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Mayoral Candidate Profile: Nancy Rotering

Nancy Rotering seeks mayor's seat with an eye on re-evaluating the city's spending priorities.

spends a lot of time at her campaign headquarters -- which is to say, her dining room. Right now, she's waiting for campaign manager Alyssa Knobel to stop by and give her updates before Rotering’s four boys get home from school and take turns at the piano.

Campaign materials, Christmas wishlists and packing lists for an upcoming vacation surround Rotering as the family dog, Ted, vies for her undivided attention.

“We’re not doing this right now,” she tells the persistent pet.

What Rotering is doing is making a bid for mayor, with the goal of changing the political climate of Highland Park for the better.

Highland Park native

Rotering's motivation to run stems from the nagging feeling she's always had to take action.

“It all goes back to advocacy,” she said. “Feeling like--and my parents raised us this way--if we see something that we could positively impact, you needed to take action. Always!”

Raised in Highland Park, Rotering went to college at Stanford University. While researching health care and volunteering at the local children’s hospital, Rotering realized that she wanted to become involved in the policymaking aspect of public service.

After graduating, Rotering earned both a business degree and a law degree. She eventually went to work for McDermott, Will & Emery in Chicago as a health care lawyer in 1990, where she stayed for eight years.

In 1994, Rotering and her husband, Rob, started their family. She continued to work after the birth of her first two sons. When her third was diagnosed with skeletal birth defects while in utero and her eldest, Charlie, required full-time care to cope with diabetes, Rotering decided to stop practicing law and start giving her family her full attention.

“At that point, we also moved back to Highland Park to this house,” Rotering said. “I think a lot of people get involved in their communities when they have kids because that’s what parents do. But mine was maybe moreso because of [Charlie’s] medical situation.

"But being the person I am and feeling the need to always step in when I see that something can be done, I got involved at a leadership level in pretty much everything that we were doing."

Rotering couldn’t just help out with soccer; she had to coach the team. She couldn’t just help out with Cub Scouts; she had to run the entire pack.

In 2005, there was a vacant seat on the Highland Park City Council and Rotering put in her name for consideration.

“At that point, Terri was appointed to that vacancy," Rotering said, referring to her mayoral opponent, . "But I had had such a great time just talking about city issues and researching the city and going to all the commission meetings that I really wanted to continue my involvement.”

Rotering later earned a place on the Environmental Commission.

Working for the community

Rotering started the Environmental Education Program, a coalition between the city and School District 112, as a means to educate children on environmental issues and give them the opportunity to come up with solutions.

“The came from those kids,” the candidate said. “They’ve been pushing for the Styrofoam ban for years. Now they lobby.”

While on the Environmental Commission, Rotering realized that much of the decisions made on the Plan Commission also had environmental repercussions. She started attending Plan Commission meetings to act as an environmental advocate.

“In the course of doing that, it occurred to me that they were missing somebody,” Rotering said. “So, I called the mayor and said, ‘Hey, I’m having a great time with this environmental stuff, can you put me on Plan [Commission] where I can really have an impact.’ ”

She served on the Plan Commission for three years, working primarily on land use in Highland Park.

Rotering entertained thoughts of running for City Council in 2007, but was encouraged to wait by many of the council members until 2009 when there would be an open seat.

She took the advice and spent more time working on the Plan Commission. But, when the 2009 election came around, there wasn’t a vacancy.

“I felt at that point the financial state of things had started to change,” Rotering said. 

At the time, the City Council had proposed a that would revamp sewer linings on individual properties throughout the city, but would ask those individual residents to foot the bill. 

“Literally, people were having physical illness because of this program,” Rotering said. “They were physically ill from trying to figure out how to pay for their mortgage, pay for their [kids’] college, and come up with this $8,000 [for the sewer lining].

"And at the very same meeting, the city is buying this movie theater and saying, ‘We don’t have enough money to pay to fix your lines but we can pay $2.1 million to buy the Highland Park Theatre,’ and they approved the budget."

What followed were several contentious meetings held by the council for the public regarding the sewer project. The project was eventually put on hold, and that’s when Rotering decided to run for a council seat.

“What I was hearing from people was that they felt like their voices weren’t being heard,” she said. “And, at the end of the day, they stopped this program, but to have it get to the point where you’re having meetings and the cops have to be called, it just wasn’t making sense.”

Rotering thought her background in finance, law and advocacy would be assets to the council and assets to the community. In 2009, the community seemed to agree. Running against three incumbents, Rotering was the top vote-getter.

At the time, Rotering didn’t see herself as the potential future mayor of Highland Park.

“The funny thing is, when I got on the council, it was really never my intention to run for mayor,” she said. “Cutting ribbons and handing out plaques, it wasn’t my life’s goal.”

For the newest member of the city council, the issue at hand was how Highland Park used its resources.

“It seemed to me that our money and our staff time needed to be reconsidered,” she said.

Re-evaluating the city’s finances

The clincher for her mayoral bid was the city’s spending trend.

“If you look at the budget, in '08, we missed our budget by $143,000; in '09, we missed our budget by over half a million [dollars] and we used reserves. This year [2010], we’re missing our budget by over a million dollars and we’re using reserves,” Rotering said.

Through some current initiatives, Rotering thinks the city is on its way toward fiscal responsibility. By tying funding for essential city services to revenue sources that are constant and stable, such as property tax revenue, the funding structure for Highland Park is more stable than it has been in the past, she said.

The challenge, she pointed out, will be spending enough and keeping on target with city projects and improvements.

“At the end of the day, it all comes down to the mission of city government,” Rotering said. “Are we doing what we’re supposed to do first or are we not as focused as we should be? I feel like we need to re-prioritize what we’re doing.”

Rotering considers collaboration among Highland Park taxing bodies essential for future budget management. She thinks that the different bodies should coordinate debt better.

“I’m not going to say, ‘Guess what Mr. Jones, your taxes are going up twice because I want to do this and they want to do that and we can’t get our act together.’ It just makes no sense,” she said.

Friends of Nancy

(D-Highland Park) has faith in Rotering’s ability to coordinate efforts.

“Nancy is the master of juggling six things,” May said. “Nancy focuses on what she’s doing right now.”

Rotering thinks that the skills she has learned while working for May as a legislative aide, in addition to running a household, put her at an advantage for prioritizing and problem-solving city issues. May agrees.

“Some people can’t listen, they are so into themselves or can only see it their way. I think Nancy excels at that compared to other candidates,” May said. “The Highland Park Theatre, the land along the lakefront--not just the tax levy, but the things that are really important in people’s lives.” 

Knobel, Rotering’s campaign manager, met her boss about five years ago on the tennis court.

“The more I got to know her and see what she was involved in, I understood what she was doing, and her core values mirror mine,” Knobel said. “When you meet someone [like that], you can’t help but get behind them.”

Working so closely for Rotering as a volunteer, Knobel has noticed that the personal side of Rotering is similar to the public side.

“She is authentic to the core:  What you see is what you get. The people who know her love her--you want to be around her. She doesn’t turn it on and off for who she’s with,” Knobel said.

For Knobel, coordinating Rotering’s campaign isn’t just her way of helping out a friend. It's a way to advocate for her neighborhood, her town and her children’s future.

“You want someone who is authentic to the core and ethical," Knobel said. And that’s Nancy."

In the event that Rotering doesn’t win the election, she’s still excited to serve Highland Park as a council member.

“I’m still there!” Rotering exclaimed. “And I get to ask all my questions.”


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