DuPage forest preserve hopefuls talk about their differences
Republican voters in southwest DuPage County may get a sense of déjà vu when picking their nominee for the District 5 seat on the forest preserve commission.
Incumbent Mary Lou Wehrli of Naperville and challenger Carl Schultz of Aurora will face off for a third time during the March 17 primary.
Schultz spent a decade as a forest preserve commissioner before being unseated by Wehrli in 2012. He lost to her again during the GOP primary in 2016.
During a recent endorsement interview with the Daily Herald, Schultz said he's making another attempt to reclaim the seat because he still has a passion for forest preserves. He said he's also unhappy with the way Wehrli has represented District 5, which includes all or parts of Naperville, Lisle, Warrenville and Aurora.
"I just don't feel that we've accomplished anything in the district," said Schultz, a horticulturalist.
He said the district has been "far behind" when it comes to constructing new trails and adding educational or recreational facilities. Schultz said the district needs "an effective voice" so it can catch up.
Wehrli, an executive, says she's "an independent voice" who sought to have board meetings streamed online and pushed to eliminate pensions for elected officials.
"As an independent voice, I'm very aware and connected to our District 5," she said. "We have acquired land. We have taken very good care of what we have."
She said the district recently won the platinum Excellence in Ecological Restoration Award from Chicago Wilderness for its work at Springbrook Prairie Forest Preserve near Naperville. The master plan also includes two projects for District 5 -- a link to a regional trail and restoration work at Egermann Woods Forest Preserve near Lisle.
In the meantime, Wehrli says an independent voice is needed to counter "entrenched politicos."
"I am there for the citizens to protect nature and to connect people to it," she said.
But Schultz said Wehrli hasn't cooperated with other commissioners. If he's able to return to the board, he said he would be a "strong team leader that is not afraid to take the lead."
Wehrli said the issues she's had were caused by "a core group" of members that excluded her and at least one other commissioner.
But she says the promotion of Ed Stevenson as executive director in 2017 has given the district a capable leader who has been able to "unite the team." She also referred to forest preserve President Daniel Hebreard when she thanked voters "for putting other elected officials in place that are more inclusive."
When talking about goals for District 5, Schultz he would like to create a "Forest Preserve To Go" program that would bring recreational and educational opportunities to underserved neighborhoods.
Wehrli said she would like the Greene Farm site near Naperville to become a "gathering place" for the southern part of the county. The barn and adjacent farmhouse -- which both are owned by the district -- have stood unused for decades at the intersection of Greene and Hobson roads.
The winner of the GOP primary will advance to the November general election to face Democrat Barbara O'Meara of Naperville, who is running unopposed in the Democratic primary.