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Misty Witenberg: Candidate For Evanston City Clerk

Patch logo Patch 2/18/2021 Jonah Meadows
a person wearing a suit and tie © Courtesy Misty Witenberg

EVANSTON, IL — Ahead of Evanston's Feb. 23 primary and April 6 consolidated municipal elections, Evanston Patch provided candidate questionnaires to all candidates on the ballot.

The primary ballot will contain races for mayor, city clerk, 4th Ward alderman and 8th Ward aldermen, according to the Cook County Clerk.

There is only one city clerk candidate on the ballot, Stephanie Mendoza, after former Ald. Jane Grover pulled out of the race in the face of a challenge to her nominating petitions.

But six other candidates declared their intention to run as write-in candidates, which has triggered a primary. The two top vote-getters will advance to the April elections.

Misty Witenberg

Age (as of Election Day)

38

Town/City of Residence

Evanston

Office Sought

City Clerk

Does anyone in your family work in politics or government?

No.

Education

University of Kansas School of Journalism, Bachelor Degree in News & Information

Occupation

Journalist (16 years); Online content developer (6 years)

Campaign website

http://mistywitenberg.com/

Previous or Current Elected or Appointed Office

none

The single most pressing issue facing the Evanston's city government is _______, and this is what I intend to do about it.

Transparency, because it is necessary for addressing nearly any other answer that could put here. My foremost priority will be to restore independent Freedom of Information Officer Act disclosure duties to the City Clerk’s Office, and in the meantime, I will be auditing the City’s FOIA and Open Meetings Act compliance and addressing those issues with the City Council, staff and public. I will also be making more City information continually accessible through the FOIA system and on the City website, including benchmarks related to our stated City Council’s policy goals (Equity, Affordable Housing, and Stabilizing City Finances, etc) so that both the public and Council are empowered to evaluate and address where our policy is and is not progressing those goals.

What are the critical differences between you and the other candidates seeking this post?

Of the Clerk candidates, I am the most prepared to tackle the issues the Office will need to address from the start, including public access to City records and meetings, and who has demonstrated the highest level of competence and commitment in City government to address those issues in service of the public’s interests and not those of other officials.

What do you consider the official duties and powers of the City Council as a whole? How about individual aldermen?

We have a very strong separation of powers under our form of government, which is often misunderstood. City Council are the City’s corporate authorities, but Council's its powers are purely legislative (unless otherwise provided by Illinois statute or approved by a referendum). The Council also appoints a City Manager charged with all administration of City departments; and approves Mayoral appointments of the separately empowered City boards, commissions and other agencies. Individual alderpersons are there to represent the interests of their constituents and residents at large. As with each City official, their foremost duty is to serve the public.

What steps would you take to address the city's budget challenges?

The City had serious fiscal shortfalls before COVID-19, and we are in for a long recovery from its resulting recession. More than ever we need to be bringing all stakeholders to the table to think through and find the most effective and equitable strategies to overcoming these challenges. I will be working with Council and City staff in implementing participatory budgeting with full budget transparency, and in engaging Evanston residents and businesses in the process.

Describe the other issues that define your campaign platform.

I am running for an open City government that (1) empowers the public to be informed, participate, and hold our policy and leaders accountable; (2) empowers City Council to engage in the evidence-based policymaking necessary for our commitment to achieving equity in Evanston; and (3) empowers more informed voters and future candidates to continue that process.

What accomplishments in your past would you cite as evidence you can handle this job?

It was an immense honor to be endorsed by OPAL, whose members have entrusted me to continue to come through on my campaign commitments and keep racial equity at the forefront, and will keep me accountable if I ever begin to fall short..

Why should voters trust you?

I have demonstrated my dedication in City government to the issues I’m running on, so voters can be assured they are not just talking points. It is also my commitment to truth that has permitted me to be so bold in advocating for responsible public policy.

If you win this position, what accomplishment would make your term in office as a success?

If I see restored the public rights to transparency, accountability and to effectively participate in our City government, and ultimately the public’s trust that the City is working in the public’s interest.

What are your views on fiscal policy, government spending and the handling of taxpayer dollars in the office you are seeking?

We entered this pandemic and recession with a fiscal cushion that has been steadily depleted since 2014. Our City fire and police pension obligations are unfunded by half and the City continues to have no plan to sufficiently address it. Total debt service accounts for 11% of City spending, and projected to rise by about $2.6 million each year until 2043 for Robert Crown's debt financing alone. Council raised our debt ceiling twice for that project, backed on property tax increases, at a time Evanston was already ranked 7th in the nation at that time for property tax impact on housing cost. There was no impact study on affordability. That was amidst a growing budget deficit and proposed cuts to community health programs and other social services. Our City officials have not upheld their fiduciary duties to the public, and acted in direct contradiction of the City's stated goals for fiscal stability, equity and expansion of affordable housing.

Do you support Black Lives Matter and what are your thoughts on the demonstrations held since the death of George Floyd and the shooting of Jacob Blake?

I support Black Lives Matter and the demonstrations. Though I wish they could always be peaceful, we can’t prevent the destruction and violence that sometimes arises out of protests until we fully act to resolve the ongoing destruction, violence and utter injustice that causes them.

Do you think the current board has done enough to support racial equality, and if not, what specifically should be done to do so?

I do not think the City or City Council has done enough to support racial equity, nor taken even the fundamental steps we know are necessary to advance it. With exception to housing, the City has not identified the indicators we are using to even measure progress, let alone to track any policy impact. We specifically have to set that framework, base that policy on that data, stakeholder engagement, and best practices, and be prepared to continually assess and dismantle past policies that have maintained disparities and depressed outcomes.

What are your thoughts on the national and local coronavirus response? Do you favor measures such as limiting operation of non-essential businesses and restricting indoor/outdoor dining? And do you favor a local mask mandate?

Politicization of this health crisis was cataclysmic to our national response. The public was misled, deployment of testing was stymied, and even mask-wearing became political—all of which cost our country opportunity for a rapid unified recovery. I commend the City’s early response, and the sacrifices by Evanston's healthcare and essential workers.

I support measures such as mask mandates and restriction of non-essential operations, and we know they are critical and necessary to saving lives. And while health is at the forefront, I also do not want to underplay the double devastation of those measures to small businesses, workers without paid leave, and their families caused by the country’s inadequate, patch-worked economic response.

What are your thoughts on the state and local coronavirus vaccine distribution, and how do you think local governments should work together to handle vaccine rollout?

I’m disappointed with Illinois’ efficiency in distribution, and it continues to rank in the bottom 10 states. There’s little the City can do to overcome those bureaucratic challenges except to continue to ensure our own distribution is streamlined. Vaccine inaccessibility and distrust are hurdles already evident, primarily impacting seniors and communities of color. Outreach is key to both, and we should be establishing partners now within and outside of Evanston so we can continue to prioritize residents who most at risk and who have borne the brunt of the exposure, illness and death from COVID-19. We should be partnering with leaders trusted within each community to encourage vaccinations, providing home delivery of vaccinations and establishing vaccination sites with extended hours and near public transportation.

Is there any reason you would not serve your full term of office, other than those of health or family?

No.

The best advice ever shared with me was:

You're small so you'll have to be fearless.

What else would you like voters to know about yourself and your positions?

Voters can contact me and find more information about me and my positions at https://mistywitenberg.com and https://www.facebook.com/mistywitenbergforclerk

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