Election signs touting the candidacies of Jill Beda Daniels, Kari Dillon and Tim Albores are associated with a website registered to a longtime Democratic strategist. The candidates say they did not seek that assistance. | Bob Uphues/Editor

In the final two weeks of the hotly contested campaign for three seats on the Lyons Township High School District 204 Board of Education, partisans officially got off the sidelines and made their preferences clear — even though the candidates all say that they did not seek endorsements. 

Right-leaning groups threw their support behind Frank Evans, David Herndon and Tim Vlcek while left-leaning groups supported Tim Albores and incumbents Jill Beda Daniels and Kari Dillon.

Awake Illinois, a conservative group endorsing right-wing school board candidates around the state, endorsed Evans, Herndon, and Vlcek on their website.

Herndon said did not accept the endorsement from Awake Illinois.

“I made it clear from the start of my campaign since this was supposedly a nonpartisan election, I was not seeking or wanting any endorsements from any political organizations and therefore I do not accept Awakes endorsement,” Herndon said in an email.

Herndon decried all the outside organizations getting involved in the school board race.

Vlcek said that he learned of the Awake endorsement on April 3. In January, Vlcek attended a school board candidate training workshop co-sponsored by Awake Illinois and the Virginia-based Leadership Institute, which boasts on its website that it has been training conservative activists since 1979. 

The People Who Play By The Rules political action committee, which is led by conservative radio talk show host Dan Proft, reported on March 23 that it spent $3,725 to produce and send a mailer supporting Evans, Herndon and Vlcek. 

Proft is a longtime conservative activist in Illinois who now lives in Florida but remains very active in Illinois politics and co-hosts a morning talk show on WIND-AM radio. 

In 2010, Proft ran for governor if Illinois and finished sixth in a seven-person Republican primary field, receiving nearly 8% of the vote. Proft has remained a major player in conservative politics in Illinois. Last year the People Who Play The Rules PAC spent heavily on television ads attacking Gov. J.B. Pritzker. 

An email sent on April 2 by radio station WIND-AM included a link to its school board endorsements. For District 204, it listed Vlcek as the only candidate endorsed for the LTHS board.

The Democratic Party of Illinois, a new local group called Support Our School and the LTHS teachers union, acting through its statewide union, the Illinois Education Association, all supported Albores, Dillon and Daniels.

All three groups have sent out direct mail campaign pieces supporting Albores, Daniels and Dillon and attacking Evans, Herndon and Vlcek. 

The involvement of the Democratic Party of Illinois in non-partisan school board races is unprecedented. It has spent $300,000 throughout the state to support candidates that it says shares the party’s values and to oppose candidates it calls extremists. The Democratic Party of Illinois has also sent out text messages to local residents urging them to vote for Albores, Daniels and Dillon. 

The Democratic Party of Illinois has also created a website called Defend Our Schools IL where voters can enter their address and see how the Democratic Party of Illinois views local school board candidates. 

In the LTHS school board race, the Democratic Party of Illinois website gave positive checkmarks to Albores, Daniels and Dillon stating, “We believe this candidate shares our values” and gives red exclamation mark warning signs to Evans, Herndon and Vlcek, categorizing them as “pursuing an extremist political agenda.” 

Daniels told the Landmark that she has not coordinated with any of the groups supporting her. She, like all the other candidates, said she is running an independent campaign. Daniels said she is not part of a slate with Albores and Dillon even though Support Our School has put up signs with the names of Albores, Daniels and Dillon on them.

“Anyone that is supporting us as a slate is doing so on their own,” Daniels said. “There are joint signs out there by Support Our Schools, but I had no knowledge nor approval of same, but I thank everyone for their support of me as a candidate.” 

Daniels said that she does not know Terrie Pickerill, a longtime Democratic strategist, who registered the Support Our School website.

“I have no idea who that is,” Daniels said.

That website, direct mail pieces and campaign signage are being funded by a similarly named corporation called Support Our Schools LLC, which is registered to two LaGrange Park residents.

Daniels said she only knows of Jonathan Almer, one of two people who created Support Our Schools LLC, because their children are friends.

“I know him only through our boys being friends, but I had no conversations or discussions with him regarding this,” Daniels said.

The one candidate who did not receive any outside support is Justin Clark, the associate principal at Richards High School. The Democratic Party of Illinois website had no characterization of Clark, who spun the lack out outside endorsements as a positive. 

“If voted in, I will be beholden to current and future LTHS students,” Clark told the Landmark in a text message.