Robert Cheval

Walking into last week’s meeting of the Brook Park Council, the PTA-like organization serving Brook Park School in LaGrange Park, Robert Cheval probably thought he was about to be elected as the group’s recording secretary. 

After all, he was the only candidate on the ballot. But when the votes were counted Cheval was not the winner. He was beaten by a write-in, Maura McCahill, a BPC volunteer and a member of the BPC’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee.

More than 100 people attended the May 10 meeting when the vote was the held. Principal Mike Sorensen said that it was by far the largest turnout for a BPC meeting that he has seen in the 15 years that he has been principal at the school.

Most of those people apparently came to vote against Cheval, who had strongly opposed mask mandates during the school year. Speaking during the public comment portion of the school board’s February meeting, Cheval held what looked to be a gas mask, arguing that cloth masks were useless. 

“All of our actions have consequences and, unfortunately, that is what they keep forgetting,” said Leah Picek, who was elected president of the BPC last week in an uncontested race after Jamie Baker pulled out the race. “You can’t make all of these outrageous claims on camera, on video, record them and post them on the Internet and expect people not to see them.”

Cheval’s connection with Baker, who founded a local chapter of Awake Illinois a few months ago, seems to have inspired McCahill’s write in candidacy and her victory. 

Awake Illinois was founded by a Naperville woman, initially focused on opposing mask mandates in schools. It has since moved on to a wide range of issues, criticizing what it considers left-wing bias in schools. 

Others consider Awake Illinois a right-wing, reactionary group. Baker had been running for BPC president but pulled out of the race after her candidacy generated strong opposition. 

While the Landmark has not been able to obtain the exact vote total in the recording secretary race, Sorensen, who helped count the votes, said it was not close.

Two days after the election, Cheval’s wife, Valerie, made an emotional public comment at the District 95 Board of Education meeting blasting the local progressive group, Indivisible Illinois, for meddling in the BPC election, saying that her husband was “ambushed”.

Mitzi Norton, a co-founder of Indivisible Brookfield, had sent out some emails encouraging people to join the BPC and vote in the executive board elections, but Norton told the Landmark that Indivisible played no role in McCahill’s write-in candidacy.

“Indivisible Brookfield did not orchestrate any write-in campaign,” Norton said. “We had nothing to do with any of that. I have never met Maura McCahill in my life. I’ve also never met Jamie Baker or the other people.”

Norton said that McCahill, who lives in LaGrange Park, is not a member of Indivisible Brookfield.

Neither Robert Cheval nor McCahill responded to requests for comment for this story.

Baker and another Brook Park parent, Kelli Hodina, also made public comments at the school board meeting criticizing Indivisible Brookfield. Hodina said Baker was asked about her political affiliation while she was a candidate.

 “Yes, I am a Republican. No, that doesn’t make me racist or transphobic,” Hodina said. “The fact that we were intimidated and too scared to say this out loud is a large problem.”

But Norton, who is not a parent but joined the BPC, said it was important that people who might be affiliated with or share the views of Awake Illinois not be elected to anything.

“I do know the values that Awake espouses and I don’t think that leaders from Awake that hold those values should be in any office, especially those that affect the lives of our children,” Norton said. 

The leaders of the BPC are trying to put the controversy behind them. 

“There is so much good that the BPC does and I just feel like this is overshadowing all of the stuff that we’ve done in the last two years,” Picek told the Landmark adding that she was tired of “the high school drama.”

Christine Foushi, who was elected vice-president of the BPC last week after serving as president this year, said that she hopes that Cheval remains involved with the BPC.