With the school board election just one week away, the silly season in the hotly contested Proviso District 209 school board race has arrived. Fliers have begun appearing that seem to be trying to cut into support for hometown candidates Ned Wagner and Claudia Medina.
Backers of the opposing Children First Party slate, which consists of incumbent Francine Harrell, ShawnTe Raines-Welch (wife of former D209 board president and current state Rep. Chris Welch) and Theodore Matthews, are attacking Wagner and Medina and their running-mate Theresa Kelly. They are also attacking Mayor Anthony Calderone. Two fliers rip into Calderone, who has endorsed Medina and Wagner but not Kelly. One seems explicitly designed to appeal to supporters of Calderone's opponent in the mayoral election, Chris Harris, and independent village council candidate Dan Novak.
On one side of that flier is a picture of Calderone cupping his hands to his mouth with the words "Proviso High School Stinks." The rest of that side of the flier is devoted to derogatory comments about Calderone's performance in office with statements such as "Calderone's failures have led businesses and residents to leave Forest Park for better communities."
The other side of the flier urges voters to vote for Harris for mayor, Novak for commissioner and Matthews, Raines-Welch and Harrell for the District 209 Board of Education.
The flier is paid for and being mailed to voters by the previously unheard-of group Citizens for a Better Forest Park. No record of Citizens for a Better Forest Park exists, but campaign committees do not have to register with the state unless they raise $5,000.
The irony of the flier is that Harris and Novak have both been vocal supporters of the 209 Together slate of Medina, Wagner and Kelly.
"It's just a filthy campaign trick," said Harris. "The [Children's First slate] people know they're going to get hammered in Forest Park, and they're trying to deceive to get votes in any way they can. They're pulling out all the stops. I received dozens of calls and emails after that came out from confused people, and I had to clearly state yet again that in no way am I supporting those three people."
Raines-Welch told the Forest Park Review that she doesn't know who is behind Citizens for a Better Forest Park.
Calderone also said he didn't know who was behind the fliers attacking him.
Another flier — this one paid for something called the Proviso Township Ministers Alliance, which apparently doesn't exist (though there is a Proviso Township Ministerial Alliance) — seems to be playing the race card by specifically appealing to black voters. It was put on car windshields last Sunday while both sets of candidates were appearing at the Rock of Ages Baptist Church in Maywood.
On one side of the flier is a photograph of a black teenage boy with the statement, "Shouldn't Those We Elect to Our School Board Understand Our Community?"
On the other side are photos of Wagner who is white and Medina who is Hispanic, along with photos of Harrell, Raines-Welch and Matthews, who are black. The flier claims that "Mayor Calderone is trying to take over the board by electing members of his community when they make up less than 10% of the entire district."
The flier urges people to vote for Harrell, Matthews and Raines-Welch. It says, "On April 7, Reject Anthony Calderone by Voting for Candidates Who Understand Our Community."
"It leaves out the fact that the third person on our ticket is Theresa Kelly, an African American woman from Maywood," Wagner said. "They're targeting African American people in Maywood, which is largely the people who go to Rock of Ages. And then they're pitting Forest Park against Maywood."
Another flier, this one paid for by the Children First Party, attacks Kelly. It shows an apparently manipulated photo of Kelly at a resort swimming pool and accuses her of taking more taxpayer-funded trips than all other Proviso school board members combined. Kelly has served on the school board for 16 years, longer than any other member of the board. On other side of the flier is the photo of a boy sitting in a classroom with his head down on his knees. Under the photo is the caption, "Under Board Member Theresa Kelly's Leadership 80% of Proviso Students Are Not Academically Prepared To Attend College."
Raines-Welch, who is married to state Rep. Chris Welch, a longtime former Proviso 209 school board president, said the flier is a fair response to Kelly citing her long tenure on the school board.
"She's the one going around touting that she's been the longest-serving member, so it's only logical that she had a hand in the state of the district at this point," Raines-Welch said. "Remember, it didn't happen overnight, and it didn't happen just by her sitting by idly on the sidelines. You can attribute that flier as a response to her own comments."
Wagner called the fliers "hate pieces."
"They're putting out a lot of hate," Wagner said. "This is a school board election; we're talking about the education of our children. These people are campaigning on a message of hate and smear, and I find that repellent."
He said the fliers are a sign that his opponents are worried.
"I think what it boils down to is that they're scared," Wagner said. "I don't think in their wildest dreams they thought they would encounter a grassroots movement of this magnitude."