On Sunday evening Dec. 19, 2010, the night before the last day to file nominating petitions to get on the ballot for the April 5, 2011 election, John Keen, Garry Gryczan, Lenora Giurini and Lou Surprenant met at the Riverside home of Jerry Buttimer to have their nominating petitions checked over before they were turned in the following day.
There was some talk of pooling resources for the campaign. But ultimately Giurini and Surprenant decided to run their own separate campaigns while Keen and Gryczan, who met for the first time that night, decided to team up.
That decision paid off for Keen and Gryczan last week as they both were elected to the Riverside-Brookfield High School District 208 Board of Education along with Tim Walsh and Laura Hruska.
Keen led the field, Walsh got the second most votes, Hruska finished third and Gryczan edged out Brookfield resident Tom Powers by 64 votes for the fourth and final seat up for election according to unofficial results. Giurini and Surprenant trailed the field finishing in sixth and seventh places respectively.
Keen and Gryczan spent roughly two days a week for almost two months going door to door introducing themselves to voters throughout the district.
They each passed out a simple flier touting each other and emphasizing responsible budgets and high standards. Despite not being especially outgoing by nature, they knocked on strangers’ doors in every part of the district.
“We talked to, between us, I’m sure over a thousand individuals,” Keen said. “We got our name out and what we stood for out.”
Keen, a 1979 RB graduate, said that he first met Buttimer last spring during the track season when both went to track meets to watch their sons run for RB. The two talked a little at fall cross country meets, but Keen said that Buttimer did not recruit him to be a candidate.
“I had mentioned to him that I was thinking of running, but there’s no way he recruited me to run,” Keen said.
Although Buttimer gathered signatures on nominating petitions for Giurini and Surprenant, he did not circulate petitions for Keen and Gryczan.
Riverside resident Chris Robling, among others, encouraged Gryczan to run for the school board.
Buttimer and many in his circle who supported Dan Moon, Matt Sinde and Mike Welch for the school board two years ago actively supported Keen and Gryczan.
Their campaign spent about $2,000.
“I can say most of it came from Garry and I,” Keen said. “There were contributors.”
Because they spent less than $3,000 on the campaign, Keen and Gryczan are not required to file a campaign finance report with the State Board of Elections and they are not required to disclose contributions.
The group spent $1,213.68 to mail 5,192 oversized post cards to voters touting their candidacies, according to a United State Postal Services postage statement that Buttimer provided to the Landmark.
The postcard also featured an endorsement from Moon, Sinde and Welch.
About a dozen people, including Keen, Gryczan, Sinde and Welch passed out Keen and Gryczan palm cards to voters on Election Day.
“They were the people that I thought we needed to have on the board,” Sinde said. “Financial and fiscally responsible people that want to think outside the box. People who believe the community is somebody we should be partnering with.”
Sinde said that he saw nothing wrong with a sitting school board member passing out palm cards.
“If it was illegal, I wouldn’t do it,” Sinde said.
The palm cards alone may well have been responsible for Gryczan’s 64 vote margin over Powers.
One voter in Riverside said that she voted for Keen and Gryczan, because Gryczan had handed her a palm card on her way to vote at the Riverside Village Hall.
Asked by a reporter why she voted for Keen and Gryczan in addition to voting for the two female candidates, the woman said, “Because the dude was standing across the street,” said Pam Kopeika. “I didn’t know any of them.”
Gryczan ran third behind Keen and Walsh in Riverside Township, which includes North Riverside and the Hollywood section of Brookfield, building up a 345-vote lead over Powers. In Proviso Township precincts, however, Powers ran ahead of Gryczan but could not quite make up the margin.
“Being on John’s coattails helped in Brookfield,” Gryczan said.
Walsh and Hruska took the opposite approach from Keen and Gryczan. Neither went door to door, and neither really campaigned other than appearing at candidate forums, newspaper interviews and by filling out questionnaires. Walsh went to two candidate forums and Hruska went to one.
Powers, the current vice president of the Brookfield-LaGrange Park District 95 school board also did not go door to door or have palm cards. He said he had no regrets about not doing more, despite losing by just 64 votes.
“I think the people have spoken,” Powers said. “I’m not a sore loser and I’m also not a hand wringer, saying we should have done something different.
Many, including even two of his competitors, thought that Powers was the most qualified candidate in the seven candidate field.
“To be perfectly honest with you on the surface, just looking at resumes, he looked like the best candidate to me,” Walsh said. “Two terms on another school board. They hired superintendents, they did construction, they hired principals, they negotiated agreements.”
Surprenant, who had been encouraged to run by Buttimer and by current school board member Larry Herbst, who normally agree on nothing, said that his support of the referendum hurt him.
“A lot of people voted against me purely voted on the referendum,” Surprenant said.
Like Walsh Surprenant, was disappointed that Powers did not get elected.
“The saddest thing to me is that Tom Powers didn’t get on,” Surprenant said.