Longtime LGBTQ+-rights activist Rick Garcia is among those who entered the June 28 primary to win a seat on the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District's (MWRD) board of commissioners. Longtime Commissioner Debra Shore, who is a lesbian, is stepping down from the commission, so Garcia hopes he will be elected for the LGBTQ+ community to keep a "seat at the table." Besides Garcia, transgender activist Precious Brady-Davis is also running for an MWRD seat. Garcia spoke with Windy City Times about the importance of MWRD and his hoped-for transition from activism to a political post.
Windy City Times: What prompted you to run?
Rick Garcia: People have always encouraged me to run for office; I've always said no. But this time they persuaded me.
When Deb Shore was appointed to the EPA, her seat became available. I thought, 'Once a community gets a seat at the table, they don't give it up.' So I put my name in the running.
WCT: How do you think your record of LGBTQ+ activism overlaps with the requirements of being on the MWRD board?
RG: I believe that clean and safe water is the most basic human right. What I know from the Water Reclamation District is that it should be working with many local communities to mitigate flooding and pollution. I have experience working with legislative bodies all over the state, and I've worked on boards and commissions, so I think that I bring to the table and ability to bring people to the table to get the job done, and move forward the way we need to move forward.
WCT: What do you think are the biggest challenge for MWRD both in the short and long terms?
RG: The District is responsible for processing residential and industrial waste, and mitigating flooding. Most people do not know what the Water Reclamation District does. In addition, they have the highest paid salaries of any governmental body. I think there needs to be transparency at the Commission, more education about what they do and how they do it. Those are the issues internally about what needs to be addressed.
In addition, I'm concerned about PFAWs, a chemical that gets into our water and there is no way to get it out. It is from teflon pans and teflon coating. I think that really being vigilant about trying to stop what is being put into our water.
WCT: MWRD is sometimes rightly or wrongly mythologized as being above the controversies that beset local government. Do you have specific concerns about transparency there?
RG: I absolutely do. I think no one knows what this agency does and it's such a critically important agency. When your'e looking at the environment and wastewater, you have to have an aggressive plan, aggressive education, so the public knows and learns what you can throw down the toilet and in the sink. Those are very important. The District had some very important programs, such as giving out [free oak] saplingswho knew? Mulchpeople are asking about that too. With the internal runnings, people should know what is going on there. Where are your tax dollars being spent and how? With the environment, people need to be educated on keeping our waterways safe.
WCT: How do see climate change affecting us in the years ahead?
RG: We know that we will continue to have experiences with flooding. The lake fluctuates its depth, but we will see periods with the lake rising. That is what [MWRD] must monitor, and [it must further consider] how to mitigate the problems with climate change. This is not totally related, but trying to urge cities, when they build schools and playgrounds, to use water permeable materials so the water goes into the ground and doesn't run off and into our sewers is important. Climate change needs to be our number one issue.
WCT: Are there any commissioners whose work you admire? You already mentioned Debra Shore.
RG: I admire almost all the commissioners. They really do a fabulous job of protecting our waterways. Frank Aguilar, who is running again this time, is fabulous. He's an engineer and brings a lot of institutional knowledge to the table. Marcelino Garciahe's new and is very smart, and he takes the job very seriously. If you ask me how many aldermen do you admire, I'd have a hard time. But the folks on the [board] do a great job.
WCT: What has it been like for you, who's been an activist, to run as a candidate?
RG: This is one of the reason's I've never run. I'm an activist and can have influence, and as a candidate, there are things you cannot and should not say. I don't follow that rule. I like to tell the unvarnished truth and that is not looked well upon with candidates. I think that's said to say. What my activism has done has been to bring me to common ground with other people and to work to get the job done. I can work with the Board of Commissioners and I can work with local officials because that is what I have done my whole career. I think that's the biggest thing I bring to the Board.
WCT: You mentioned earlier that with Debra Shore leaving, it is important for the LGBTQ+ community to retain its seat at the table. Why do you see that as important?
RG: One of the things that MWRD does is contracts. We have to make sure that minority communities and LGBTQ people have access to applying for those contracts.
WCT: Anything you want to add?
RG: Vote for me. Punch #85.
See rickgarciaforwater.com .