Patrick Thompson, who is currently serving as a Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) Commissioner, was elected yesterday as the next 11th Ward Alderman. This will create a vacancy on the MWRD board when Thompson steps down, which he is planning to do prior to being sworn in as alderman next month, according to his campaign manager Mark Walsh. Under State law, Governor Bruce Rauner will appoint someone to fill the vacancy. Thompson was elected in 2012 to a six-year term, so his replacement will serve until the 2016 election, when voters will get to choose who serves the final two years of the term.
Rauner became embroiled in the controversy surrounding the selection of a new State Comptroller when Judy Baar Topinka died in December, shortly after being reelected. Rauner, then Governor-elect, called on Gov. Quinn to appoint Topinka’s aide Nancy Kimme to fill the temporary vacancy until the end of the term in January. Topinka was a Republican, as is Rauner, and Quinn a Democrat, turning the selection into a partisan fight. Quinn chose to appoint Jerry Stermer, his budget director and a Democrat, and Rauner then appointed Leslie Munger, a Republican, to fill the vacancy until a special election is held next year for the remainder of the new term. Confused yet?
Rauner will have to decide whether to replace Democrat Thompson with another Democrat, or he could appoint a Republican. It has been decades since a Republican was elected to the MWRD board, which is elected county-wide. Also, after publicly advising Quinn on the Topinka vacancy, it will be interesting to see whether he is willing to accept recommendations for this seat, or will just pick someone. Walsh said that he doesn’t know if Thompson plans to recommend a replacement to Rauner.
Appointed commissioners have had mixed success in the past. Republican Jim Edgar filled two vacancies, appointing James “Tod” Miles in 1996 and Susan Kelsey in 1997. Both were Republicans, filling spots vacated by Democrats, and both were soundly defeated when they tried to hold their seats in the 1998 election.
Republican George Ryan took a different path when he appointed Democrat Martin Sandoval in 1999. Sandoval won the election in 2000 to finish out the term, and then moved to the State Senate in 2002, where he continues to serve today.
Most recently, Pat Quinn appointed Mariyana Spyropoulos to a vacancy in 2009. She had run for a seat in 2008, finishing fourth in the Democratic primary where the top three candidates were nominated and then won in the general election. Spyropoulos then ran and won in 2010, and earlier this year was selected by the board members to serve as president.
The history lesson here appears to be that appointing a Republican will just keep the seat warm for two years, while appointing a Democrat may launch a newcomer’s political career. We’ll have to wait and see how Rauner chooses to play his cards, and how much drama he wishes to create with his pick.