15y Igor Studenkov | For the Bugle
Steven Yasell doesn’t have any experience in politics.
But this hasn’t stopped 27-year-old videographer and Maine East High School alumni from trying to challenge incumbent mayor Andrew Przybylo. He said that, if elected, he plans to focus on reducing flooding, getting the public more involved in the village government process and encouraging more arts in Niles. And while Yasell doesn’t have his opponent’s name recognition, he remains hopeful that enough people would be receptive to his candidacy to make a difference.
Yasell told the Bugle that the major reason why he decided to run was concern about the state of flood mitigation projects in Niles. He said, while he appreciated the projects that have been completed so far, he felt that the village should think beyond the current plans.
“There’s a lot of work ahead of us on flood control, and I want to work with surrounding mayors to develop a larger-scale project where we’re helping each other out and we’re not just trying to take care of ourselves,” Yasell said. “I really think sit-downs with all the surrounding mayors and coming up with [an] econ plan will benefit everybody.”
He also said he was tired of seeing the same people running, and that the village could use a new voice.
Przybylo is running in a slate with three incumbent trustees. Yasell said he originally tried to put together a slate as well, but it didn’t work out.
“I’m absolutely surprised there’s no trustee [candidates] running,” he said. I was considering asking more people to run with me. [But] I guess I thought about it a little too late. People I wanted to ask didn’t seem to want to support my mayoral run, so I decided not to ask.”
Yasell declined to give any names, saying only that they were “community activists.”
“ I asked a few people if they wanted to help, but they were doing their own thing,” he said. “But I was encouraged by them to [run].”
Addressing flooding would be a major priority for him, Yasell said. So would repairs to the existing pipes.
“I think with current repair jobs going on, they’re putting sheets of metal on broken pipes, and they’re not replacing them,” he said. “I want pipes to be replaced when they’re broken.”
Another major priority was getting public more involved. He said he was in favor of videotaping and live-streaming all meetings, not just the village board meetings, as well as returning to the public comment format that was abandoned a few years ago, where residents could comment on each agenda item before it’s voted on instead of having to comment on all agenda items they may be interested in at the beginning of the meeting. Yasell would also ramp up the village’s use of social media.
“We could be posting Youtube videos [on the Village of Niles’ official channel] on daily basis,” he said. “We can let people know about board meetings through Youtube. There’s abundance of solutions we can take about informing public about what’s going on.”
When asked about his position on taxes, Yasell said he would like to decrease them, while still paying the village’s pension obligations. He said that he would do it by cutting what he described as wasteful spending, For example, Yasell said, he would look for ways to do road resurfacing and sewer repairs at the same time.
He also felt that encouraging local businesses would help, since that would bring in more sales tax revenue.
“I really think we have a community that has a lot of different entrepreneurs,” Yasell said. “I think a lot of people, especially my age or younger, are really struggling with student loans. Just getting the first down payment on a storefront,or opening a business from home, just proving to be more and more difficult.”
However, when asked what the village can do to help entrepreneurs, he said that he would simply offer classes on how to start a business and how to pay off student loans.
Yasell said he supported Przybylo’s ongoing efforts to turn the area round the Leaning Tower of Niles into an arts and culture destination.
“ I think that can be a good thing if we’re modest with it, but if we go overboard, it can get a bit expensive, and we need to have an end goal with mind,” he said.
He said he had his own take on what should go there.
“I’d like to have a film theater, as opposed to digital,” he said. “With venues like theater, we’d be able to host film festivals, other gatherings for the community, just get people more involved what’s going on.”
Yasell added that he supported more cultural venues in general, especially music venues. The more of them there are, he said, the more options people would have, and the more likely they are to come to Niles.
The village’s use of Tax Incriment Financing districts, as well as Cook County property tax based incentives, have been controversal over the past few years. Yasell said he supports activist Joe Makula’s referendum which would have required voter approval every time a “taxing district” is created or expanded.
“If the property owners who want the 6b [property tax classification] have a good reason for doing it, then the voters are going to pass with ‘yes’,” he said. “If they don’t have a sold ground, if they don’t have a plan, if it doesn’t ring with residents, they’re going to vote ‘no’.”
When Makula’s referendum was submitted, a number of Niles businessmen and elected officials expressed concern that, if approved, it would simply encourage businesses to go to other municipalities, where the process for approving incentives is faster. Yasell said he wasn’t entirely convinced.
“They make a valid point, but I think there’s a potential for abuse of the system, with offering TIFs and 6bs for anyone who wants them,” he said.
While Yasell readily admitted that he wasn’t a household name, he said that the fact that he got enough signatures to run at all was a good sign. And he said he made a point to talk to voters all over Niles.
“I talked to everybody, mostly in Grennan Heights, and over by Maryhill [Cemetery].” Yasell said. “But I also went around [the Niles Public Library] and other neighborhoods, over by Tony’s [Finer Foods coercer store], and Gemini [Junior High School] and all that. I wanted to get a consensus of what residents are thinking about how the village is operating right now and how it can be run better. “