Water district candidates discuss suburban representation
Although about half the population of Cook County lives in the suburbs, only one commissioner on the nine-member Metropolitan Water Reclamation District board resides outside Chicago.
Some of the 10 candidates in the Democratic primary for the MWRD board say they're willing to consider measures that would change that. The candidates are seeking Democratic nominations for three seats available in November's general election. There is no Republican primary.
The board is tasked with overseeing Cook County stormwater management and flood prevention, water quality, protecting the Lake Michigan water supply, collection of wastewater and discharge of treated water.
Cynthia M. Santos, 52, an incumbent from Chicago, said she would support a system in which the board's nine members would reside in and represent different parts of the district.
"I'm open to the idea of putting districts along the lines of the watersheds," she said, referring to the six watershed planning councils that exist within the water reclamation district. They are the Cal-Sag Channel, the Little Calumet River, the Lower Des Plaines River, the North Branch of the Chicago River, Poplar Creek and Upper Salt Creek.
Tom Courtney, 42, a Chicago attorney, and Brendan Francis Houlihan, 50, a former commissioner on the Cook County Board of Review from Palos Heights, also favor the use of districts. Houlihan said commissioners would perform their duties better if they were representing where they live.
But incumbent Frank Avila, 75, of Chicago, said board members should be elected countywide because all of the district shares the same water.
"Where it flows has no political boundaries," Avila said. "The water supply is for everybody."
Josina Morita, 33, an urban planner and community organizer from Skokie, said she understands the need for more suburban representation but would not support changing the way the board is elected. In response to a Daily Herald questionnaire, she said if elected she would bring her perspective as suburban resident to the board.
Kathleen Mary O'Reilley, 57, an administrative assistant for Cook County from River Forest, said districts wouldn't benefit the county as a whole.
Frank Edward Gardner, 24, of River Forest, said he believes the county could save money by cutting the number of commissioners down from nine to three.
Three candidates did not attend a Daily Herald editorial board interview or fill out a questionnaire: Adam Miguest, 23, a fundraising consultant for community nonprofit organizations; John S. Xydakis, an attorney from River Forest; and Timothy "Tim" Bradford of Olympia Fields.
Miguest and Xydakis had been teaming up with Courtney as a slate of candidates called "Chicago Water Leaders." However, on Feb. 6 the group's Facebook page identified the three candidates in the group to be Courtney, Miguest and Santos. Xydakis' picture and biography was removed from the group's website without explanation. The candidates declined through a spokesman to comment on the change.