A public building in one of the ritziest areas of Chicago is now named after a longtime Austin elected official.
The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD), the agency responsible for protecting the region’s water quality, announced on Dec. 14 that its office building at 100 E. Erie St. is now the Barbara J. McGowan Main Office Building.
McGowan served on the MWRD Board of Commissioners from 1998 until 2022, when she retired. The MWRD held a ceremony and plaque unveiling on Dec. 8. The event’s guests included Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
McGowan, a longtime Austin resident, is the third-longest-serving commissioner in the water agency’s history, MWRD officials said. When she retired, McGowan was the MWRD board’s vice president. She retired in November.
“She was not only the first African American vice president at the MWRD but also served as the first interim African American female president, serving in this capacity in 2012 and 2014,” MWRD officials explained in the Dec. 14 statement.
McGowan said she’s “humbled” by the building dedication and the many well-wishes she received when she retired.
“I thank our taxpayers and my fellow commissioners and MWRD staff for placing their trust in me and collaborating over all these years to protect public health and our water environment,” McGowan said.
McGowan was the office manager for the Political Education Project created by Mayor Harold Washington before she was elected for the first time in 1998 to the MWRD board.
“In 2004, Vice President McGowan supported state legislation that enabled the MWRD to become the stormwater management authority for Cook County, and along with the Board of Commissioners, unanimously adopted the Watershed Management Ordinance which established uniform stormwater regulations throughout Cook County in 2013,” MWRD officials explained.
“For three decades Vice President McGowan has been passionate about protecting the water environment,” said MWRD President Kari K. Steele. “We owe much to her for her guidance and trailblazing determination to make the MWRD what it is today – a diverse, resilient, committed and thriving workplace.
“We congratulate Vice President McGowan on an impressive career in water and thank her for her immeasurable contributions to the MWRD. We all have learned from the vice president and wish her a happy and healthy retirement.”