For the first time in 20 years, an incumbent DuPage County Forest Preserve president is not seeking re-election and the vacancy is drawing interest from at least half of the district's six commissioners.
Mary Lou Wehrli of Naperville on Thursday became the second candidate to announce plans to run for the district's presidency in the March 18 Republican primary to replace the retiring D. "Dewey" Pierotti Jr.
An 11-year commission veteran, Joe Cantore of Oakbrook Terrace, already had announced he'll seek the seat in the GOP primary and another commissioner, Linda Painter of Hinsdale, is circulating nominating petitions for both the president's spot and her existing seat.
The primary filing period begins Nov. 25 and ends Dec. 2.
"This truly is an exciting time for the district as we transition into new leadership, both in the presidency and executive director positions," Wehrli said. "We've made great strides but it's the 21st century and it's time for a new way. I'm excited about the opportunity to guide the district."
Wehrli said her focus will be on ensuring the district remains an independent government agency from DuPage County. Earlier this year, one state lawmaker proposed legislation that would dissolve the district and bring it back under county control while another lawmaker sought to eliminate the $53,000 salary of commissioners. Neither proposal ever got off the ground.
"We have two distinct areas of responsibility," Wehrli said. "The county board needs to focus on creating a more healthy environment for businesses and residents and maintaining the infrastructure that underlies our ability to get out and enjoy the forest preserves."
Wehrli has served less than a year since being elected commissioner in 2012 but says she's "paid very close attention" and "done (my) homework" regarding the needs of the district.
"My experience on the board asking questions, listening and encouraging deliberation has had a positive effect in guiding the decision-making process," she said. "Managing the valuable resources of the forest preserve district requires an energetic presence at the helm who is engaged and will bring vision and clarity to the delivery of services valued by the citizens of DuPage County,"
Cantore announced his candidacy for the district's top elected post in August.
Painter, meanwhile, has not yet committed.
"I'm going to see how it all plays out," she said Thursday. "Besides that, I have no other comment."
Republicans seeking the president's post will need to collect 1,449 signatures to appear on the GOP primary ballot. Democrats seeking the same position will need to collect 998 signatures on their petitions.