Second Ward candidate Krissie Harris addresses large donations to campaign

Tarek Anthony, Staff Writer

With Evanston’s municipal elections just under two weeks away and early voting beginning, concerns have been raised over two large campaign donations made to Second Ward incumbent council member Kristian ‘Krissie’ Harris. The two separate donations, adding up to $12,000, were donated over the course of two days, raising eyebrows over a perceived lack of transparency as to where the donations had come from. 

Harris, who was appointed to City Council by Mayor Daniel Biss in September 2022 after the resignation of former Second Ward alderperson Peter Braithewhite, is seeking election for her first full term in office. Harris was chosen out of seven other candidates, including her two current challengers; long-time Evanston residents Patricia Gregory and repeat candidate Darlene Cannon. In Cannon’s previous candidacy in 2021, she lost to former alderperson Braithewhite by 71 votes.

The donations were made by associates of the Ryan family, the Northwestern University mega donors who are currently supporting the effort to rebuild Ryan Field, Northwestern’s century-old football stadium. The family is expected to fund over 60 percent of the stadium’s $800 million price tag. 

The plans for the new stadium have been met with fierce pushback from Evanston residents and some council members who claim that the field would cause traffic congestion, lack of parking, alcohol sales, environmental concerns and noise concerns from proposed concerts. 

The two separate donations of $6,000 each were made by Alice Topping, the Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at the Ryan Specialty; an insurance company owned by the Ryan Family and Jennifer Glass, (a member of the Ryan family who resides in New York). 

Many members from the Community Alliance for Better Government (CABG), a local advocacy group lead by Harris’ main competitor Darlene Cannon, viewed the two donations as an attempted bribe tactic to try to gain the full support of the city council.

In a Facebook post, the CABG wrote, “Why would two Ryan affiliates feel so strongly about her candidacy that they would make such a large contribution to sway the election results? Why are they so desperate to keep Harris in and keep Darlene Cannon for Second Ward out? No one makes such a donation without certain expectations. And why did Harris wait a week to give the money back? Seems like it was the exposure that changed her mind, not her ethics.”

Harris, who has remained neutral in the debate over the future of Ryan Field, denied any prior knowledge of the donations.

In a Facebook post created on March 20, she wrote,Two donations were made to my campaign in the amount of $6,000 each. I did not solicit them. I have had no discussions with anyone having to do with these donors or these donations. To insinuate that I am involved in any clandestine activity is inflammatory. I have been and will continue to be transparent. Both donations are in the process of being returned.”

The donations were since returned to the Ryan family, with Harris saying that she was uncomfortable accepting such a large donation, and that she did not believe in using such large amounts of money to push any political agenda. 

On March 22, in another Facebook post, Harris clarified her current stance on the building of the field.

“I do not currently have a position. There is an impact study being done that will help guide the council’s decisions. We are in early discussions. I, along with my colleagues, am working with the Seventh Ward Councilmember and following her lead,” Harris wrote. “As I have said and will continue to state, I do not make any decisions frivolously. It’s important to have the data, results from studies, and more importantly, healthy conversation with all parties. Once we have done our due diligence, I will have a position. Today, I do not.”

The Ryan family has not publicly commented regarding the donations or the intent behind them.