You could argue there are really two DuPage County Forest Preserve Districts. The district most of us see, according to many of the candidates, features preserves that are safe, well-maintained and a welcome respite from our busy lives. But the part most of us don't see, the government portion, is far less pristine, the candidates also say, marred by a lack of transparency and sensitivity, questionable deals and lagging leadership and oversight.
In Districts 4, 5 and 6 there are no incumbents on the ballot.
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The push for reform is particularly strong in District 6, which features two candidates from West Chicago, Republican Al Murphy and Democrat Shannon Burns. Both have run unsuccessfully for forest preserve seats in the past and emerged as much better candidates this time around with a full grasp of the issues. Both are regulars at commission meetings and share many of the same views on the need for change. Both say they will reject pensions and move to cut commissioner salaries, now at $53,500. We endorse Burns as the best choice to serve as a reasoned reformer who asks the tough questions.
The candidates in District 5, Naperville resident Mary Lou Wehrli and Democrat Dennis Clark of Winfield, share many of the same concerns about transparency, land stewardship and changing the culture of the commission. Both say they would reject pensions and cut commissioners' salaries. Wehrli is endorsed for her experience as a Naperville Park District commissioner, her superior knowledge of the district -- Clark would have to move into District 5 if elected -- and her ability to build effective coalitions to take on reforms.
In District 4, the choice is between Democrat Robert Flesvig and Republican Tim Whelan, both of Wheaton. Both stress fiscal responsibility but differ widely on how to spend the district's money. Flesvig wants to devote virtually all the district's financial resources to purchasing more land. Whelan puts a priority on land acquisition, too, but also wants to improve existing facilities at the preserves, especially the McKee Mansion in Churchill Woods near Glen Ellyn. Whelan is pushing for more commissioner involvement in long-term planning and to improve two-way communication. Whelan is endorsed.
In Districts 1, 2 and 3, three Republican incumbents face Democratic challengers.
In District 1, incumbent Marsha Murphy of Addison squares off against Michael Braun, also of Addison. We're impressed with Murphy's hands-on approach to forest preserve business, attending virtually all events, regularly talking to users of the preserves and programs. Murphy is endorsed.
In District 2, the re-election bid of Joe Cantore of Oak Brook is challenged by Don Kirchenberg of Downers Grove. Cantore has a good business perspective and is pushing for someone with strong business acumen when the district chooses a replacement for the retired Brett Manning. Kirchenberg brings what strikes us as a deep love of the forest preserves and has attended meetings faithfully. But some of the charges he's made in the race -- such as Cantore's spotty attendance at forest preserve meetings -- simply didn't pan out when the Daily Herald checked the record. Cantore is endorsed.
In District 3, incumbent Linda Painter of Hinsdale faces Steve Leopoldo of Darien. He comes to the race with youthful enthusiasm and clearly has done his forest preserve homework. But we give the endorsement nod to Painter, an enthusiastic participant, not just in meeting attendance, but in active involvement with forest preserve programs and participants. She recognizes, too, that some downsizing may be necessary in the district's administration.