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High schooler takes run at mayor’s spot

By Dermot Connolly

 

Palos Park Mayor John Mahoney is running for a fourth term in office April 2, and for the first time he has an opponent—high school senior Nicholas W. Baker.

“There are not enough people interested in public service at this level. I really encourage and applaud his efforts,” said Mahoney, 56, who was first elected in 2007.

The entire Village Council is up for election, and there is opposition in that race too, which is also unusual. Ralph Q. Jones is running for one of the seats now held by the four incumbent commissioners. Running with Mahoney on the Palos Park First slate, are commissioners G. Darryl Reed, Nicole Milovich-Walters, Dan Polk MD, and James Pavlatos, DDS. Village Clerk Marie Arrigoni, also on the Palos Park First slate, is unopposed.

One thing that both the mayoral and commissioner candidates said they are all striving to protect is Palos Park’s unique character and rural feel within easy reach of Chicago, in addition to keeping taxes down.

“This is the democratic process. (Baker) has forced me to work harder on my campaign. I probably spent 14 hours on social media yesterday,” said the mayor on Monday.

While Mahoney said Baker’s efforts are good for democracy, Mahoney doesn’t think his challenger is ready to lead the village “just because you don’t have the experience at that age.” He suggested Baker would make a good technology adviser.

The mayor, an attorney who has lived in the village since 1992, was on the Palos Park Library Board before being elected the Village Council in 2003, where he served as Public Health and Safety Commissioner. He and his wife, Mirella, have two children.

He recalled that when he brought concerns in his 20s to Mayor Rosemary Kaptur as a leader of the Brook Lane Homeowners’ Association, “I thought I knew about everything. But I came to realize that while my one complaint was very important to me, she had to deal with 1,000 complaints—and she did it with finesse, class and grace. That’s the benefit of life experience,” said Mahoney.

He co-chairs the Transportation Committee on the Southwest Conference of Mayors and is on the executive committee of the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus.

Nicholas Baker, 18, is an honor student at St. Ignatius High School in Chicago. He is a Palos Park Police cadet, helping out with traffic control and other tasks. He also works part-time for the Palos Heights Parks & Recreation Department and plans to study political science and economics in college.

“Where I go for college depends on the outcome of the election,” he said.

Baker said he decided to run for mayor after noticing “a deterioration of our community and lacking public transportation.” He pointed to the existence of three “vape shops” in town, which he would like to restrict to certain areas. He also said Palos Park needs more frequent Metra train service to attract younger residents.

Mahoney said that he would rather see more restaurants than vape shops also, but “It is a little bit more complicated than that.

“These are private property owners and we don’t hear about them until they apply for a business license,” the mayor said. He also noted that the smoking materials sold at vape shops are what would have to be regulated, and they are sold in other stores as well.

The biggest change that has come to Palos Park in recent years has been the annexation of more than 1,400 acres of unincorporated property on the western edge of the village along Archer Avenue and Bell Road.

“I was concerned with some of the comments I heard from the commissioners about what will happen with that property. I want to see the one-acre residential lot size retained, which is what makes Palos Park unique. It has a rural feel 30 minutes from downtown Chicago,” said Ralph Q. Jones, 37, who grew up in Palos Park and returned from Palos Heights to raise his family in the village.

“Inevitably, there is going to be some changes. But I would be against rezoning any residential property to commercial,” he said.

“The biggest issue is the reduction in the funds the village receives from the state,” said Reed, an attorney who has been the Building and Public Property Commissioner since 2011.

He said that whatever happens with the annexed property “will be a collaborative process” between village officials and residents. But he noted that there are still legal issues being worked out so he said it is premature to speculate on how the property will be developed.

“We understand the challenges that are ahead of us. At the end of the day, we are citizens of one of the most beautiful places in Illinois. Our goal is to be fiscally conservative, and make sure that what makes Palos Park unique is not diminished,” said Darryl Reed, the Building and Public Property Commissioner.

Dan Polk, who has been the Public Health and Safety Commissioner since he was first elected in 2007, said “improving communication between the village and its citizens about the relevant topics” is the biggest challenge in the coming years. He said that there are residents who have lived in town for 50 or 60 years, and young families who are new to the village—and they might not get news the same way.

He said committing to keeping the one-acre residential zoning in the annexed areas “seems simple but it is not. It is an opinion that is shared by a vocal minority in the village,” he said.

Polk said that “the glut” of one-acre properties for sale in the village indicates that not everyone wants them.

“I’m not against one-acre lots, but it is not an either-or situation.”

The newly annexed properties include the Gleneagles Golf & Country Club and three other sites. “It is not like the village owns that property. There are four primary families own that land, not the village. They may have different ideas about what they want to do with it. We might have ideas in our head about what we would like to see, but until we see plans, we can’t do anything,” he said.

“We can’t duplicate west of Bell Road what we have in the existing village,” said Mahoney. “But when we do get plans, there will be a public process, where there will be public input. They will be considered, evaluated and debated.”

James Pavlatos, who served on the Palos Park Plan Commission before being elected to the Village Council in 2007, serves as the Commissioner of Accounts and Finances.. He agreed that it was premature to commit to certain rules on how the annexed property is going to be developed.

“We’re having a complete feasibility study done on the annexed property. Once that is done, we will be getting input from the residents. There are 1,400 acres there. That is a lot of land,” he said. . “We’re going to look at our residential and commercial needs. It is going to take careful planning and 20 years to develop. There are a lot of factors involved. We’re going to be conservative,” said the commissioner of accounts and finances.

“It is interesting that many people don’t realize that we do have some quarter-acre and half-acre lots, and some planned developments here,” said Pavlatos.

“We also have a changing population. We have a lot of people who want to downsize from their big house and one-acre lot,” he added, suggesting that some residents might like to see new condos or townhomes built in the village.

Nicole Milovich-Walters is the Public Works and Streets Commissioner.

“As a group, we’ve had a cohesive vision of trying to keep the village the way it’s always been, but still grow with the times. That’s something that we strive to achieve.

“Outdoor recreation is a big thing for us as a group. We’ve been partnering with the Forest Preserve District of Cook County to bring people’s attention to the wonderful things they have right in their backyard, between Swallow Cliff and concerts there, or fishing derbies at the pond/sloughs and now there are kayaks at Maple Lake. That type of stuff is really fun, and with the Western Annexation adding golf courses to our town it’s a perfect fit, with the outdoor recreation and the idea of open spaces. It’s consistent with that.

“We’ve also been very blessed with people from diverse backgrounds on the board but who have had lots of experience. They know to have an open mind when they’re listening to ideas and are aware we don’t know everything. We’re willing to hear from everyone (council, property owners and residents) and that includes when we’re developing out west.

“Our job is to make sure we’re fiscally responsible, that we have a sound community that’s being developed in a way that allows us to sustain the type of look and life that we’ve become accustomed to and want to continue to have.”

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