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March 15, 2023
The Second Ward contains the border between Evanston and Skokie at McCormick Blvd. Also included in the Second Ward is Evanston Township High School. Part of the job as the Second Ward Alderperson is to help foster the connection between the school and the city.
“The high school is part of the neighborhood. We have a long-time, generational relationship with the Second Ward and the community around us,” former District 202 Superintendent Eric Witherspoon told The Daily Northwestern.
Now, as part of the 2023 Evanston municipal elections, the Second Ward Alderperson seat is up for grabs. There are three candidates competing for the place on the City Council, Darlene Cannon, Krissie Harris and Patricia Gregory.
Harris runs as an incumbent, looking to continue her work on the City Council following her short stint on the council after being named by Mayor Daniel Biss as a replacement for an outgoing councilmember in 2022. Meanwhile, Cannon and Gregory provide a challenge to Harris, with each focused on issues facing Second Ward residents, with Cannon speaking about increasing the amount of oversight the Evanston Police Department endures while Gregory aims to increase the level of communication between constituents and the Second Ward alderperson.
Here are political profiles on each of the three candidates for Second Ward Alderperson.
For the third day in a row, the same elementary school student is sitting out of gym class, complaining about his hurt ankle. Some gym teachers might have been angry and accused the child of faking an injury to get out of doing work. But that’s not what Patricia Gregory did. Instead of denunciating the boy, Gregory began asking around for information. What she discovered shocked her. Two boys, whom she described as the nicest in the school, had beaten the boy up every day of the week.
“The boy named these two students,” said Gregory. “I went in there and got them. I said, ‘So you beat him up?’ And they said, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘Well, did your parents know you beat him up?’ ‘No.’ I said, ‘I know how we’re going to handle this, because I never want it to happen again. This is a new student. We take care of each other, and we help each other. We don’t beat each other up.’ They were so nice to this kid then, and they said they were sorry. And I believe this will never happen again. I got to be a part of the process of helping to turn these kids around.”
Gregory is now running for Second Ward Alderperson and plans to use a similar strategy of talking things out if she gets elected. She was born at Community Hospital in the Eighth Ward, grew up in Evanston in the Fifth Ward and attended ETHS in the Second Ward. Gregory has been involved in community projects since attending the high school by creating what is now known as the ETHS Pomkits.
“You had a group of Black parents who really wanted to make sure there were things in the high school for us,” Gregory said. “It was my mom and a couple of other moms that got together. My mom made our uniform. She went to Vogue Fabrics and got every member navy blue. I remember our first performance; everybody was a little nervous and shaky. We kind of flubbed it a bit. When you were in the back and somebody did something wrong, you kept saying, ‘Move it!’ That was so funny. So that’s how the pom squad was created here.”
Gregory played volleyball and basketball and ran track in addition to her duties in the pom squad. After graduating from ETHS, she attended the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle, now called the University of Illinois Chicago. After a brief stay in Long Beach, Calif., Gregory moved back and worked at Northwestern.
Gregory’s first-ever teaching job was at Faith Christian Academy. From there, she moved on to Best Practice High School, and she began to discover her love of teaching.
“We kind of flip-flopped. I taught Health. I taught P.E.. I taught a little English and toggled a bit of Algebra. It was really nice, I got to meet all of the kids,” she said.
District 65 was Gregory’s next challenge. She worked at the middle and elementary school levels, often moving between the two before settling at Lincoln Elementary School as a PE teacher.
“My first experience with fourth grade was a nightmare,” said Gregory, “I just remember staying up all night, two nights in a row, so I could get that curriculum down, so I could really teach the kids. And then I went from ninth grade to third grade. And then from third grade, I went to second grade. And from second grade, I taught fifth grade in the classroom. But I really enjoy teaching P.E. because when you teach it, you meet everybody.”
I touched those kids. That’s what I want to do as alderman, I want to touch lives. I want people to know that they can.”
— Patricia Gregory
Living in Evanston, Gregory has always been involved with the political side of the city. She worked with former Fifth Ward Alderperson Delores Holmes by canvassing the ward to find out the needs of Holmes’ constituents.
“We talked about neighborhood safety over in the Second Ward,” said Gregory, “There was a neighbor that had been there for so long. He used to call us the n-word and ride around with a gun on his lap. But because of his family, nobody really said or did anything. So here I come, moving in, and he starts that stuff with not having it. So I went and got the police involved, the city manager came out, and they had that person removed.”
The racial inequities are something that Gregory wishes to target if she becomes an alderperson. When she was serving on the Parks and Recreation Board for the City of Evanston, there was a subtle change in the time parks closed. The parks now shut at 10 p.m. instead of 11 p.m. It was only an hour’s difference, but it was enough to throw off many of the residents in the area.
“I came out to canvas the area,” said Gregory, “And I came to find out nobody knew about it. And if you’re trying to police the park, it’s going to make it even worse, because if somebody is just sitting there, and let’s just say they’re Black, they’ll probably end up going to jail and all they wanted to do was to sit in the park.”
Getting to know the people in the Second Ward is another priority for Gregory.
“Over in the Second Ward, it was [Dennis] Drummer,” said Gregory, “And he was really good about going around and meeting his constituents. It’s really important to find out what the concerns are of people and then deal with it in your ward. That’s my business number one, to meet all of my constituents in the ward, and I don’t care how long it takes.”
Gregory has consistently preached helping every individual, something she may have taken from District 65’s slogan, “Every child, every day, whatever it takes.” She helped a student through a difficult period at ETHS, gave one of her former students $35 to take the GED test and helped another student who had been kicked out of their house due to a gender change.
“I touched those kids,” said Gregory. “That’s what I want to do as alderman, I want to touch lives. I want people to know that they can. I don’t want people to sit down and say, ‘Nobody cares,’ or ‘I called my alderman and he told me to do it myself.’ No, I’m Ms. Gregory, and I’m going to help you do it. I don’t care what anybody said, we’re going to get it done.”
Evanston has been a part of Darlene Cannon her whole life. Born and raised in Evanston’s Second Ward, she grew up in the public schools of the city, and learned to appreciate all that it had to offer. Now, she is running for Second Ward alderperson and hopes to better the place she has loved for so long.
During her childhood, Cannon attended Dawes Elementary school, followed by Timber Ridge Elementary School—now Bessie Rhodes. She attended ETHS for high school and graduated in 1986. Cannon and her husband raised their son in the Second Ward and have lived there since.
“We stay in Evanston—and I continue to stay in Evanston—because we love Evanston,” said Cannon.
In her professional life, Cannon has worked at ETHS in the Special Education Department. She was on staff from 2006 to 2013 and is currently a substitute teacher in District 65.
Other than her teaching work, Cannon has been heavily involved in the political scene her whole life. During the Covid-19 pandemic, she started a nonprofit called Feeding The Village Evanston, which focused on helping community members who suffered from food insecurity as a result of the pandemic.
“Despite that it was a pandemic and that Black and brown people were more at risk of contracting Covid and having negative impacts from Covid, I delivered food and collaborated with District 65 principals to set up for families to come and pick up food donations that my nonprofit received,” said Cannon.
Ensuring the safety of Evanston residents is essential to Cannon, and she is currently a board member of the Citizens Network of Protection (CNP). The CNP focuses on addressing and eliminating police misconduct in Evanston and has been around since the 1980s. At present, Cannon and her colleagues are working on a proposal to have a citizen-led police review board.
“It would be citizens interviewing incoming police officers and also reviewing any police complaints,” said Cannon. “We would be collaborating with the police to ensure that that extra ‘layer of citizen’ is amplified.”
In the same vein of improving protections for Evanston residents, another endeavor Cannon has been involved in is an anti-predatory developer ordinance. She is a member of the Evanston Equity and Empowerment Commission, and, through that, she met Byron Sigcho Lopez, the alderperson for Chicago’s 25th Ward. He had developed multiple ordinances to address a problem that many of his community members had experienced, that of developers that were harassing residents in an effort to get them to sell their homes, and had gained positive results from the new legislation. Cannon, noticing similar disturbances from developers in Evanston, took a special interest in Lopez’s work.
“As I’ve gone and knocked on neighbors’ doors throughout the Second Ward, I have had people voice concerns about getting text messages, getting emails, getting letters in the mail, getting phone calls,” said Cannon. “I myself have received messages from people asking to buy my home.”
In an attempt to solve the issue, Cannon created an ordinance that will be voted upon by the City Council in the coming weeks.
“When it comes before Council, I hope that it will be voted on unanimously. This is another way that we can ensure that our residents are protected and that they can still stay in Evanston,” said Cannon.
Even without being a member of the City Council, Cannon has taken it upon herself to see that Evanston is constantly improving what it gives its residents.
“I’m working on these things for the betterment of the entire community,” said Cannon.
The next logical step in Cannon’s community involvement was to run for Second Ward alderperson. A seat on the City Council ensures that one has a legislative voice in the rules that govern Evanston. After running in 2021 and falling 71 votes short of a win, Cannon seized the next opportunity to create the change that she wanted to see in Evanston.
“Growing up here, I’ve seen the dramatic changes that have taken place in the Second Ward as well as throughout the city,” said Cannon. “And one of the reasons I’m running is because I think we need to address some of those changes that have happened.”
One of those changes that Cannon is particularly concerned about is the change in demographics in the past couple decades. In 1990, there was a Black population of 22.7 percent in Evanston. As of 2023, that population dropped to 16.5 percent.
“We need to look at the cause behind such a dramatic change in demographics, and I think that one of those causes is our budget, and how we’re spending city money.”
Cannon is especially concerned about the recent increase in the cost of living in Evanston, especially as a result of inflated property taxes. As a result, residents are moving away to towns with more affordable housing options.
“For the last 18 years, we have consistently raised property taxes. And when we have Black and brown and middle income people who are spending more than 50 percent of their income trying to keep a roof over their heads, a lot of them choose to move to surrounding suburbs where they can get more from their money and pay less taxes in order to live comfortably,” said Cannon. “We’re losing a lot of our middle income residents and that is directly tied to affordability.”
Cannon worries that this trend of middle income families leaving Evanston will diminish the diversity of the community, something that Evanston residents are proud of.
“People talk about how much they love the diversity in Evanston, but we have to make sure that we have a diverse people from different socioeconomic backgrounds that are able to afford to stay here,” said Cannon. “With the path that we’re on right now, I’m not sure that [socioeconomic diversity] will continue to be an actual fact.”
There is no easy solution to this problem, as dramatically lowering taxes would make it difficult for the city to maintain its schools, roads and much more. However, Cannon believes it can be done.
“When we look across the nation, other cities are putting in measures to protect the residents so that people are not paying more than 50 percent of their income to live in town,” said Cannon.
If elected to City Council, Cannon hopes to involve Northwestern University in future budget planning.
“What can we do as a city, as a Council, as a community, to bring Northwestern to the table to try to get some additional contributions? Northwestern has about 330 acres of land, and because of their charter, they don’t pay taxes. But there are other measures that they can take to contribute to the city, and I’m looking to address that,” said Cannon. “So that we relieve some of the burden that we’re currently putting on taxpayers.”
Managing the city budget is an essential part of Cannon’s campaign, and she believes that fixing the City’s spending will help solve a lot of the problems that we currently face, making it her top priority, along with resident engagement.
“I am running because I think that we really need someone who is going to be not only resident-driven, but a stickler about the budget, how we spend our money and who we spend our money with. Those are the priorities,” said Cannon.
As Cannon prepares for the potential future of becoming the Second Ward alderperson, she has started to plan out how she would maintain engagement with the community while in the position. A lot of the lessons she learned during her time working in the Special Education department at ETHS can be applied to what she wants to accomplish as an alderperson.
“You have to lead with care and empathy,” said Cannon. “We have people who come from all different backgrounds, and we have to understand them, we have to meet them where they are, gain an understanding of what their needs are and really work on trying to find a method of support that will best suit the individual.”
If elected, Cannon plans on opening up for community discussion during monthly board meetings, but also maintaining consistent office hours to talk one-on-one with residents. She believes that those conversations are essential to understanding what she needs to do to help her community.
“Those types of things build community,” said Cannon.
I am running because I think that we really need someone who is going to be not only resident-driven, but a stickler about the budget, how we spend our money and who we spend our money with. Those are the priorities.”
— Darlene Cannon
After learning what the change the residents want to see in Evanston, Cannon plans to bring that information directly to her work on City Council.
“[I will be] making sure that the community feels like they are a part of the decision. From the dias, I will be making decisions based not simply on how I feel about something, but how my residents feel about something,” said Cannon. “It is my obligation to represent [the residents] and vote according to what they want.”
Cannon highlighted the importance of reaching out to all residents, even those with limited access to modern technology or no means of easily educating themselves about city matters or voting information.
“Those are the types of people I need to reach out to and engage with and make sure they’re okay,” said Cannon.
If elected Second Ward alderperson, Cannon will prioritize the budget and make sure that resident’s voices are being represented at City Council. All this is in an effort to rebuild the community that she experienced as a child.
“Growing up in Evanston, we had a village, we all looked out for each other. And if one person was in need of anything, we made sure that their family didn’t go without. We all came together and helped each other,” said Cannon. “I want to see more community; beyond the Second Ward, the entire city of Evanston. I think we need to do a better job of looking out for one another.”
Life-long Evanston resident, community activist and incumbent Second Ward alderperson Kristan “Krissie” Harris is one of three candidates running in one of the two April special elections for the Second and Ninth Wards of Evanston.
Harris took office in September 2022 after being chosen by Mayor Daniel Biss following the summer resignation of Alderperson Peter Braithewaite, who had served the ward for ten years. Harris was selected over seven other candidates including her two current challengers, Patricia Gregory and repeat challenger Darlene Cannon, who lost to Braithewaite in the 2021 municipal elections by a mere 71 votes.
Harris has deep roots in the Evanston community and attended Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Literary and Fine Arts School before attending Evanston Township High School (ETHS). Harris then moved on to attend Illinois State University where she studied “Construction Management” while leading her “action-oriented” sorority, “Zeta Phi Beta,” in numerous community service and action-based projects before moving on to earn a Master’s degree in Education Administration. Harris also holds certificates in Substance Abuse Counseling, Elder Care Support, Human Services and Sexual Assault Training.
“I always say I started [my education] with [helping] building things and ended my degree in helping build people. I think that’s what a council position is about, helping build the community, helping build the people in it [and ultimately] helping build a better life,” said Harris
Harris serves as the Manager of Student Life and Campus Inclusion for Oakton College, formerly known as Oakton Community College. She has been employed at Oakton for 25 years while raising a family in the Second Ward. An active member of the Evanston Community, Harris has served in many community-based capacities including but not limited to serving on the board of directors for the YMCA and Family Focus, in addition to serving as a trustee of the 2nd Baptist Church of Evanston.
When originally selected over five months ago, Harris’s main goals were crime prevention and community policing initiatives within the Evanston Police Department, in addition to improving community connectivity and making sure she could understand the needs and desires of her constituents to make educated decisions in the best interests of the residents of the second ward. Throughout her interim council service, Harris carried through on campaign promises, holding multiple hybrid ward meetings to hear directly from the community in addition to a monthly ward newsletter and open email communications with community members.
“Six to seven months is not enough time to do the work,” wrote Harris in an email exchange with The Evanstonian. “Any good leader takes time to understand the process prior to suggesting change. The city has some exciting things before them and I hope to have the opportunity to be part of these initiatives. I also have some exciting things I hope to present to the second ward residents. I think I am the right person for the ward at this time.”
If re-elected, Harris hopes to continue her community outreach efforts to further understand the needs of the community and improve communication between the city’s elected officials and citizens.
“I want to work on a better relationship with city officials and residents. There seem to be huge mistrust issues and dissatisfaction between residents, staff and city officials. [We] are all doing something wrong if no one is happy. I think there are communication issues, unrealistic expectations,and transparency concerns all around…. Evanston is a great place to live, and the Second Ward is second to none, so we want to set the tone [for improved constituent relations],” wrote Harris.
I always say I started [my education] with [helping] building things and ended my degree in helping build people. I think that’s what a council position is about, helping build the community, helping build the people in it [and ultimately] helping build a better life.”
— Krissie Harris
Harris’s reelection campaign has faced fierce social media pushback from her opponent Darlene Cannon in collaboration with Kevin Brown; Evanston’s former Community Services Manager, who was dismissed from his position in the fall of 2019 under the administration of former mayor Steve Haggerty. At the time, city officials reasoned that Brown had been let go for misusing his city-issued credit card; Brown, however, claimed that his termination was racially motivated and that he was fired in retaliation for publicly criticizing a city official months prior. Brown filed multiple lawsuits against Hagerty and the City of Evanston, all of which were dismissed in federal court.
Brown, openly endorsing Cannon for alderperson, took issue with a $1,000 campaign donation Harris received in December 2022 from former mayor Haggerty. In near-daily Facebook posts, Brown and Cannon have encouraged voters to “vote no against the status quo,” with Brown saying in a post that “the worst mayor in Evanston’s history is organizing to continue his carnage upon our community, and he is backing political candidates to continue his neo-liberal agenda…” further accusing Harris of being supported by a racist mayor and urging voters to vote for Cannon.
“I [am] not really paying attention to what people say about how I’m running my campaign; my books are clean and transparent. My interactions with Steve [Haggerty] have been forthright. The experience I have heard about [regarding Kevin Brown] I have not encountered in our interactions.” responded Harris in the email. “Racism is a national issue, a systemic problem that we all have to continually work to dismantle. Systems prior to and still prevailing run this nation, and I will do my part, speak my truth and march towards a more just and equitable world.”
Overall, if reelected, Harris hopes to continue to fight crime within the Second Ward, further improve community engagement, ensure fiscal responsibility for the city and continue her fight for equity and inclusion for all.
“We have to create an environment that makes it very uncomfortable to be a criminal in Evanston. While we want to be welcoming, we want to be unwelcoming to criminals,” said Harris. “I am adapting and will make adjustments [to my goals] as necessary to serve the community. My goals and plans are driven by the needs of my residents and the goals of the city. I am excited about the many possibilities ahead of us.”