With a demanding full-time job, four kids and a major renovation project being done on her home, Rachel Marrello didn’t have much time to campaign.
But that didn’t stop her from topping the field in last week’s Riverside Elementary School District 96 board race. Marrello ended the night atop the six-candidate field with 1,340 votes. Her fellow slate mates, Mary Rose Mangia and Randy Brockway, finished third and fourth as all three challengers swept into office in a low-turnout election where voters expressed their frustration and anger over leadership in the district.
“It’s a tremendous honor and I was surprised, actually,” Marrello said. “I have to admit that I didn’t know what to expect going into this.”
Only one of the three incumbents running was reelected — Lisa Gaynor who finished second with 1,223 votes. Jennifer Leimberer finished fifth with 981 votes, 74 votes behind Brockway for the final slot on the board. School board President Mary Ellen Meindl finished last with just 879 votes.
Marrello gave a lot of credit for her slate’s victory to hard work done by her
“I didn’t do very much, I have to admit,” Marrello said. “Mary Rose and Randy really took the initiative, and they did a tremendous amount of canvassing, emailing, calling and talking to people.”
Brockway said he knocked on the door of every single-family home in the North Riverside portion of District 96.
“It was quite a bit of work,” said Brockway, who estimated he spent about two hours a day for 10 days going door to door talking to voters. “A lot of those homes have five steps to the door.”
Brockway said that he enjoyed doing door to door and talking to voters. Last fall he got a taste of it ringing doorbells for Barack Obama in Kenosha.
Mangia enlisted her husband and four friends. The six of them covered the rest of District 96, dropping fliers that mentioned herself, Brockway and Marrello at every home. They even made it the often-overlooked, tiny part of the district that is in Lyons.
Mangia and her husband are both retired and had the time to devote to campaigning.
“We had some time and I always went into it to do what was required to get elected,” Mangia said.
At the start of the campaign Marrello, an investigator for the Cook County Office of Inspector General, made it clear that she wasn’t going to do much campaigning.
“She made it clear right from the start that she wasn’t able to do the campaigning,” Brockway said. “She made it clear that she couldn’t do the door to door. She didn’t feel comfortable with it nor did she have the time.”
Marrello did participate in the candidate forums, and that’s where she shone. She was poised and articulate as she hit some hot-button issues, such as questioning that need for the school board to assess the maximum tax levy amount allowed by law.
After the election Marrello said that the results indicated that many voters were upset about the situation involving Ames School Principal Colleen Lieggi, and that voters felt that the current school board has been far too deferential to outgoing Superintendent Jonathan Lamberson.
“I think there are a lot people angry over the handling of the Lieggi situation,” Marrello said. “They’re upset about Lamberson’s contract. They were upset about the way he was handled overall. I think they were upset about the lack of independence of the board.”
Gaynor, who finished 117 votes behind Marrello in second place, said that she wasn’t sure why she ran ahead of her fellow incumbents, who ran a joint campaign.
“I don’t have an opinion on that,” said Gaynor who was appointed to the school board in September of 2011 to fill a vacancy. “I would not attribute it to one particular thing.”
Two factors may have helped Gaynor. Since she was only appointed to the board in 2011, she did not vote to approve Lamberson’s contract. The contract was approved in Leimberer’s and Meindl’s first meeting as new board members in 2009. Gaynor also kept a low profile, making no public comments about the Lieggi situation as it played out.
Meindl had no such luxury. As board president, she had to answer difficult questions and served as the board’s point person. She took the brunt of sometimes harsh criticism.
“The role of the board president is sometimes to be the person who talks to the press and the community or whatever,” Gaynor said. “That could have played into it. It was an interesting six months.”
The incumbents apparently did no door-to-door campaigning. They relied on campaign signs, a coffee or two, emails and friend-to-friend campaigning.
Meindl was outwardly confident before the election, but her face looked tense late on the afternoon of April 9 as she stood outside Riverside Township Hall passing out literature to voters.
A few days before the election she told the Landmark that she was glad the campaign was coming to an end and that she was tired of “the negativity.”
Meindl took a battering in anonymous comments on this newspaper’s website. A couple of times she reportedly broke down in tears while talking to people about the Lieggi situation, which was resolved less than two weeks before the election, when Lieggi resigned.
Meindl and Leimberer did not return phone calls asking for comment.
Leimberer ran strong in her Hollywood neighborhood, finishing third in both Hollywood precincts in Brookfield and tying for third in her home precinct, which includes the Riverside portion of Hollywood.
Gaynor said that she was disappointed that Leimberer and Meindl lost, but now she is ready to move on.
“An election is the community speaking and there is some disappointment, but I also think it is an opportunity,” Gaynor said. “I guess I would say that I’m excited to just continue serving the community as a school board member, and I thank them for believing in me. And I hope that, together, the new group can just continue to bring excellent education to all the kids in this community.”