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Sun-Times Endorsements: Our choices for Metropolitan Water Reclamation District

Cary Caparelli, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Democratic primary candidate. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Cook County residents will have a chance to vote against basement flooding and for cleaner waterways in this year’s primary election for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.

Six candidates are running in the Democratic primary for three open six-year terms, and three candidates are running for one two-year slot to fill out the unexpired term of Patrick Daley Thompson, who last year was elected to the Chicago City Council.

Here are our endorsements in those races. Early voting at satellite facilities begins Monday. For suburban Cook County sites, go to www.cookcountyclerk.com. For city sites, go to www.chicagoelections.com. To read our endorsements in Chicago-area congressional races, state Legislature races, the Cook County state’s attorney’s race and the Circuit Court clerk’s race — as well as for candidate questionnaires and related news stories — go to suntimescandidates.com.

EDITORIAL

For two of the six-year seats, we strongly endorse incumbent president Mariyana T. Spyropoulos, who is up for re-election, and Josina Morita, an urban planner who is making her second run for the board.

Spyropoulos, who is an attorney with an MBA, has a record of supporting technology at two MWRD treatment plants to disinfect effluent, an idea long resisted by the district, which for decades spilled a host of noxious pathogens into Chicago area waterways. Spyropoulos now wisely supports expanding that program to the Stickney plant, the world’s largest. She also believes the MWRD should take a leadership role in reducing chloride runoff from such sources as road salt and believes the agency should focus on recovering such resources as phosphorus and bio-solids from wastewater rather than simply sending them downstream.

Morita is not ready to expand the district’s disinfection program to the Stickney treatment plant, a position we don’t agree with, but her overall record gets high marks from environmentalists, and she has a long list of endorsements from progressive politicians. Morita’s urban planning skills and 10 years as a community organizer for a nonprofit give her a strong background for overseeing new projects and working with other units of government. She is a proponent of allowing industry and other users to find ways to safely recycle wastewater for nonpotable uses. Also, as a Skokie resident, she would add to the suburban representation on the nine-member board, which now has only two suburbanites.

For the third six-year spot, we give the edge to R. Cary Capparelli, a former board member of the Illinois International Port District and son of former state Rep. Ralph Capparelli, over Joseph Daniel Cook, a senior MWRD attorney who would take a leave of absence if elected. Capparelli, who ran for a Cook County Board seat as a Democrat in 2010 and for an MWRD seat as a Republican in 2014, has a clearer understanding than Cook of the challenges the district faces going forward.

The remaining candidates for six-year terms are retired MWRD dispatcher Kevin McDevitt and incumbent Barbara McGowan, neither of whom sat for an endorsement interview with the Sun-Times Editorial Board.

For the two-year opening, our choice is Tom Greenhaw, founder of a company that provides software to small retail businesses. Greenhaw earned a certificate in sustainability from the University of Chicago in part by studying ways to properly dispose of pharmaceuticals, a headache for the MWRD, which must deal with medicines flushed down toilets.

He also was part of a team that won a Center for Neighborhood Technology contest with an app that gives a “green score” to every Chicago address, and he helped draw up state legislation to create incentives for the greater use of green infrastructure — such as permeable pavements, green roofs and rain gardens — that would retain rainwater before it flows into sewers. This would reduce sewage backups. Greenhaw has an impressive range of ideas about how to move the district forward into thoughtful stewardship of the region’s waterways, including better storm water management coordination between Chicago and the water district.

The other two-year candidates are mechanical engineer Andrew Seo, who proposes the unrealistic idea of using the MWRD’s Triple A bond rating to buy the Chicago Department of Water Management, and Martin J. Durkan, an operating engineers union representative who also sat on the Municipal Employees’ Annuity and Benefit Fund board.