WEST ROGERS PARK — Financial consultant Shajan Kuriakose, whose family has roots in the Indian community on Devon Avenue, plans to challenge incumbent Ald. Debra Silverstein (50th) in the upcoming election.
The 36-year-old joins Marine veteran Peter Sifnotis as announced candidates in February's election. Kuriakose is collecting signatures and has formed Friends of Shajan to collect donations.
Kuriakose said in an interview he wanted to help small businesses thrive in the ward while showcasing its distinct ethnic communities.
"For a business community that's been over here for well over 30 years, they're not seeing the type of growth" that some Indian communities are experiencing elsewhere, like in Jackson Heights in New York City, he said, sitting in a Devon Avenue vegetarian restaurant and nursing a cup of masala chai.
Ben Woodard says the two challengers are both fairly new to political life:
Kuriakose said he grew up on the Northwest Side with his parents, who immigrated to the United States from India in the 1970s. But he spent a lot of his time after school and on weekends with his aunts and uncles who lived on Devon. And for the past year, he said, he has been living at Devon and Kedzie avenues.
From his 20s, Kuriakose has been a small business owner, real estate investor and most recently a consultant for the banking industry.
But Kuriakose said that ever since he met Herald Washington, for whom his father was campaigning in the 1980s, he'd been looking for the opportunity to get involved.
"A lot of it is service, just being able to serve — not just one community but multiple communities," he said. "... We have such a vibrant, diverse community. I don't think we're honing in on those opportunities. I think there's definitely room for growth."
He said the neighborhood has lacked participation to promote festivals and events. For example, last week was Diwali, "and there's no reason why" there shouldn't be a street festival to commemorate the Hindu festival of lights.
If elected, he said, he would set up two advisory councils composed of ward residents to help decide on issues, such as zoning and permitting, in the ward.
He said he supports an elected school board for the city — and doesn't support charter schools of any kind. He has no plans to be a "rubber-stamp alderman," he said.
Kuriakose said he serves on the board of the Indo-American Democratic Organization, a 34-year-old political action committee. The organization also endorsed Kuriakose in the race, said the organization's president, Ashish Sen.
"Come 2015, if the cards work in my favor and I take office, again, it's going to be about open partnerships here so everyone thrives in this community, every part of the ward," Kuriakose said.
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