The next municipal election is still two years away, but Steve Chirico already has launched his campaign for Naperville mayor.
The first-term city council member officially announced his candidacy Wednesday for what is likely to be a crowded 2015 mayoral race to replace the iconic George Pradel.
Pradel has said for months that he is not seeking re-election. Chirico, 53, said he recently met with Pradel to confirm his intentions. Chirico said Pradel offered his assistance.
"Once it became clear that Mayor Pradel was not going to run again, I started thinking about who would be good for this job, including myself," Chirico said. "Mayor Pradel has set the bar so high in making public appearances and attending ceremonies, not just being there, but the energy he brings to it. I think anyone who follows him runs a huge risk of disappointing."
Admitting he lacks some of Pradel's charisma and energy for ribbon-cuttings and groundbreakings, Chirico said he would ask Pradel to "stick around as some sort of ambassador and do what he has done so well for so many years."
What he lacks in Pradel's charisma, Chirico said he more than makes up for in leadership and management.
"I know I wouldn't be able to deliver anywhere near the level (of charisma) Pradel has delivered over the years. Once I got my arms around that, I feel like I can do a good job at the rest of the job," he said. "I'm good reaching out to other councilmen and listening to the constituents and stakeholders. I'm a consensus builder. I'm open-minded. I have good management skills and I can provide an atmosphere in which all of our city leaders can succeed."
The founder and owner of Great Western Flooring Co., Chirico, 53, said his three decades as a business owner helped prepare him for the job.
"I have a lot of work to do. But I'm certainly ready to go in terms of my skill set and in terms of the things I've learned from managing people, running departments, owning a business and understanding negotiations," he said. "This is something I can do, something I would enjoy doing and a job I think, ultimately, will be making a positive contribution to Naperville."
Now that he's officially announced, Chirico said he will continue to gather community support, get commitments and build his campaign committee. He said his platform is cemented in the city council votes he's taken in the past two years.
In addition, Chirico said he intends to focus on the economic redevelopment of Ogden Avenue and fighting the ongoing heroin epidemic.
"We've been lucky there haven't been any more heroin-related incidents or suicides as of late, but we're still in the midst of it," he said. "We need to be focused as a community and put resources to it so that's got to stay in the forefront."
He says early support from the community has been "awesome" and "way better than expected."
His fellow council members also have offered support, including Doug Krause, who unsuccessfully attempted to dethrone Pradel several times.
"I'd tell him to go for it," said Krause, who would not commit to seeking the mayor's post himself. "It's going to be a crowded field, especially if George (Pradel) really does stay out."
Councilman Paul Hinterlong said he has been impressed with Chirico during his first half-term.
"I think he's very open-minded and know's what's good for the city," Hinterlong said. "It doesn't bother me one bit that he's running."
Newly elected Councilman Dave Wentz applauded Chirico's "initiative."
"I like Steve and I look to him as a true leader in Naperville from a business standpoint and as a community leader," Wentz said. "I applaud him for stepping out so soon."
Grant Wehrli, who is believed to be considering a run for state representative should state Rep. Darlene Senger challenge Bill Foster in the 11th Congressional District, said it's too early to make decisions about either race.
"It's way too early to announce for (the Naperville) race. I'm unsure what I'm going to do and he knows that, so, for me, it's too early to commit," Wehrli said. "Steve did what was in the best interest of Steve and I don't know how much further I can expand on that."