About 600 more Highland Park voters cast ballots for or against District 113's $133 million capital improvement referendum than in the mayoral race in Tuesday’s election.
In the contest for mayor, 9,543 people voted for either mayor-elect and councilwoman Nancy Rotering (4,945) or councilwoman Terri Olian (4,498), while 10,118 made a choice for (4,237) or against (5,881) the referendum.
While voters rallied against the referendum question, they elected four District 113 School Board members who favored it: incumbents Marjie Sandlow and Michael Smith along with new members David Small and Debra Hymen.
“People chose those who recognized how important it is to do the work,” District 113 Board member Annette Lidawer said. “Those who voted against the plan still recognized there is a need. They voted against the plan.”
Mayoral candidates react
One person who was not surprised was Rotering. After knocking on more than 2,000 doors in her quest to become Highland Park’s first female mayor, she heard again and again how important the school spending issue was to voters.
“For a lot of people this (referendum) was a black or white question,” Rotering said. “For mayor, people have to be more introspective to make a decision.”
Rotering's opponent, on the other hand, didn't expect to hear that more voters cast ballots for or against the referendum than for either mayoral candidate. She felt both the mayoral contest and the school improvement vote were critical issues for the community and would like to have seen a smaller gap.
“This local election is very important,” Olian said. “I would have hoped the voters would have fully researched the mayor’s contest and voted.”
Pete Koukos was also surprised by the totals. A former Highland Park city councilman and Moraine Township assessor, Koukos currently leads Education First, the advocacy group opposed to the referendum.
“I would have thought the mayoral (race) would have had more votes,” Koukos, 79, said. After reflecting for a moment, he added, “People my age, who never voted against a referendum before, voted no.”
Working towards a better plan
Koukos expressed a desire to work with the District 113 Board to develop a plan to make needed improvements to Highland Park and Deerfield High Schools. He said his group opposed the proposed plan, but favored improving the facilities.
Lidawer has already heard from members of Education First. A number of them want to work with the board to develop a plan the voters will approve in March, 2012, when Lidawer has promised a new proposal would be before the voters.
“People from Education First have reached out to me to say they want to work on a new plan together,” Lidawer said. “They need to be a part. We have to hit the ground running and reach out to everyone.”