WEST ROGERS PARK — A 28-year-old former Marine has emerged to challenge incumbent Ald. Debra Silverstein in February's 50th Ward aldermanic race.
Peter Sifnotis, a Marine for eight years, grew up in suburban Elk Grove Village and has lived in the neighborhood since 2009. He's a student at Northeastern Illinois University.
"I've always been interested in city politics," he said in a recent interview. "I love the city and want it to succeed."
Sifnotis said he can offer the residents of the 50th Ward more than the status quo. His platform focuses on four main topics: economic development, participatory budgeting, responsiveness and infrastructure.
Firstly, he says, he would address empty storefronts.
"You have whole stretches of Devon, Touhy, Western and Howard that have a lot of vacant storefronts and high turnover," he said. "Businesses come and go without any direction or support from the ward office."
But Silverstein said in a phone interview from City Hall that she's been working hard with the city to fix up vacant storefronts. She said she's been "in and out of court" with one building owner on Touhy Avenue to force her to fix up and rent a stretch of storefronts.
"Hopefully we’ll be able to revitalize that whole area," she said.
Sifnotis said if elected he would also work to draw younger people and more businesses to West Rogers Park by establishing a cultural street festival on Devon, similar to Andersonville's Midsommarfest.
"I want to see West Ridge rebranded as a cultural destination in the city," he said. "We have a diversity that is unmatched in the city."
He said he would also want to bring a tech hub to the area, similar to Downtown's 1871, and express bus service on Devon and Western avenues.
As the president of his condo association, Sifnotis said, he first became interested in city politics when the City Council passed a bed-bug ordinance supported by Silverstein.
He said it was "make-work legislation" that only added bureaucracy to the problem of infestations. In response, however, Silverstein said bed-bug complaints have decreased since the ordinance's implementation.
Sifnotis said he would also implement participatory budgeting, like in the 49th Ward, which allows residents to vote on how the alderman's $1.3 million in discretionary capital funding is spent.
He said he would boost communication and responsiveness with the ward office — something that he believe is lacking now. ("That’s an unfounded allegation," responded Silverstein, saying she often meets with business owners and residents. "That’s what I do constantly. I ran on the fact that we needed to improve constituent services.")
On a new ward website, Sifnotis said, he would develop a system to allow constituents to submit complaints and suggestions. He would also use the site to explain why he made each of his votes in City Council.
At City Hall, he said, he would vote against legislation that restricts business, such as recent regulations to the pedicab, ride-sharing and food truck industries.
"It's about making everyday lives better for citizens," he said.
Sifnotis said he joined the Marines in 2004 and spent time in Iraq and Lebanon. From 2008 to 2012 he was stationed in Chicago, where he supported and trained Marine Corps reservists. His rank when he left was Sergeant, he said.
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