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The Mechanics
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Bottom of the Ballot Wed Oct 31 2012

The Bottom of the Ballot: Metropolitan Water Reclamation District

bottom of the ballot - Chicago Metropolitan Water Reclamation District MWRDAs the fifth largest governing body in the state of Illinois, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District race, while not typically prominent in the election cycle, is an important one. The MWRD serves the City of Chicago and 125 suburban communities, and is primarily responsible for wastewater treatment and managing stormwater runoff. It's an agency that has been slow to change, resistant to EPA regulation, and hesitant to adopt green technology and infrastructure.

And yet, it has been an exciting year for the MWRD. In June the MWRD agreed to disinfect effluent going into the Chicago River, ending a decade long battle. In early October CDOT announced the opening of the "Greenest Street in America." MWRD partnered with CDOT to design a streetscape capable of capturing 80% of typical rain showers instead of sending that water into the city's sewer system.

There is plenty of more work to be done. Stormwater management will be important in this next term. Projects like the Pilsen roadway project point the way, while voters wait for the completion of the Deep Tunnel Project (formally known as the Tunnel and Reservoir Plan, or TARP). Still decades away from completion, TARP is vital, but a hallmark of old methods of stormwater management. Chicago needs a MWRD that is a leader in innovation and green infrastructure.

This November eight candidates contend for three MWRD board seats. MWRD commissioner terms last six years and are part-time positions paying $70,000 per year with health care and pension benefits. Three Green Party members, two Republicans, and three Democrats are running in this election. Below are the candidates, in alphabetical order by last name. For further reading both the Tribune and Sun Times have election profiles available for the candidates. In addition the Tribune has released their endorsements for this election.

Dave Ehrlich
Party: Green
Education: BA in Political Science, University of Michigan; MA in Public Policy, Georgetown University; PhD in Political Science, Wayne State University

Ehrlich is currently a professor at Illinois Institute of Technology and spent 15 years as a senior analyst with the US Government Accountability Office (GAO). Ehrlich is a proponent of increasing green infrastructure and making the MWRD contract process more transparent. He is in support of re-reversing the Chicago River in order to protect Lake Michigan against Asian carp. MWRD commissioners are offered a car for business and personal use. Ehrlich has promised he won't accept the car and will end the perk.


Nasrin R. Khalili
Party: Green
Education: BS in Chemistry, MSc in Environmental Engineering (Wastewater Treatment Design and Monitoring), and PhD in Environmental Engineering (Air Pollution Modeling)

Khalili is a scientist with two decades of experience teaching and researching environmental engineering, management and sustainability. She emphasises a research-based approach to change, telling Chicago Tribune she would "explore potentials to conduct a comprehensive multi-criteria assessment of the WMO project in order to evaluate the cumulative economic, environmental, social, and cultural impacts of the proposed ordinance" when asked about the Cook County Watershed Management Ordinance (WMO). Similarly, when asked her stance on the re-reversal of the Chicago River, she told the Tribune she "would support it upon completion of a through analysis of its impacts."


Karen Roothaan
Party: Green
Education: BA Mathematics, University of Chicago; MS Mathematics, Brown University

Roothaan works as a mathematician and teacher. She is an environmental activist and longtime resident of Chicago's South Side.


Carl Segvich
Party: Republican
Education: BA University of Illinois at Chicago

Segvich is a current 11th Ward committeeman. He has stressed fiscal accountability in his campaign, saying that he would like to "create an every dime, online, in real time program where every financial transaction is put online where feasible." He is in favor of selling or leasing the MWRD office on Michigan Avenue in order to generate revenue.


Debra Shore
Party: Democrat
Education: BA in Philosophy & Visual Arts, Goucher College; MA, Johns Hopkins University in Liberal Arts; MFA in Creative Writing, Columbia College; Certificate in Executive Education, Harvard's Kennedy School

In March Shore told the Sun-Times "When I ran six years ago, I did so because I believe water is going to be the issue in years to come. I remain ever more convinced of that." Shore is the veteran in this year's election, having served as MWRD Commissioner since 2006. The Tribune endorsed her for the Democratic primary, noting that she would be an excellent candidate for Board President, a position that will be reassigned this term. Shore has been an advocate of using green infrastructure, including the green roadway project completed in Pilsen earlier this fall, to support storm water management.


Kari K. Steele
Party: Democrat
Education: BS, Chemistry Pre-Med, Minor-Biology, Xavier University of Louisiana

Steele is a chemist with 13 years of work experience. Her employers have included Jardine Water Purification Plant and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District. Steele emphasizes a commitment to public education on MWRD projects as well as water conservation practices. The Tribune noted that Steele has been "prescient in warning us about issues -- such as contamination of Lake Michigan by discarded pharmaceuticals that people flush into sewers -- that since have become mainstream concerns in conservation circles."


Patrick Daley Thompson
Party: Democrat
Education: BA, St. Mary's University of Minnesota; JD, The John Marshall Law School

Thompson is an attorney with eight years of experience in commercial real estate. He is interested in working closely with local businesses and governments on MWRD projects. The Tribune has endorsed him, noting that his experience will be useful should MWRD decide to pursue re-reversing the Chicago River. When giving his reasons for running, Thompson has said, "I believe that water will be to the next century what oil was to the last."


Herold Noonie Ward
Party: Republican
Education: Associates degree in Business Management from Olive Harvey College

Ward is a local business man and community activist. His story was featured in the 2006 documentary, Gangster with a Heart of Gold. He's been outspoken about the MWRD's track record of hiring African-Americans saying, "The performance of inclusion of African Americans at the MWRD is a F for failure."

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