Duluth News Tribune 11-3-1999

Election Analysis

School Board vote split
By Tom Wilkowske and Mary Thompson
News-Tribune staff writers

Voters elected three candidates with business backing and two with labor endorsements to the Duluth School Board on Tuesday.

The result of the tight race sends a mixed message about where the public wants the district to go.

After the new board is seated in January, six of its nine members will have the endorsements of labor groups, including the Duluth Federation of Teachers. With just two of five union-endorsed candidates winning Tuesday, the result was not as clear as in the 1997 race, when all four union-endorsed candidates were swept into office.

In the race for three at-large seats, businessman and former board member Robert Mars Jr. was the top vote-getter, but Mike Akervik, a printing production manager with union endorsements, was less than 200 votes behind. Just behind was Mary Glass LeBlanc, who was elected to a third term. Challenger Rosie Loeffler-Kemp finished fourth, ahead of incumbent Mary Cameron and union-backed insurance agent Matt Doyle.

In the Second District, incumbent Harry Welty defeated union backed challenger Pauline Nuhring. And labor-endorsed candidate Garry Krause handily won the Third District, fending off a late write-in challenge from Dave McKowski.

Election officials couldn't say late Tuesday night how many votes McKowski received, bur only 339 total write-in votes were cast in the Third District - less than 10 percent of Krause's total. Krause's opponent on the ballot, Louise Holmes apparently left Duluth shortly after filing for office last summer.

Voters interviewed at the polls said school closings, Edison, charter schools, neighborhood schools and union influence on
the School Board were key issues for them.

Retired teacher Jean Endrizzi said she voted for this year's slate of union-endorsed candidates because she liked their positions on several issues, including the desire to reduce class sizes and their opposition to Duluth's Edison schools.

"The press accused anyone with an opinion of having a bias," Endrizzi said. "Everyone has some kind of bias. I voted for
candidates whose bias I happened to like."

But retired businessman Richard Abram, voting at Mount Olive Lutheran Church in the Endion neighborhood, said the unions want to dominate the School Board to put their interests first. "They want to get rid of the competition," he said. "The union is in the business to protect and work for teachers."

Akervik downplayed the significance of the union endorsements in the board's dealings. "I'm just excited. I look forward to serving on the School Board and putting education as the No. 1 priority" he said.

Akervik said he doesn't see a larger meaning in Tuesday's outcome. "It was a really tight race and it came down to only hundreds of votes separating the 1, 2, 3 and 4 spots," he said.

Incumbent Welty agreed.

"The fact that candidates on both sides won means the community hasn't given us a good sign of what they're looking for," he said.
Welty, who gained a quirky reputation after ending his brief School Board presidency with a tongue-in-cheek voodoo ceremony, believed voters responded to his support for Edison and his emphasis on maintaining a balanced budget.

Glass LeBlanc admitted Tuesday she was surprised by her win. "I've received calls from people who wanted to know my views on issues, that never happened in the past," Glass LeBlanc said.
Glass LeBlanc's victory meant defeat for Loeffler-Kemp, a mother of three and president of the Duluth Parent-Teacher Student Association Council.

Loeffler-Kemp said she was disappointed with the results, but vowed to stay involved in school politics.

"I'm even more determined to make an impact on issues," she said. "I will continue to be a voice for parents and teachers in the public schools."

"My challenge to this board is that they work more cooperatively together," she said. "I'll be watching to see what they do."

Mary Thompson covers education issues. 

Tom Wilkowske covers education issues.