Meet your Village Board Candidates: Vision for Niles slate

Maintaining village services and continuing economic development are among the priorities anchoring the campaign for a quartet of hopefuls for Niles Village Board, including incumbents and potential first-time trustee candidates.

The group, made up of Trustee Craig Niedermaier, Trustee Dean Strzelecki, longtime local politico Morgan Dubiel and newcomer registered nurse Marryann Warda, are calling themselves the Vision for Niles party.

They run with the backing of Mayor George Alpogianis, who is not up for reelection. They will face former Trustee Chris Hanusiak and political novices Sherry Bailey-Schutt, Pradip Pandya and Marko Ratic – running together as the Citizens for Niles slate – and independent candidates James Mahoney III and Edina Zvizdic. Voters vote for individual candidates, not necessarily slates.

They’re emphasizing better long-range planning for the village and say they’ll work to maintain village services through prudent use of taxpayer dollars if they’re elected and reelected to the four seats currently up for grabs in village hall.

“Niles always had a plan, or they always had a long term plan. But they’d do a study that would be put in a book that would get put on the shelf, and it would sit there for the 10 years,” Strezelecki said. “What we’re doing now is we’re sticking to it.”

Niedermaier, Strzelecki, Warda and Dubiel told Pioneer Press they’d prioritize listening to constituents and pursuing the things they hear requested.

“We’re not looking to impose our vision,” Dubiel said. “I think that’s the difference between us and the opposition. We really want to create relationships with all the stakeholders here in the village.”

Incumbents Niedermaier and Strzelecki, who joined the board in 2019 and 2015, respectively, said one of their goals should voters return them to the boardroom is to continue working on economic development in the village.

One flagship case of the village’s efforts at that development are the renovations to Golf Mill Shopping Center.

“We think future forward,” Niedermaier said while discussing the project. “We’re trying to get more experiential retail; we think that’s where the next 20 years of retail is going to be.”

He said he and his colleagues hope to make Golf Mill a gathering place and buck a dip in the fortunes of malls across the country.

While the candidates were skeptical about the idea of creating a traditional “downtown” district similar to Uptown Park Ridge or Skokie’s Oakton Street area, Niedermaier said his focus was on building up a series of more developed districts and corridors.

“Hopefully we build enough of an arsenal of those that not only does it make it attractive to people who don’t live here, but more importantly, make it attractive to people who do live here and keep them here.”

“Niles has done very well without a downtown,” Dubiel said.

“We have a series of areas that are very special. I don’t know that the downtown model is the winning model.”

They were similarly lukewarm on the idea of pushing to bring a Metra station to the Touhy Triangle area, north of Touhy Avenue near the railroad tracks.

“We think we’ve got a lot of arrows in our quiver [to] strengthen our revenue stream and help support our businesses and keep taxes low,” Niedermaier said.

Warda, who at 24 could be the youngest trustee ever to sit on the Board should she be elected, said her priorities were keeping taxes and crime down and said she takes an “if it ain’t broke” approach to other village amenities.

“Niles has quality services and I don’t want to see them change at all,” she said. “I want to just help out in any way that I can and not change anything that’s been working.”

Niedermaier chimed in: “Our goal is to keep taxes low, but still maintain the services that we provide. Making things cheap at the expense of all the services that this town is known for and so many people rely on is not really negotiable.”

Asked how her youth might inform her perspective as a trustee sitting on the board, Warda said she was “not sure what has not been given enough attention and what has been given too much attention.”

“I have to do my homework once I get into this position,” she continued.

Dubiel, who is currently a member of the village Planning and Zoning Commission and is a former board president of the Niles-Maine District Library, said his experience running a small business – he owns Morgan and Sons Fire Restoration – would inform his approach in the boardroom.

He also said he’d witnessed the village “bend over backwards” to accommodate companies who promised big revenue streams while on Planning and Zoning.

“At the same time we’ve got to be fair to those people who are citizens here and when they come in, take their concerns seriously,” he said.

One forum for citizen concerns about local government – the village ethics board – is about to see substantial changes. Voters in the April 4 election will for the first time elect the board members, who have until now been appointed by the mayor and board of Trustees.

Strzelecki said he was reluctant to comment on his support for or against the move to elect members of the village ethics board until a recently filed lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the change was resolved.

In general, the candidates said they supported having an active ethics board but said they thought it should remain an advisory board rather than have its powers expanded into enforcement.

Early voting opens March 20 at Niles Village Hall.