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Democratic write-in candidate for MWRD commissioner: Simon Gordon

Simon Gordon, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Democratic primary write-in candidate. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

On Feb. 23, Simon Gordon appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. We asked him why he’s running as a write-in candidate for commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District in the March 2018 primary:

My name is Simon Gordon, actually I’m a Bishop of 44 churches locally and 280 churches in the Midwest. My background has been billing manager for University of Chicago, as well as I worked at a lot of electronic companies. But as a pastor now 29 years, a lot of civic duty that I’ve done throughout the neighborhood of Beverly and the South Side of Chicago and the south suburbs.

The first one is to maintain the integrity of fresh water delivery to our citizens and a protection. Number 2….is to make sure the wastewater and the storm water is properly treated for its dispersal. But the third one is to make sure my constituency, that deals with really the South Side and the South Suburbs get an opportunity to be a part of the process of this $1.2 billion entity called Metropolitan Water Reclamation District to make sure the jobs, infrastructure, development notification gets to our municipal, business and community leaders in a timely manner so they can participate in a process of developing the south land in a way there hasn’t been in years.

The Chicago Sun-Times sent the candidates running for commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the Chicago area. Simon Gordon submitted the following responses:

QUESTION: The new Riverwalk has made the Chicago River a popular recreation destination, but surveys show that the river’s water still contains high levels of bacteria from sewage. What further steps should the MWRD take to improve the quality of the river’s water? Is the public being sufficiently informed on this matter, particularly as it relates to public health?

ANSWER: Education is most important when it comes to improving the Chicago River. How do you inform a diverse group of people about a problem that affects all of us? This requires partnerships on all levels, from communities of faith to government and making it a priority to make public health awareness a priority in communities and our neighborhood events. It is important we give tools and resources to communities in practical ways to better our water system; preventing pollution on our streets and sidewalks, decreasing storm water runoff and conserving water. When we give neighborhoods the power to be in control of their health, community and livelihood, we better our city, state and health.

I do believe the public is more informed of the water quality of the Chicago River than of recent times, but there is still work to be done. Everyone plays a part in keeping our water clean and creating innovative ways to protect bodies of water like the Chicago River.

Simon Gordon

Running for: Democratic nomination for Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (write in)

Political/civic background: Simon Gordon is a senior pastor with extensive experience in community outreach and unifying leaders. Excellent skills in establishing and maintaining collaborative relationships in the private, public, and government sectors. This includes cross industry partnerships with multiple entities; specifically the Lupus Foundation, the Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, AIDS Foundation of Chicago, Vitas End of Life Care, Odyssey Access for Palliative Care, Stroger Hospital of Cook County, Rush Medical Center, State of Illinois Public Health Department, City of Chicago Public Health, University of Chicago and Northwestern Universities, and many more. Also, currently serves as Chairman for a non-profit community agency that has serviced +35,000 individuals annually since 1999. This entity partners with the Chicago Food Depository, HUD, IHDA, Housing Action Illinois, CPS, After School Matters, PCORI, and CEDA to provide food, health awareness, housing, youth programs, and education to communities in Chicago and throughout the State of Illinois. This role also includes serving as Board Member with other entities.

 Occupation:  Triedstone Church Of Chicago, Chicago (1989 to present)
Senior Pastor, A Full Gospel Baptist Church
Shepherds a congregation of 3,000 members, 30 support ministries, and 14 Senior Pastors, who are also responsible for their own congregations.

Total Resources Community Development Organization, Chicago (1999 to present)
Founder and CEO, TRCDO
Partners with other community organizations to provide daily resources that improve the quality of live for those serviced.

Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship International (2003 to present)
Jurisdictional Bishop – Midwest Region
Oversees the governance of five State Bishops including Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Ohio, plus Canada; including 127 participating churches across these state. Provides guidance and counsel regarding challenges in the local churches that encourages their growth and development within their local communities and the fellowship.

Education: Thornton Community College, IL – 1979 General Education

Chicago Baptist Institute, Chicago, IL – 1987
Undergraduate Degree – Theology

Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, IL 1989
Masters Biblical Studies Program

GMOR Theological Institute of Northwest Indiana, Indiana 2001 – Honorary Doctorate – Theology

Midwest Christian College and Seminary 2006 – Honorary Doctorate – Humanities

Campaign website: friendsforsimongordon.com

QUESTION: Could the MWRD do a better job of working with other government agencies in the Chicago area to manage watersheds? If so, how would you make that happen? What innovations at other sewage districts across the country would you like to bring to Chicago?

ANSWER: Again this is an education but also an implementation matter. Where I reside the municipal strategy has changed in recent years. The houses that once had water from drain tiles that were connected to the sewer system combined both the storm and waste water would overloaded the local sewers. The city joined in with programs to first require that homeowners disconnect storm water from the home drainage system. For some this required the offering of financing to individual home owners to meet deadlines. Now with sump pump systems that send the water directly into the yards the sewer system fairs better, but areas between the houses are almost like ravines at high rain times until the yards can absorb the water. In Chicago to help with this there are catch basins, but often in developing and undeveloped areas, flooding is still prevalent.

I would love to use the relationships I’ve built over the years to educate and introduce ideas and eventually plans that might improve water flow and preserve properties by making clear path water streams where there are none, and by encouraging partnerships with developers to tier landscaping while building communities. This seems to work will in areas like Georgia and Alabama and preserves property long term. My plan is utilize all of my relationships to bring about one goal, protecting our water systems for all. Green infrastructure like porous pavement and rain gardens are necessary for long term benefits.

We also have to find better ways to partner and bring our own diversity of resources to the table. This too may help bring on board those smaller companies who will more likely do neighborhood development. As an added benefit, this will help communities understand much better what the MWRD goals and objectives are.

QUESTION: The MWRD is Cook County’s second largest landowner. The Sun-Times and the BGA have reported on troubling pollution seeping or otherwise being emitted from MWRD properties in recent years. What more can be done to ensure that companies leasing land are good environmental stewards?

ANSWER: This requires MWRD being stricter on environmental stewardship practices and building a better relationship with contractors. There is a way to be successful in business but also abide by the regulations that are set forth. The environment needs to be protected and our contracts should have directives with consequences if they are not followed. Environmental stewardship requires everyone to work together to achieve a common goal. There should be added to company purchasing agreements not just a healthy environmental maintenance agreement, but also some stipulations that allow check and balances measures to ensure a health longevity for citizens, land creatures, and property.

QUESTION: Do you support the changes made in the revised Watershed Management Ordinance? What would you have included? What would you have left out?

ANSWER: I support the changes of the revised WMO. It is important to abide by regulations to protect the health, welfare, safety, and environment of the residents of Cook County. I specifically support the measures included to make sure contractors are taking the proper steps and filling out documentation to remain in line with procedures. MWRD staff work diligently to help us protect the environment and the recommendations they put forth to revise the WMO to ensure better protection of our land. I would also like to see that municipalities are included in the early stages of planning, and have opportunity to improve their band width of community awareness for those seeking to engage in MWRD business opportunities. Minority participation can most likely improve, with clearer and deliberate information sharing, and finally some designated plan to education future participants, this will include a greater part of our community.

QUESTION: Do you think the board of commissioners is sufficiently knowledgeable about the corporate purpose of the MWRD? Is the board properly informed on issues that come before it?

ANSWER: The system is working, but as in all systems, there will be eventually the need for improvement. From my dialogue with present Commissioners, I think our Commissioners are informed on the issues that are presented before them. At MWRD board meetings, Commissioners have the time for questions, where competent staff answer and find solutions. With competent leadership and departmental proficiency, there will be opportunities for staff and commissioners to discuss with the public, goals, concerns and opportunities, for the district to improve and grow.

QUESTION: Because of heavy rain, billions of gallons of sewage-tainted water recently were dumped into Lake Michigan. This happens almost every year, but it is not good. Climate change, bringing stronger storms, will only make the problem worse. What would you do, as a commissioner, to limit the impact of climate change on our local waterways and our drinking water?

ANSWER:  As a Commissioner, I would start by engaging more people on the issues that climate change brings. This includes efforts of eliminating pollution by community clean ups, public meetings and hosting events that involve climate change preventative practices and changing the narrative to climate change being a issue that affects every single one of us. Communities of color are affected because they are often not knowledgeable of how environmental issues affect them, but if we can create a culture where everyone is informed and given adequate resources, we can not only change the narrative but better our environment too.

QUESTION: With the first phase of the McCook Reservoir project now online, what next should the MWRD do to reduce the threat of sewage overflows? Do you support alternatives to maximizing the capacity of the Tunnel and Reservoir Plan?

ANSWER: The McCook Reservoir project is a great way to reduce floodwater damage and a perfect model of the great work MWRD is doing. There should be more projects like McCook and Thornton put in place to better protect us. Also, include rain gardens and storm water management systems in more communities to stop heavy rain flows, and ways to increase storm water education.

I do support maximizing the capacity of the Tunnel and Reservoir Plan. As time progress, climate change becomes more of a threat that increases the fluctuation of weather and it’s challenges. It is important that we ensure we are prepared for the damage sewage overflows bring. We risk harmful pollutants, diseases and the chances of life threatening aliments. As MWRD continues to safeguard our waterways, we have to continue to find more ways to monitor and regulate.

QUESTION: What more should the MWRD be doing to prevent invasive species from moving into and through Chicago area waterways?

ANSWER:  We should create more joint removal efforts with other governmental agencies. I think it’s also important to be more on top of research and stay informed about potential invasive species that are close to our ecosystems, like Asian carp that was discovered in nearby waterways and became a problem for us. Our findings will help develop new techniques to predict future invasions and prevent them. If we can prevent them before those species are established, we can control their spread and help other states do the same. The possible use of electronic barriers may be one way to secure a safer system, but I would be in favor of the MWRD investigating other ways such as collaborating with other Great Lake participants to protect our waterways as well.

QUESTION: What do you see as the MWRD’s role in controlling litter in our waterways?

ANSWER:  MWRD has the resources to become an advocate in controlling litter where we can provide resources to communities to increase awareness, along with using our platform to help engage non-profits, other governmental agencies in this effort. We could host monthly cleanups that would help foster and build new relationships, while cleaning up our neighborhoods and communities. MWRD had the power to impact more people and develop more opportunities to change the state and awareness of our water infrastructure.

I believe we should eventually sponsor a CLEAN COUNTY campaign, and include our cities and their waste management departments along with community and faith groups, neighborhood and block club organizations, in creating a environmental shift that establishes a culture change toward cleaner waterways and having a wholesome environment.