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COVID quiets local ballots

Opinion: Editorials

December 29th, 2020 7:24 PM

We've worked from the assumption that the outstanding turnout of candidates for local offices in 2018 was the Trump effect. The response to the self-serving, uncaring, incompetent governance we watched in Washington during the initial two years of Donald Trump's first and last term, drove citizens to seek office in the town where they lived, to serve in the layer of government closest to home, with the greatest impact on their lives and the lives of their neighbors.

It was inspiring to watch. And, in the main, it led to spirited and respectful competitions where genuine ideas were debated about how best to educate children, the role of municipal government, and the place of park districts and libraries in substantially changed moments.

We saw it in Forest Park where contested elections for mayor and village council brought new blood to village affairs. There were a raft of candidates for the elementary school board.

Perhaps in Forest Park, as petition filings wrap up quietly for the coming April 2021 elections, we are seeing the COVID effect. Everyone is hunkered down at home. How do groups like 209 Together recruit candidates, and how the heck do you campaign in a pandemic anyhow? Feelings of powerlessness are pretty prevalent.

In upcoming races for the District 91 Forest Park elementary school board, for the District 209 Proviso Township High Schools board, for the park district board in town, there are only enough candidates on the ballot to fill the available seats.

In other words, no campaign, no discussion, no energy.

It is a bit better than long past years where in some cases there weren't enough candidates to even fill the seats and appointments were ultimately necessary.

This is not a knock on any of the candidates who have chosen to run or to seek re-election. At D91, a single incumbent seeks another term. Two candidates who ran in 2018 and came up a bit short will now join the school board. And there is one newcomer who is assured election.

This is not the ideal in a school district with serious challenges, an incoming superintendent, and a history of overly passive, ever-changing board membership.

At the Proviso High Schools we have four open seats and four incumbents running. It is interesting that 209 Together, the Forest Park-inspired reform group that began a turnaround at D209 is backing just two of the incumbents and was not able to muster a full slate.

We are openly worried that the reform movement at this fragile school district is sputtering out. And the current makeup of the school board is not inspiring.

The Park District of Forest Park has one open seat and one candidate seeking it. There is a lot to like about the direction of the park district in recent years and its elected board rightly gets due credit. But over the decades the composition of this board has resembled either life sentences or endowed chairs. Take your stultifying pick of metaphors.

We get the impact of COVID on every aspect of our lives. We're not surprised to see its impact on the local election roster.

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