Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of profiles of mayoral candidates in the Northwest suburbs that will run in coming weeks.
Of the three mayoral hopefuls vying to lead a city of roughly 60,000 people, Mark Walsten sees himself as having a different vision for Des Plaines — one that preserves some of the old, while embracing innovation and growth.
“I want this city to advance. I want it to be vibrant,” he said.
Walsten would like to see the Des Plaines Theatre and other downtown buildings become part of a historic preservation district, making them eligible for a federal income tax credit.
Walsten also supports the redevelopment of the O’Hare Lakes property off Devon Avenue with offices, retail, a motel and entertainment area, which could generate revenue for the city.
Walsten, 55, who runs his own home inspection business and is in his second term as 6th Ward alderman, said his business’ flexible hours would give him ample opportunity to serve. “Being a business owner, I think I’ve got a better handle on communicating with other businesses.”
Walsten said in the last four years he has not seen much progress because city leaders have not stepped up to the plate “to get this town moving forward.”
“I see Mount Prospect. They’ve rebuilt Randhurst now. We’ve got Rosemont that’s built an outlet mall. There’s a lot of opportunities for growth in downtown Des Plaines.”
The son of a former Iowa state senator, Walsten said he has been around politicians for much of his youth. He moved to Des Plaines in 1989, when he started his home inspection business.
Walsten said he became a block captain for the neighborhood watch program and volunteered on the Des Plaines Special Events Commission before being elected alderman in 2007.
“I’ve always enjoyed helping people,” he said. “I get calls from people that need help on various things and I like getting it done. One of the reasons I ran for office was I saw too much happen in the city.”
Walsten said residents lost faith with city services when two people died in a fire in the 2nd Ward because the house did not have two exits as required in the city fire code.
And Walsten said he lived across the street from an illegal rooming house in a neighborhood zoned for single-family homes in the 2nd Ward.
“This went on for a number of years. We couldn’t get the city to do anything about it,” he said. “It was totally dysfunctional.”
As alderman of the 6th Ward, Walsten has been receptive and responsive to residents’ concerns, said Paul Turner, 68, an attorney with a financial planning practice in Des Plaines for 30 years.
“There are several issues on which Mark has taken a leadership role,” said Turner, who has helped put campaign signs up for Walsten. “He has been really involved with the Des Plaines Theatre downtown. He has worked with the owners and the community to make that into a community theater.”
Walsten also has been an advocate for incorporating green technologies into city products and services, such as using permeable asphalt, which allows rainwater to be absorbed into the ground rather than run off and cause flooding, Turner said.
Turner said from what he has observed at city and ward meetings, Walsten shows a good understanding of the city’s fiscal issues and budget process, and gets along well with the other aldermen.
Since being elected alderman, Walsten has served as chairmen of the city’s engineering and public safety committee and vice chair of the community development committee.
“When I came to the city in 2007, we had an emergency broadcast system that was archaic,” said Walsten who pushed for the city to switch to a state-of-the-art alert system, which was later adopted.
“I’m an ideas person,” Walsten said, adding that he would like to push for technological advancement in all areas of city operations.
As mayor, Walsten said he would consult with aldermen more than the previous administration about their concerns and ideas, and work to improve communication between staff and elected officials.
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