by Jamie Hiskes
LANSING and LYNWOOD, Ill. (April 2, 2019) – On Election Night 2019 in Lansing, the Village Voice Party was not the only political group gathered at JJ Kelley’s. The Citizens for District 215 School Board candidates were also there. At the end of a long, final day of campaigning, eyelids were heavy and muscles were tense, but optimism remained—even in the face of low voter turnout.
“It’s always going to be a close race when almost 2,000 people vote in a community of 30,000, and our [school] district represents four communities,” said candidate and current School Board Vice President Michael Bolz. “We’re really allowing a small percentage of the people to decide how tax money is spent and the direction of the communities, and that’s a problem.”
The School Board race was indeed a close one. With six candidates sharing 4,639 total ballots across 44 precincts, according to the Cook County Clerk’s Office website, that’s to be expected. Bolz was in third place by 195 votes at the end of the night with three precincts still not reporting due to computer malfunctions.
“I’m not trying to be superstitious here, but I want to wait,” Bolz joked when asked how it felt to be re-elected before all 44 precincts were in. “Only one [of the three precincts not reporting] is Lansing, which means two of them are elsewhere. …Of course, the quote two hours from now will be, ‘I knew it all along! Not nervous at all!’ But you don’t take anything for granted in these things.”
The next morning, Bolz’s victory was secured as his final tally reached 2,091 votes—still only 152 ahead of fourth-place contender Sheryl Black.
Black, a seven-year School Board veteran and member of the All Voices Matter Party, was gathered with her friends, family, and fellow candidate Miacole Nelson at Lynwood Bowl on Glenwood-Lansing Road. Their gathering was much more subdued as they watched the results slowly roll in throughout the night. Their third running mate, Kevin Green, was not present.
“I’m going to finish well if I’m not elected,” Black said even when there was only a 20-vote difference between her and Bolz. “I have no regrets. I’m going to continue to be the Board member I was elected to be until there are new Board members sworn in. …End of the day, if God says, ‘Sheryl, you’ve done enough here, I want to move you to something else,’ that’s fine.”
With 1,334 votes, Nelson polled the lowest of the six candidates on election night. She credits some of it to low turnout in her native Calumet City but maintains that she doesn’t regret running, and even has advice for anyone who would consider campaigning after her.
“Just step out and do it, in spite of the challenges that may be put in front of you,” Nelson said. “Just keep going.”
Back at JJ Kelley’s, Board veteran Rita Oberman and first-time runner Morgan Waller had effectively secured their respective first- and second-place polling positions.
Amazed and overwhelmed
Waller, at just 24 years old, did impressively well for a newcomer to Lansing politics, remaining in second place behind Oberman and in front of Bolz for the entire night.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Waller said, speaking over the excited din of the party. “The process is overwhelming. I feel as though campaigning is an experience that all individuals should experience—whether you’re a candidate or a voter. I’m happy to have just had the opportunity.”
Running a political campaign for the first time would be an educational experience for anyone, and Waller was no exception.
“I’ve learned how to stay strong, stay true to who I am,” she said. “I’ve learned how to stay authentic and honest. And I’ve learned how to be here for the kids [in District 215]. Being your authentic self is very important, and I believe that is the key to success.”
By the time all the ballots from all 44 precincts were counted, Waller had 2,179 votes—325 behind Oberman and 88 ahead of Bolz.
“Without knowing where those [votes] came from, I can’t speculate on why Morgan’s polling ahead of Michael,” Board member and campaign analyst LeeAnn Revis said of Waller’s success. “She was knocking on doors and talking to people, because she knew she was an unknown. But without knowing where those numbers came from, I can’t speculate.”
Oberman, though she garnered the most votes of any of the six District 215 candidates, admitted there was one major thing she would have done differently in her campaign.
“We only had a forum [at TF South], and I think it would’ve been nice to have one at TF North,” she said. “A lot of parents know us at TF North, and it would’ve been nice to include both schools.”
It was nearly midnight when the District 215 race was called with 41 of 44 precincts reporting. Oberman and Bolz had secured their next terms, Waller her first. Beaming, the three running mates posed for photographs as their families and supporters looked on.
“I’m looking forward to having a Board that wants to work together,” Bolz said at the end of the night. “People are disappointed—they want to see better test scores, and everyone does. The problems facing our district aren’t unique to our district. …I’m looking forward to having a Board that wants to direct the superintendent to address those issues.”
Shortly after the District 215 race results were decided, the people and energy that had built up in JJ Kelley’s throughout the night began to ebb. As Waller left beside her beaming mother, she could be heard saying, “I’ve got to go to work in the morning. But I know I’m going to remember this, and I’m going to start crying at my desk!”