Is flare of anger enough to lose an endorsement?
With our local elections just a month away, I thought it might be instructional to tell you some of the back story in just one of the more than 150 endorsement interviews we're conducting with candidates seeking mayoral, municipal, school and other government offices. As my colleague Jim Slusher pointed out in Thursday's editions, in addition to the face-to-face interviews, we also review news stories and questionnaires completed by the candidates, and we often have some "serious give-and-take discussions" among members of our editorial board as we decide whom to support.
Due to the volume of races, the resultant endorsements that appear on our editorial page tell just the tip of the whole story. I did the endorsement interview in the contest for the Roselle village board. Three incumbents are running but are being challenged by three residents. There were no slouches in the bunch, and it is not uncommon (but certainly not automatic, as some have charged) for us to back the incumbents in a well-run community with engaged, intelligent and well-informed elected officials. But in Roselle, I thought hard about two of the incumbents, Kory Atkinson and Terrence Wittman. I also was impressed with one of the challengers, Carrie Dahlstrom.
So, in my "pitch" to the editorial board, I started out by mentioning that one incumbent, Andrew Maglio, was endorsement-worthy because he seemed like a diligent board member with 25 years of experience on the village planning and zoning board before becoming a trustee. Wittman, I wrote, is the dean of the village board. He struck me as a very bright guy whose career is in finance. He had some interesting, out-of-the-box ideas, particularly on consolidation of governments in Illinois, which has more than any state in the nation. But I was concerned in our interview with his harsh reaction toward another candidate who had interrupted him (Wittman sent me a note of apology the following day). Also, he was censured by the village board last year after getting into profanity-laced argument with a Taste of Roselle volunteer.
I mentioned that Atkinson was an attorney and a stickler for budgetary issues. But he has a history of filing legal objections to force candidates off the ballot. In Roselle, he's challenged two of his opponents and two mayoral candidates. He lost before the local election panel, and then in circuit court. He now is taking the matter to an appellate court, and I expressed some concern that this might interfere with the printing of ballots.
I also told the board Dahlstrom struck me as exceptionally well-prepared for a non-incumbent and that she has been attending village board meetings diligently for three years. Some of her answers were a bit long and rambling, but overall I thought she was most qualified among the challengers.
The editorial board members I discussed this with were split on the matter -- one thought Wittman's censure was enough to disqualify him from consideration; another was more concerned by Atkinson's ballot challenges. He suggested that we endorse Wittman but with a reference to his past censure and a reminder of the importance of working respectfully with others. That same editorial board member added that he was a little skeptical of Atkinson, suggesting a penchant for ballot objections seems more of a threat to a board's effectiveness than an occasional display of temper.
So that's the advice I followed, and we ended up endorsing Wittman, Dahlstrom and Maglio. Was that the right call? We think so, but it's obviously open to discussion. As Slusher noted, "While we're not necessarily writing to persuade, we do work hard to provide thoughtful, well-researched reasoning."
So, now you know a little more about the reasoning in one of the scores of elections we're covering.
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