May 4, 2022

I have been told on occasion that my political column is crap sometimes. No offense taken. That is clearly misinformation.

But in an effort not to disappoint my many detractors, this week’s column is all about those wonderful people at the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District who get rid of crap, like 125,000 tons per year in Cook County, which comes to 280 million pounds of solid waste, or 6.8 million per day being flushed down 5.25 million residential and 4.5 million commercial and industrial toilets and drainpipes.

And let’s not forget about those 500 billion gallons of effluent flushed into the MWRD annually, or 1.4 billion gallons per day, with a MWRD Deep Tunnel capacity to collect and treat up to 2 billion gallons per day, including rainwater overflow.

But politicians will always be politicians. If something works well in government, like the MWRD’s waste disposal, they will find a way to screw it up, or at the very least profit from it.
With a 2022 budget of $1.15 billion and 1,953 workers, there are plenty of opportunities. And with nine  $70,000-a year commissioners (all Democrats), who attend 22 3-hour meetings per year, which equates to $1,060 per hour, there is always a plethora of opportunity-seekers. It’s a great gig if you can get it.

This year there are four commissioner seats on the ballot, three for 6-term seats and one for a 2-year seat, made possible by Debra Shore’s resignation to be EPA regional administrator.

There are eight Democrats seeking the long term and three seeking the short term. The Democratic slate is politically-correct and consists incumbent Mariyana Spyropoulos, who got dumped as MWRD president in 2018 and folded her bid for Circuit Court Clerk in 2020, Matteson clerk Yumeka Brown, who is the party’s south suburban candidate, and 2020 loser Patricia Flynn, whose father was a MWRD supervisor and Local 399 International Union of Operating Engineers official. The IUOE runs MWRD treatment plants in Des Plaines, Skokie, Schaumburg, Stickney, Hanover Park and Lemont, and the vast vats in Stickney that dry the waste that gets trucked Downstate for farm fertilizer. The slate is 1-2-3 on the ballot, a very advantageous position.

Also running, and 4-5-6 on the ballot, are ex-commissioner Frank Avila, who was dumped in 2018 by the party after three terms, who is on a slate with Rick Garcia, founder of Equality Illinois,  and Cristina Nonato. Spots 7 and 8 went to, respectively, Precious Brady-Davis, a trans-gender woman whose Web site describes her as a “trans activist” and works for the Sierra Club,  and Sharon Waller, a civil engineer who pledges to fight for “detection limits” to extricate algae and other nutrients from the MWRD wastewater dumped into the Sanitary Canal and thence the Mississippi River and thence the Gulf of Mexico.

Waller noted that there is a pending federal lawsuit to mandate stricter MWRD wastewater purification standards. As of now the MWRD simply “cleans” the outgoing wastewater, but does not make it drinkable, and then flushes it southward daily with a couple million gallons of Lake Michigan water. Apparently what ends up in New Orleans is not drinkable. What a surprise. They should buy bottled water.

The short-term slatee is Dan “Pogo” Pogorzelski, a Northwest Side community activist and historian who helps nurture community gardens. His political mentor is state Senator Rob Martwick (D-10), the 38th Ward Democratic committeeperson. Pogorzelski is facing principal primary opponent Chakema Perry, the 28-year old wife of Governor J.B. Pritzker’s political director Christian Perry. Pritzker has nearly $90 million in his campaign account, so Christian is likely well-paid. Pritzker appointed Chakema to the Shore vacancy in January and his campaign gave her $65,000. Also running is Elizabeth Joyce, part of the Avila slate.

But Pogorzelski, to his credit, is highlighting a very salient issue - micro-plastic pollution. “We ingest the equivalent of a plastic credit card every year” through drinking water, he said. Massive amounts of plastic bottles and other items are tossed into waterways, said Pogorzelski, and they eventually biodegrade. They then enter drinking water. Like the lead problem in Flint, Michigan, Lake Michigan water is not necessarily pure water.

MWRD commissioners are sweetheart jobs with a minimal workload, which can be a steppingstone to higher office. Current MWRD president Kari Steele is running for assessor.  But the job is neither legislative nor policy-making. The president, who is paid $80,000, is elected by the sitting commissioners. Get four of them plus yourself and you’ve got the best office and more staffers. The job requires a bi-weekly operational synopsis which is submitted to the commissioners at the bi-weekly meetings and essentially rubber-stamped. “It’s like a high-school cheerleading squad,” said one of my sources at MWRD. “It’s all gossip and back-biting.” They, meaning the commissioners and the higher-paid president, vice-president and finance committee chairman, are “always bickering,” the source said.

“They really have nothing to do.” Except maybe get someone to spell-check campaign mailers, as Steele needs to do.

Steele was elected president in 2018 because Shore and Spyropoulos were bickering. Neither wanted the other to be president. Steele will likely lose to Fritz Kaegi on June 28, but the MWRD’s VP spot is open, and Spyropoulos could grab that, or maybe even oust Steele,

The MWRD runs by itself, with all operations overseen by a high-paid general superintendent. Other than flooding issues, which were largely cured by the $3.81 billion Deep Tunnel (TARP) project, the MWRD’s operations are just to COLLECT and DISPOSE. Voters have only the vaguest notion as to who is running, what they do, and what the MWRD does. But the winner gets $420,000 over 6 years for a part-time job. The board itself has 55 staffers and a payroll of $3 million, with Steele’s chief-of-staff paid $108,400, which is more than her.

The path to this pot of gold requires no qualifications, such as being an engineer, a chemist, a lawyer or an accountant, or having waste disposal experience.

Money is meaningless, as trying to reach 900,000-plus voters with a coherent, memorable message is absurd. In short, voters are clueless. They know not for whom they vote. It’s all about FACTORS, such as ballot position, gender, race, ethnicity, Democratic party slating, media and union endorsements, name ID from prior races, and, quite critically, sheer persistence. Just keep running every 2 years until the FACTORS align right. Flynn ran against the slate in 2020, and now she is on the slate.

The last Republican elected was in 1972, so the Democratic primary seals the deal. The county Democratic Party will be sending out a sample ballot to every household with a registered Democratic past voter, with every slated countywide candidate contributing $40,000. Pogorzelski said he was assessed only $30,000 because of the brevity of his term. He has raised $77,000 to date. With 20 county slated candidates, including 11 for judgeships, that’s a slush fund of nearly $800,000. Is Pritzker going to pony-up $500,000 on hehalf of Perry? I doubt it.

My prediction: June 28 will be a low-interest, low-turnout primary. The Democratic slate, including Kaegi over Steele, will win, and Pogorzelski will eke out an astounding, unimaginable win in a DEMOCRATIC primary against a candidate appointed by the governor.

This column was published in Nadig Newspapers. If you, a friend or a colleague wish to be added to Russ's BUDDY LIST, and be emailed his column every Wednesday morning, email webmaster Joe Czech at