For the first time since , Evanston Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd Ward) got a chance to open his doors to the entirety of his constituency at the 2nd Ward Meeting held Thursday night at Evanston’s Levy Center, 300 Dodge Ave.
The meeting served as a platform for Braithwaite to introduce himself to the community, as well as an unofficial, public passing of the baton from former-alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, in mid-February .
Braithwaite offered a few opening remarks describing his Evanston upbringing and qualifications for his appointment. However, he kept his speech short, choosing instead to use the majority of the meeting time to open the floor so that residents might openly voice questions and concerns.
“One of the things that I didn’t have a chance to do was campaign,” said Braithwaite, who was appointed to his postion by Evanston Mayor Tisdahl, rather than elected. “Typically you go on a listening campaign where you get to hear all the residents…What’s important to me is that before I make announcements and what my agenda is and my plans for the 2nd Ward, that we have an opportunity to hear from the residents that are here.”
Chief on the mind of residents in attendance was ensuring there would be an open line of communication to Braithwaite. Some longtime 2nd Ward residents who had become accustomed to freely and easily interacting with Jean-Baptiste wanted an assurance that Braithwaite would foster a two-way conversation with his constituents, both announcing his plans and intentions to the community while keeping his hears opens, as well.
Braithwaite assured residents his door would always be open, pledged to hold quarterly 2nd Ward meetings, announced plans to make a ward website, directed attendees towards a Facebook page he regularly uses to communicate and discussed the possibility of a ward-wide newsletter.
Additional concerns voiced at Thursday’s meeting included safety issues,, the potential use of TIF funding on the city’s west side and the beautification of the 2nd Ward. During his speech, Braithwaite also mentioned affordable housing and youth advocacy as important issues he would address during his term.
Mary Jo Wisniewski, a 28-year resident of Evanston’s 2nd Ward and block captain of Florence and Crain Neighbors, said she was most concerned with safety issues surrounding drug dealing and break-ins in her neighborhood and that she came out to ensure she could establish a relationship with the new alderman.
Wisniewski said she was happy to see that Braithwaite was keeping both his mind and ears open.
“There has to be a learning process,” Wisniewski said. “I mean this is a lot of people in a large area having a large amount of concerns. But I think it is good to have people know that there is someone who was interested in having this meeting, interested in making sure he got to meet the neighborhood, making sure he had some idea of what the real concerns of the people who live here are.”
When asked what he thought Braithwaite’s biggest challenge would be, Jean-Baptiste said simply hearing all voices in a large and diverse ward is a difficult and unceasing task. He also said that the upcoming ward redistricting process could prove difficult.
Braithwaite said that one of his biggest challenges has been getting up to speed in time for the city budget planning process, which will play out over the next few months.
“What’s important to me is that I’ve had an opportunity to meet with all the department heads to really understand what’s going on in their department so that when cuts come up, I have an understanding of how that’s going to impact not only the services in Evanston, but also the individuals who work in the City,” Braithwaite said.
Braithwaite was raised in Evanston, graduating from Dewey Elementary School, Nichols Middle School, and Evanston Township High School before attending college at the University of Kansas where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology with a focus in African-American Studies and Human Development. He currently works as an independent sales consultant.