"I want to bring accessible, equitable and transparent government to Evanston."
Evanston's local elections are around the corner. Dear Evanston caught up with several first-time candidates to ask them why they're running ... and about their favorite snacks and hidden talents.
Here's Alex Morgan who's running for third ward alderman against opponents Alex Block [you can read about him here] and incumbent Melissa Wynne.
DE: Where did you grow up?
AM: I was born in Detroit and when I grew to school-age my mom took on three jobs to move and put me in the more affluent Grosse Pointe school system. The Detroit/Grosse Pointe border is one of the most heavily segregated in the country and there's an incredibly stark difference in resources and wealth. Going from one side to the other really shaped my worldview. It showed me how much a zip code really does bring an incredible amount of privilege. It's why I've committed myself to working in communities and schools and why I want to serve others.
AM: I received my B.A. in Political Science from Kalamazoo College. I went on to get my M.A. in Urban Education and my teaching certificate from Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee. I did that while teaching five-year-old kindergarten at an early learning center. My thesis focused on reading interventions and strategies for students with learning disabilities.
DE: Why and when did you move to Evanston?
AM: Well, I'm from Michigan and my partner Juli is from the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. We met in college and in 2014 we decided that we had to come to some consensus on where to plant our flag. We wanted to move to a place that had a vibrant culture and that was near a body of water. When we started looking in Evanston we really loved it and we decided to call it home!
DE: What did you want to be when you grew up?
AM: A lot of things! There were periods when I wanted to be a teacher. Others when I wanted to be an attorney. I really loved being part of my high-school newspaper, too, so journalist was on the list as well. Regardless of what topped the list at any given time, I always knew that I wanted to be an advocate for people.
DE: What do you do now?
AM: In 2015, I helped launch Progressive Turnout Project, an independent political organization that seeks to boost voter turnout in competitive districts across the country. When we started, we thought we were going to be a small operation in one district in 2016. Over the course of the 2016 cycle we raised $5 million and put that toward programs in 19 congressional districts. I'm now our Executive Director and already this year we're putting staff on the ground for the Georgia and Montana special elections.
DE: What do you do in your spare time (other than right now)?
AM: I'm coming off the 2016 election and Juli just finished her last graduate class and thesis so we're starting to ask that question again! Locally, I'm on the Board of the Democratic Party of Evanston, and recently built our new website. I volunteer with OPAL and have spoken about racial equity at a number of Evanston/Skokie School District 65 meetings. I lead Restorative Justice Circles in District 65 classrooms and with the Evanston Police Department. I really love to run and swim. I used to row and I'm thinking about getting back into that, too.
DE: Favorite snack food?
AM: I'm Greek, so we always have pita bread and hummus in the house. I also seem to run on a combination of granola bars, Greek yogurt, raspberries, coffee, and Diet Coke. If you're looking for more of a guilty pleasure, I do have a few big bags of M&Ms in my desk at work!
DE: What are some of your ward’s strengths?
AM: I love the third ward! We have so much right in our little corner of Evanston. There are cozy apartments and big beautiful historic homes. Lincoln Elementary and Chiaravalle Montessori provide two great educational opportunities for our families. We have nice little parks and an incredible stretch of lakefront. You can get a quick cup of coffee at Bagel Art or Brothers K or Hoosier Mama or one of two Starbucks (so many options!) and you can get a great meal at Blind Faith or Lucky Platter or any of the other wonderful restaurants in our ward. And even though we lost our Whole Foods you can still do most of your grocery shopping at Jewel and Trader Joe's. Most of all, we have great people who love our neighborhood and deserve an Alderman who is going to stand up for all of us. Getting to know my neighbors has been the most rewarding part of this campaign.
AM: Third ward residents share a lot of the same struggles as people across Evanston. I know people who are actively looking for work and would love to be connected with the next opportunity. I think the city can be a link between Evanston businesses and residents looking for a job. Additionally, we have people of all ages and all income brackets who are feeling squeezed by rising property taxes and rents. I've talked to more than a dozen people this year who are thinking about moving out of Evanston because of the burden. We need to make sure we're putting the Affordable Housing Fund to work so we don't lose residents who are having a hard time making ends meet. I also think we need an Alderman who is going to be more responsive to 311 inquiries and build relationships among the community and our police department.
DE: What led to your decision to run for City Council?
AM: When we moved to Evanston I did two things: Joined the Democratic Party of Evanston and attend a town hall meeting in our ward. I didn't get a chance to meet our Alderperson that night, but I thought the opportunity would arise again soon. I was wrong. It was another year before we had another town hall. I started talking with neighbors and they told me the response rate I received was par for the course. It has been 20 years since there has been a competitive election in our ward. I feel our residents deserve to have a conversation about our collective needs, values, and vision, and that's why I'm so proud of the race we've run. A few weeks ago the Southeast Evanston Association hosted a third Ward forum and I think we had 90 people in attendance. It was amazing!
DE: What do you hope to accomplish?
AM: I want to bring accessible, equitable and transparent government to Evanston. I'm going to do that by taking the salary from this part-time role and putting it toward opening a third Ward service office. I want to create a community hub within our ward. Beyond that, I promise to hold monthly town hall meetings, weekly coffee and office hours, and I plan to knock doors at least once a year because we know the majority of residents don't make it to city meetings. I'm going to bring an equitable lens to every vote I take and think about the impact it has across our city. And I'm going to explain every vote so you know exactly what I was doing on your behalf at any given City Council meeting. I'm an educator and an organizer by trade. If I'm elected I'm going to listen to my fellow residents and move forward on our shared priorities.
DE: There is a very wide racial and socioeconomic divide in the city.
What are your plans to help change that?
AM: There are a lot of big steps we need to take in order to address the systemic divide in our city. It means talking about housing, schools, police-community relations, and access to resources. I think we need to start by making sure that anyone who lives in Evanston can afford to stay in Evanston. That means putting the Affordable Housing Fund to work and issuing grants to individuals with a need. In the medium and long term it means working with affordable housing providers to ask them what they need from the city to be successful and requiring new buildings to have affordable units. Again, there are so many issues that we need to address to take on the systemic divide in our city. I think that means coming together, listening to each other, and addressing our most pressing needs point by point.
DE: Youth violence—what can we do to reduce it?
AM: I am a huge fan of Mayor Tisdahl's summer youth employment program. I think we need to encourage city departments to think about what each of them can do to provide opportunities for youth all year long. Additionally, we cannot talk about reducing youth violence without talking about our police department. I've seen great photos of Evanston Police Department officers out in the community. We need to make sure that's happening in every corner of our city. We have a community policing model, we need to make sure that every neighborhood knows their beat officer and that they feel comfortable with that individual. The more resources and tools we put into our community, the less violence we will see over time.
DE: What’s your talent?
AM: Well, given I was a kindergarten teacher, I am pretty good at reading aloud stories. My colleagues are also telling me that I'm pretty good at karaoke so perhaps I should be pursuing some kind of performing arts!
DE: Do you have a role model? If so who, and why?
AM: My mom is definitely my role model. Growing up, whenever I would complain about something in our neighborhood or at school, she always asked me what I was going to do about it. Today that's the underlying question in every challenge I tackle. It's hard to imagine what my life would be like if I didn't ask that question.
DE: What have you enjoyed most about campaigning? Least? Any funny “war” stories about
AM: I love that I'm getting to know my neighbors in all corners of the 3rd Ward. It's a great excuse to knock on someone's door and introduce yourself! In terms of funny stories, I did cross paths with one of my opponents on the doors a few weeks ago. I've enjoyed getting to know them a little bit better, too, and I hope that we stay in touch after the election.
DE: Why should third ward voters vote for you?
AM: Because I have a track record of bringing people together and moving groups forward. As a kindergarten teacher, I worked with underserved students and their families to make the best choices in tough educational environments. As an organizer with the Sierra Club, I helped local residents find their voices in their fight for clean air and clean Lake Michigan water. As Executive Director at Progressive Turnout Project, I manage multi-million dollar advocacy programs across the country and I'm working to train the next generation of leaders. Now I want to serve here at home.