Evanston mayor Daniel Biss talks first 100 days in office

Q: Can you introduce yourself, your role, and your career history for anyone who may not be aware? 

My name is Daniel Biss, and I am Evanston’s mayor. For the last several years, I’ve been doing a variety of different work and volunteer projects in politics and policy. My day job is a consultant to the Energy Foundation working on electric grid policy across the center of the North American continent. Before that, I was a legislator. I spent six years in the Illinois Senate. 


Q: What issues or topics characterized your campaign? Did you see those issues as ones that affected Evanstonians? 

I really focused on public safety, housing, climate, and internal issues around how we manage our commitment to equity and transparency. I think those are the key issues that as we try to use the city government as an instrument to improve the quality of life of people in our community. 


Q: What do you want Evanstonians to know about what you have accomplished in your first 100 days in office?

I think what we’ve really done is to establish some new patterns to try to systematize the way in which we do policymaking by trying to be more transparent and clear about what issues you can get on the agenda at all.  I think we’re establishing a precedent of real accountability and transparency and a willingness to hold ourselves accountable. Just the other night, we made a commitment to a pretty significant guaranteed income pilot, making Evanston the first city in Illinois to embark on a guaranteed income project.


Q: How did you take those issues and either implement change or begin to brainstorm solutions within the last 100 days? 

I’ve created a Reimagining Public Safety Committee to look at ambitious and bold policies around public safety and policing. We’re deep in the throes of a lot of conversations around housing, regulation, rental properties [and] rethinking our zoning. As I indicated, we’re really in the midst of the city’s path-breaking reparations proram, we’re simultaneously experimenting with other mechanisms to support individuals, households [and] communities that have been left out of the benefits of Evanston’s public services over the years. We’ve got a lot in the works. We also have a lot of internal challenges to work through. We need to do that in a way that’s supportive of the functioning of our organization.

Q: What are the main roadblocks or challenges that you have run into thus far? Were you surprised by those challenges?

That’s government, right? You can’t move forward without touching base with a lot of constituencies and stakeholders and that means things are slow. The kind of structural changes we’re talking about are significant, so you don’t want to jam things through without really getting serious public input. But, at the same time, that means that there’s always the balancing act between people’s sense of urgency and the need to gather significant public input. That’s just the nature of being human and [running] a complex organization. That’s especially the nature of life in government when you’re a functioning democracy. It’s never easy. 


Q: What solution or change do you think will have the most profound lasting effect on Evanstonians?

There’s many, but another thing I would flag is that I think we have a very severe mental health crisis in this community. It spills over into all kinds of other areas that we care about. I think if we can get our arms around that [issue], we’ll be doing a lot of good for our city.


Q: Looking towards the rest of your term as mayor, what do you hope to accomplish?

Well, I just think we need to focus on these issues we’ve been talking about that are the most critical for the people of Evanston while also [putting] plans in place in a way that’s consistent with the needs of our residents.