A new candidate has emerged in the race for the District 2 seat on the DuPage County Forest Preserve commission.
Longtime nature volunteer Don Kirchenberg this week filed to run as a Democrat against District 2 Republican incumbent Joe Cantore in the Nov. 6 election.
All six forest preserve seats are up for election this fall and after the spring primary only the District 2 post was uncontested.
Kirchenberg said he decided to join the race at the urging of several peers.
"They didn't want the incumbent commissioner to not be challenged because there is a lot wrong with the forest preserve operations these days, and a lot of commissioners are simply just going along," Kirchenberg said. "They need independent new voices and ideas."
Kirchenberg, of Downers Grove, was president of the Illinois Prairie Path Association for seven years and served on the organization's board of directors for nine years. He founded Friends of the Great Western Trails and has remained involved with the group for 12 years.
As he vies for the District 2 seat, Kirchenberg said he has three main objectives: to stop the forest preserve from awarding contracts to single bidders; to schedule more night commission meetings and to have all meetings broadcast online and on cable TV, so residents can become more involved; and to reduce commissioners' annual salaries from $53,500 with full benefits and a pension to $25,000.
In the past six months, Cantore, of Oakbrook Terrace, also worked to reduce commissioner pay. When the district announced scaled-back benefits for new employees in October, Cantore suggested a pay cut for elected posts, too.
"We have asked suppliers to tighten up, contractors to make sacrifices, and employees to make sacrifices," Cantore said in October. "How do we not ask the same of ourselves as elected officials?"
Last month he made a final push for the commission to lower its annual salaries to $50,000, roughly equal to the pay of DuPage County Board members, while maintaining pension and health benefits. The group compromised and reduced pay from $57,000 to $53,500.
Cantore could not be reached for comment. But Kirchenberg said salaries are still "way too much money."
"When I talk to citizens across DuPage County and when they are learning, seemingly for the first time, there is a part-time job available for $53K with full-time benefits and pension, they go crazy," Kirchenberg said. "They say that's unacceptable. And I agree with them."
Kirchenberg also vowed that, if elected, he will not accept campaign donations from companies doing business with the forest preserve. Additionally, he said he would oppose any commissioners' family members being hired by the district.
District 2 includes all or parts of Clarendon Hills, Downers Grove, Elmhurst, Hinsdale, Lisle, Lombard, Oak Brook, Oakbrook Terrace, Villa Park, Westmont and Woodridge.