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Why is Josina Morita running for reclamation board? ‘I care about water’

Updated: September 6, 2013 6:09AM



It’s “the most important agency that nobody knows anything about.”

That’s why, Josina Morita says, she’s running for a seat on the board of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District in the March 2014 Democratic primary.

Morita covets a spot on the obscure agency’s board, also known as the “sewer board” and by its catchy acronym, MWRD.

Board members are elected countywide and charged with processing and routing sewage waste and stormwater in Chicago and suburban Cook County. Political insiders call it a “down ballot” race. Way down. Yet, at least five aspirants are considering bids for three MWRD seats.

“I wanted to run for water because I really care about water,” Morita told me last week over tea, natch, at a shop in downtown Chicago.

Why should we care? MWRD is a $1.1 billion agency that hands out millions in contracts, Morita notes.

We need water to brush, flush, move about and survive. We’ve got a lot of it, but it’s disappearing. The Great Lakes hold 20 percent of the world’s fresh surface water and 90 percent of the nation’s water supply. Water levels have dropped, and it’s getting harder to keep our waterways safe and sanitary. The multibillion-dollar Deep Tunnel infrastructure project has proved inadequate. Communities across the county flood every time we are hit with 4 inches of rain, Morita says.

At 32, Morita is an energetic community organizer with a master’s degree in urban planning and public policy. “My generation is the last generation that is going to think of water as this infinite resource,” she argues. “You cannot have a society without water.”

She has worked on grassroots political efforts, including Patricia Watkins’ failed 2011 mayoral bid and, later, Watkins’ winning campaign for the Illinois State Senate.

Morita is radically different from any politician who has ever run in Cook County. She was born in 1980 in Oakland, Calif. to a Japanese mother and Chinese father, both community organizers. Dad just got arrested in North Carolina for civil disobedience, she chuckled.

I have watched Morita since she came to Chicago in 2002. The director of the United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations, she has worked on thorny policy issues like redistricting and racial profiling. She’s a savvy, hard-headed operator willing to grab the bottom rung of the political ladder.

Morita aims to capitalize on a pent-up desire for Asian power and become the first Asian American elected countywide. Asian Americans are the fastest-growing population in Illinois. “There has been a lot of energy and excitement around running Asian Americans for office,” she says, and yet, “we have an alderman and that’s it.”

It will be a tough slog, but fun to watch. She’ll need to kiss a lot of political rings. She has lined up endorsements from committeemen and elected officials such as State Rep. Lou Lang of Skokie, Cook County Commissioner Jesus Garcia and 47th Ward Ald. Ameya Pawar. She has called all 80 Democratic county committeemen, and will keep calling, claiming she will bring new voters, resources, and a grassroots ethic to the MWRD.

Her chief challenge? “Educating people and getting people excited about MWRD and water,” she says.

Win or lose, that ain’t a drop in the bucket.



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