Six candidates for three spots on Metropolitan Water Reclamation District board
Six Democratic candidates -- most with ties to the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago -- want to address flooding issues and wastewater treatment if elected to a 6-year term on the district's board of commissioners.
The 9-member board oversees an agency responsible for treatment of one billion gallons of water a day, as well as flood mitigation projects in Cook County.
Commissioners earn a salary of $70,000, plus health care and pension benefits. The board president and vice president, chosen by their fellow commissioners, receive $80,000 and $75,000, respectively.
The six candidates running for three spots include two incumbents, a current full-time employee of the district, a retiree, and two others who have run for the board before. They all spoke with the Daily Herald during interviews and a meeting of the editorial board.
Current Board President Mariyana Spyropoulos, a commissioner since 2009, said she wants to continue to implement initiatives that she campaigned on during her first election: disinfecting water at the district's plants, making sure the facilities run self-sufficiently, and generating revenue. To address flooding, Spyropoulos supports the district's rain barrel program, efforts to replace 100-year-old pipes, and voluntary buyouts of flood-prone homes.
Current Board Vice President Barbara McGowan, a commissioner since 1998, also said the buyout program is one of the district's best responses to the flooding issue. Legislation approved by state lawmakers allows the district to give local municipalities funds to acquire and demolish continually flooded homes.
"I've had four feet of water in my basement, and I know what it's like to be helpless," McGowan said.
Joseph Cook, currently a senior attorney for the water district, said he would bring the "perspective and experience of an employee" if elected to the board. He pledged to step down from his current position if elected, as required by law.
"We have a great board currently and I believe I can make it that much better," said Cook, a captain in the U.S. Air Force and former Cook County prosecutor.
Kevin McDevitt, who worked for the district for 25 years handling fleet vehicles and garages, called the district "probably the best" governing agency in the state.
"I know the inside politics of the water reclamation district," he said. "I know exactly what to do, who to go to if there's a problem."
Josina Morita, an urban planner and member of the Skokie plan commission, is making her second run for the board after narrowly losing the Democratic primary in 2014. She proposes making it easier for residents to recycle water within their own homes -- taking water from showers and dishwashers, disinfecting it, and reusing it to fill toilet tanks and water lawns.
"It doesn't come out of the Great Lakes, and it's water that doesn't have to go into our sewer system, so it relieves some of the load," she said.
Cary Capparelli, a former Illinois International Port District board member who ran for the water district board in 2014 as a Republican, said he would be an independent voice on a panel dominated by Chicago residents. He supports voting by districts instead of at large to ensure more balanced representation of the suburbs and Chicago's Northwest Side, where he lives.
"If you talk to residents on the Northwest Side, they'd all be in agreement they don't feel represented," he said.
The candidates are Chicago residents, except Morita, of Skokie, and McDevitt, of south suburban Worth.
The winners of the March 15 Democratic primary will face three Green Party candidates in the Nov. 8 general election.
In a separate race, three Democratic candidates -- Tom Greenhaw, Martin Durkan and Andrew Seo -- are seeking a 2-year position.