Claudia Medina, Theresa Kelly and Ned Wagner celebrate their lead at Fatduck in Forest Park. Photo: Rina Peterson

With seven precincts still unreported out of 88 in Proviso, the Proviso Township High School candidates Theresa Kelly, Claudia Medina and Ned Wagner had a healthy lead of at least 1,300 votes over the fourth-top vote getter Teddy  Matthews, but it’s not over til it’s over.

If the Proviso Together slate wins the race, they will form a new board majority at the troubled high school district.

Theresa Kelly snagged the most votes with 19.87 percent of the total 10,923 ballots cast at 5,727 votes. Nathan “Ned” Wagner was second with 17.87 percent, or 5,150. Claudia Medina collected 16.78 percent, or 4,835 votes. Members of the Children’s First slate lagged Proviso Together. From that slate, Theodore Matthews placed fourth with 14.49 percent, or 4,175 and ShawnTe Raines-Welch and incumbent Francine Harrell were fourth and fifth with 12.22 percent (3,522) and 11.57 percent (3,330). Independent candidate Cheryl Anderson got 7.21 percent or  2,077 votes.

Forest Park’s Fatduck restaurant was filled with supporters from across Proviso Township Tuesday night, scarcely willing to believe they were so far ahead and what a journey they had made.

Although no precinct totals were released right away, the word at the polls was that turnout was very low in all precincts except Forest Park. In the village, the street-heat from two local parents, Medina and Wagner brought an organic campaign of parents and friends to the township level by partnering with incumbent Theresa Kelly of Maywood and board member Kevin McDermott of Westchester. Kelly and McDermott have been underdogs on the board for years, and are often the lone dissenters in votes split five-to-two.

“We did this with honesty, we did this with integrity, we did this with love,” Claudia Medina told supporters.

Medina told the crowd how she decided to run a week-and-a-half before petitions were due. Attending a D209 board meeting, she said she cried when she heard about a student who had been shot and killed while on suspension for fighting. Wagner said he attended a D209 board meeting in November 2014 and heard parents begging the board not to expel their sons for a single fight – after a change in policy.

Campaign coordinator Ken Snyder of Forest Park, who serves as political director of the Unite Here Hotel Workers Union, said he was sick of losing neighbors who moved away from Forest Park when their children got to middle school.

“I saw people I like move out and I was worried about the future of my kids,” he said.

Theresa Kelly said she was tired, but felt “good, excellent, marvelous.”

“This is a movement, not a campaign, not an election. It is a movement,” she said. “Everyone came together for the kids.”

Rev. Robert Jones, of Plainfield, a Proviso East alum, cautioned that even with a majority on the board, working together was the only way forward.

“This change is long overdue, long overdue,” he said. “But the goal has to be to unite to do what’s best for kids in the district. Everyone must come together to make that happen.” Other Proviso notables in the crowd were Della Patterson, Antoinette Gray and Gary Woll of Maywood.

The campaign was a departure from Forest Park’s 40-year past arm’s-length relationship with the school district that many parents boycotted. The last Forest Parker to serve on the D 209 school board was Bob Cox who served from 2007-2011.

At a meeting of parents at the Brown Cow ice cream parlor on Madison Street in November 2014 long-time resident Bill Lichtenberg, whose children graduated years ago, pointed out that other parents in Proviso’s 10 feeder schools were equally dissatisfied with their high school options.

Connie Brown, owner of the Brown Cow, instantly jumped at the idea. “There has to be an option that gets everybody what they need,” she said, and the seeds of the campaign were sowed.

Although the campaign contribution amounts will not be published by the Illinois State Board of Elections until April 15, the Proviso Children First party of Raines-Welch, Harrell and Matthews was said to have outspent Medina, Wagner and Kelly by three-to-one.

Raines-Welch, Harrell and Matthews did not return texts for comment before press time. 

Jean Lotus

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...

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