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March 15, 2023
The Ninth Ward of Evanston is one of the southern most wards in the city. It neighbors the Second, Third, Fourth and Eighth Wards, and it contains Chute Middle School.
“We’re neither the poorest nor the richest ward in Evanston,” Julie Kaufman says, who has lived in the Ninth Ward for 24 years. “Some think that Evanston is the ritzy suburb just north of Chicago, but the Ninth Ward would not fit this characterization.”
The Ninth Ward Alderperson spot is up for election in Evanston’s 2023 Municipal Elections. There are two candidates, and they are incumbent Alderperson Juan Geracaris and Kathy Hayes. Here are political profiles of those two nominees.
Long before deciding to run for Ninth Ward alderperson, Kathelyn Hayes was born and raised in Evanston’s Fifth Ward, with Fleetwood sitting right outside her window from her childhood home on Foster Street. The neighborhood was filled with the family community aspect that many long for, influence coming from all around that shaped her time growing up.
“There was a strong theme of accountability and responsibility in the community,” Hayes said. “The elders would always tell us that your relationship with the greater world meant that you had a responsibility to give back to your community.”
Hayes attended ETHS for high school and remembers her time here as positive, being involved with cheerleading and gymnastics and different academic projects, while also working various different jobs. These different types of extracurriculars and working positions helped Hayes gain leadership qualities that helped her figure out what she wanted to do post high school and paved the way for her to find out that working with other people is where her passion truly lies.
“What I learned from all the jobs that I had is that I had a need to be in public service; I had a need to interact with people on a personal level. So direct services were a way for me to understand other people’s identity and their issues, and to work towards solutions that would best fit them for the goals that they wanted to achieve,” said Hayes.
This need to help others succeed stems from her experiences growing up. As a senior in high school, Hayes became a teenage mother. She believed college was out of the picture, but her support system from within her community began to form.
“My senior year of high school, I became a teenage mother. But with the support of communities such as Family Focus, I was convinced to participate in higher education… One day, I was at Family Focus, and some of my mentors were there and they said, ‘We really want you to further your education so that you can work on getting better security for your family and representing your community and neighborhood. I was kind of reluctant,” Hayes said. “I mean, my family is saying I need to get a job and Family Focus is saying, ‘Yes, but you also need to be able to position yourself to have a career, and education is a way to do that.’”
Hayes’s college situation ended up being the perfect fit with location and transportation, while also being able to take care of her daughter and work to support her family.
“Kendall College was right here in the community and in the neighborhood, meaning I could get there and still maintain taking care of my daughter and getting back and forth to whatever part time jobs or seasonal jobs that I could get to.”
And from this, Hayes was the first person in her family to actually go to college and graduate. The support and push from those who believed in her does not go unforgotten, and Hayes acknowledges the impact that support had on her life.
“Sometimes, people can see and provide love and support to you that you can’t see or know for yourself. They can have the vision and the wisdom to help you go along to the next level, to be more confident and to be more courageous. And that is what that mentorship really did for me.”
Since then, Hayes has worked on many committees committed to helping those in need such as the Sankofa Safe Child Initiative, working with sexual assault victims on legal cases and more, always committed to the trust and understanding to have positive outcomes for recipients of the support.
“So, whether I worked at the domestic violence court, dealing with sexual assault cases, or as a liaison for Cultural Affairs, dealing with broader scale issues, the one thing that those jobs taught me was that people were hurting and had valid issues that needed to be addressed. And it was my job to help find solutions. To those issues, you have to be very solution-based, because people were in need. You couldn’t just say, ‘Oh, well, theoretically this, theoretically that.’ You have to really work with the individual to see how we can help fix these issues.”
Sometimes, people can see and provide love and support to you that you can’t see or know for yourself. They can have the vision and the wisdom to help you go along to the next level, to be more confident and to be more courageous. And that is what that mentorship really did for me.”
— Kathy Hayes
A throughline across Hayes’ life has been a focus on the idea that certain individuals and groups need help, and she is dedicated to finding those solutions.
“The need to address these big ticket item issues and questions for individuals is personal. All these questions, no matter how big they are, become very personal to a constituent to a client, patient, family, and consequently are very big issues and very important issues to a community as a whole.”
Hayes wants to see the communication between government representatives, residents, businesses and organizations to help Evanston succeed in all ways.
“So we have to be able to sit down and communicate, to make Evanston as a community more encompassing of a positive economic and community change.”
Hayes is putting her focus towards the needs of residence and business within Evanston, since that is what keeps the lifeline of our city flowing over time. If this balance between citizens and work is unstable, there becomes an imbalance that affects Evanston as a whole.
“Our tax base is helped by businesses as well as residents. How we value those two entities shows the value of our community overall.”
There is the obvious connection between the two, and Hayes tells us how that really fosters the community that we strive to build.
“Businesses and small businesses are the economic engine of a community no matter where your businesses, especially small businesses, help lay down the foundation for people to have an identity and identity. … It helps you foster a community that can help you meet your individual identity goals, whatever they may be. And, many times, they have a direct effect on your ability to have housing, security, safety and nutrition, as well as access to other systems such as school and education. So, small businesses have always been the backbone, what I call the quieter heroes of a community.”
Then connecting the economical aspect with the residents living here in Evanston Hayes shares how citizens are affected daily.
While businesses are essential to Evanston, residential housing affordability is also on Hayes’ mind.
“It is one thing to have housing; it is another thing to have housing that people can afford, mixed housing availability needs to be put more into the community so people can be able to live here in Evanston, especially because it is a desirable community,” Hayes said.
Hayes has established her life here in Evanston which fuels the passion to keep the city she lives in in the best shape possible.
“I love Evanston,” Hayes said. “That’s why I bought a home here, my daughter bought a home here, and her family bought a home here. Living in Evanston is a great pleasure, it just needs to be a great pleasure for everyone.”
As election season approaches, Ninth Ward alderperson Juan Geracaris is running in a general City Council election for the first time.
Unlike fellow council members running for re-election, Geracaris did not run in the previous election. Rather, he had been elected through a special process that started when his predecessor, Cicely Fleming, resigned last February. He was urged by his community to submit an application to fill the position, and that culminated in a public forum alongside the other candidates. Eventually, Mayor Daniel Biss selected him to represent the Ninth Ward. Geracaris believes that his speaking in both English and Spanish at the forum was a key factor in being appointed by the mayor.
A first-generation Argentinian immigrant, Geracaris is a major advocate for the Latino community. Growing up in rural Wisconsin, he often felt isolated as one of very few Latinos in town. When he came to Evanston in 1983 to study at Northwestern, he instantly felt welcomed by the diversity. Since then, he has been an influential member of his community. He was one of the founders of Evanston Latinos, a community group that advocates for equity and inclusion. He has also sat on several nonprofit boards and has been a Parent Teacher Association (PTA) member at Oakton Elementary, where his two children attend school and participate in the Two Way Immersion program. In this program, students in grades K-5 receive classroom instruction in both English and Spanish, aiming to help every student become confident in both languages.
The main issue that Geracaris wants to address is Latino representation and equity. He knew he wanted to take action when the issue was brought up at meetings for Evanston Latinos.
“One thing that came up over and over was that [Latinx Evanstonians] don’t have representation in government,” said Geracaris.
In the year that he has been in office, Geracaris has focused his energy on working on equity projects for underrepresented individuals.
“Affordable housing and being an advocate for that is important to me, whether that’s supporting the Margarita Inn homeless shelter or finding ways to change the zoning so that there are more affordable housing types,” said Geracaris.
One thing that came up over and over was that [Latinx Evanstonians] don’t have representation in government.”
— Juan Geracaris
As well as advocating for affordable housing, he helped make strides towards ranked choice voting for Evanston.
“The ranked choice voting ballot referendum was my referral,” said Geracaris. “That passed, and we will be the first city in the state to have ranked choice voting, which is exciting.”
Currently, he is working on campaign finance reform for mayoral races. This will allow the city to help match donations from small donors. Historically, candidates from marginalized groups have fewer financial resources, including big donors, due to years of discrimination in politics. The goal of this reform is to increase the possibility of having candidates from marginalized groups run for office. With the city matching their smaller donations, they will have more resources to help with the campaign process.
Looking forward, Geracaris is focused on making informed, equitable decisions in local government that will help create diversity in opportunity.
“Equity is something that I’m very involved with,” said Geracaris, “so bringing that lens to [City Council] is important.”