While Chicago gears up for a mayoral runoff, a little known candidate is making his final push for mayor in an April 2 suburban election.
Nicholas Baker is running for mayor of Palos Park, a small southwestern suburb of about 5,000 residents. He’s also a high school student. The 18-year-old is finishing up his senior year at St. Ignatius College Prep in Chicago.
He said he was motivated after seeing three vape shops open in his town.
“The motto of Palos Park is pastoral setting, rural splendor,” Baker said. “I don’t think they really fit the character of our community.”
Baker says he wants to bring in more family friendly businesses to boost property values. He also wants to bring more public transportation to the village and technology like an app that offers a library card, streams city council meetings and connects to 311 service.
Baker’s parents were skeptical at first, but that changed when they saw how hard he worked on the campaign.
“I, of course, want him to focus on school first, but I’m proud of his productivity,” said his mother, Kathleen Baker. “I don’t know too many young people that age that go in depth into this as he has.”
Baker’s grandmother, Barbara Clark doubles as his press secretary. She volunteered right away when Baker announced his candidacy, bringing a long history in government, including working for an attorney general and governor in Kansas.
“It’s in the blood,” she said. “We didn’t really force him into it. It was there.”
Baker’s run is an uphill climb. For one, he’s juggling high school, a part time job at a recreation center and volunteering with the Palos Park Police Department. He also doesn’t have the name recognition of the incumbent, John Mahoney, who’s been mayor since 2007. Mahoney said he commends Baker for running.
“This experience will really be valuable as he goes on his journey in his life’s chosen fields,” Mahoney said. “I hope that he continues to place a high value on public service throughout his life.”
Mahoney said he doesn’t want to be critical, but as a response to Baker’s platform on vape shops, he said the village can’t regulate the leasing of those stores because it’s not public land.
Mahoney said he “trusts the voters of Palos Park,” but he said Baker’s run has him out campaigning when he otherwise wouldn’t be.
Baker thinks some voters haven’t taken him seriously because of his age.
“I’ve had some critics say, ‘Oh, you live in your mom’s basement,’” he said. “So that’s been kind of funny. But I don’t think age should change the outcome of the race because I think I have some pretty good ideas for the village,” he said.
If he wins, Baker said he’ll stay in the area and split time between being mayor and going to a local college where he’ll major in political science and economics. If he loses, he might accept an admission offer at a school out of state.
“Even running for mayor is a good accomplishment at this age,” he said.