”

Although this is her first time entering the world of public service, Keenan feels prepared to take on the challenges that come with being mayor. She is confident in her ability to draw on years of experience working with others in both volunteer and professional settings to help her work with aldermen and Evanston residents to create a city reflective of its people.

“I think that we need someone who has been on the frontline here, lives and breathes it every day. I feel like I’ve done that…. because I dare and I think that we need elected officials who aren’t insulated, but who are among people and who are listening and trying to work within the parameters we have,” Keenan said. “ I really think it needs to take someone who is of the people and someone who’s been listening for a long time to make a change.”