City Council Candidate Profile: David Naftzger
Natural Resources Commission member has made a career of working with governments.
While some candidates are planting campaign signs in yards, holding coffee chats with voters and mailing advertisements to residents, Highland Park City Council hopeful David Naftzger is collecting endorsements from elected officials.
Naftzger, executive director of the Council of Great Lakes Governors (CGLG), has been endorsed by departing Mayor Mike Belsky, former Mayor Dan Pierce, state Sen. Susan Garrett, Councilman Steve Mandel and former Councilman Mike Brenner.
“I’m very pleased to have these endorsements,” said Naftzger. “I’ve been talking to a lot of people about my campaign and when an elected official [or former elected official] supports me, I want to let people know who supports me.”
A Northbrook native, Naftzger, 38, moved here in 2003 with his wife Katie, 34, who was raised in Highland Park. They relocated shortly after he took his current position with the CGLG, and he wasted little time becoming involved in civic affairs.
Now vice chairman of the Highland Park’s Natural Resources Commission, Naftzger served on the city’s Lake Front Commission from 2006 until it, along with the Environmental Commission, were merged into the Natural Resources Commission late last year.
“I talked to the mayor [Belsky] about serving on the [Lake Front] commission,” said Naftzger, explaining his work with the CGLG made it a natural fit. “I served as a technical adviser at first.”
At the CGLG, Naftzger works with all the governors whose states touch the Great Lakes, including Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo as well as premiers of two Canadian provinces, to promote both preservation of the lakes and economic development along them.
“I’ve always been committed to the environment. There’s a historic belief that economic development and the environment are competitive,” said Naftzger. “They are complementary and that’s why I enjoy the work.”
Government related work has been the entire focus of Naftzger’s career.
After graduating from DePauw University with a political science degree and obtaining a master’s from the London School of Economics in 1995, he joined the National Conference of State Legislatures in Washington in 1996.
In 2001, he left that position to join the CGLG, where he had a number of responsibilities before he became executive director in 2003.
Naftzger is running for City Council to offer Highland Park forward-looking leadership.
Minimizing costs to taxpayers while providing improved basic services such as public safety, as well as protecting and enhancing the environment are the mainstays of Naftzger's campaign. His view of the city-owned Highland Park Theater provides an insight into his forward-looking philosophy.
“Whatever decisions were made in the past belong there,” said Naftzger, who doesn't think the city should be in the long-term business of operating a theater. “We need to have a dialogue about what we are going to do [now].”
Studying options and gathering public input would be a start to examining the theater issue, while recognizing its economic value to Highland Park goes beyond revenues received, he said.
“This [the theater] is an economic asset to downtown. It provides sales tax revenue,” the candidate said, noting that the theatergoers often spend money in downtown Highland Park beyond the movie. “We might sell it but place a condition [that it remains a theater].”
Naftzger adds that roads and other infrastructure maintenance, including snow removal as well as police and fire protection, are basic city needs. He places a priority there and it is the first place he would make improvements.
“We have to look at how we can do a better job. We are not meeting expectations,” he said, explaining the input he receives from residents is an ongoing part of his campaign.
While cutting taxes is a possibility, Naftzger wants to explore ways to improve services while lowering costs. He wants to consider joint purchases with other municipalities or governmental entities as one option.
Highland Park’s environmental awareness and leadership is something Naftzger wants to continue and grow as a member of the City Council.
“We need to take [an already] good set of ideas and determine the next step,” said Naftzger, citing storm water management as an example where leadership and legislation can lead to better natural resources stewardship.
Using the runoff from downspouts to water lawns--rather than tap water--is one example Naftzger wants to see considered.
“This is something we can legislate with new construction. We can provide incentive programs for existing homeowners,” said Naftzger, citing the city’s current policy of charging more for trash removal to residents who choose not to put their cans at the end of their driveways. “Whatever it is, we need to make it affordable.”