League of Women Voters decries party politics in Barrington local elections
A partisan political group in Barrington has expressed support for candidates in school and library board races, a move criticized by the League of Women Voters, which says party politics has no place in local elections.
In an email and on Facebook this month, the Barrington Township Republican Organization backed candidates running for the Barrington Area Library, Barrington Area Unit School District 220 and Harper College boards. The candidates also are backed by a political action committee called ACTION, or "Advancing Change Together In Our Neighborhood."
Vicki Martin, co-president of the League of Women Voters of the Palatine Area, which includes Barrington, called it "a bad precedent." The nonpartisan group has received several calls from people concerned about this, she said.
"When party politics become part of our local government, it directly impacts the way residents choose who they vote for," she said. "Voters will be influenced by party affiliation, instead of figuring out who the best candidate is for the job."
The ACTION PAC backs Katie Karam, Malgorzata "Maggie" McGonigal and Steve Wang for the Barrington Area Unit District 220 school board, Josie Croll and Ann Ordway for Barrington Area Library board, and Kelly Dittman for Harper College trustee.
The eight other candidates for the four seats on the District 220 board are incumbents Sandra Ficke-Bradford and Mike Shakleton, and newcomers Erin Chan Ding, Tom Mitoraj, Lauren Berkowitz Klauer, William Betz, Jonathan Matta and Robert Windon. Also running for three open seats on the Harper College board are incumbents Diane G. Hill, William F. Kelley and Nancy N. Robb. And incumbents Denise Tenyer and Jennifer Lucas are also running for two open seats on the library board.
When contacted by the Daily Herald, Republican organization President Peter Kopsaftis said the support for the ACTION PAC came from him as an individual, not the organization as a whole.
"Don't make things out of nothing," he told a reporter. "It's not an endorsement. It's simply information."
But Kopsaftis used his organization email account March 8 to send a message starting "Dear Barrington Township residents," saying, "We'll be helping support the ACTION PAC slate of candidates" and listing all their names.
The Republican organization also posted on its Facebook page photos of a March 13 fundraiser in Barrington showing Republican state Rep. Martin McLaughlin speaking next to Karam, McGonigal and Wang. The post said, "BTRO and Martin McLaughlin got together to support the ACTION PAC candidates."
When contacted by the Daily Herald, McLaughlin said that was "completely inaccurate." There were two separate events, "then everybody consolidated into a single room," McLaughlin said.
However, McLaughlin's own Facebook event page for the fundraiser said it would feature candidates running for local office, though it did not name them.
After the Daily Herald's inquiry, the Republican organization posted a correction to its Facebook post saying McLaughlin held a separate fundraiser and "was not affiliated with the BTRO or the ACTION PAC at this event."
"Peter Kopsaftis attended both of these fundraising events as an individual and not as president of BTRO," the post states.
Bernard Kamenear, first vice president of the Barrington Township Republican Organization, told the Daily Herald that the organization indeed "is really pushing for the local candidates," which he believes is important. The organization's board held a Zoom call recently with the candidates, he said.
As for how the candidates were picked, Kamenear said Kopsaftis does the preliminary research and the board then decides as a whole.
There are also questions about how the ACTION PAC candidates came together.
At one point, a person who described herself as a member of Barrington Township Republicans posted on the "Reopen Barrington 220 Schools" Facebook page saying the organization was looking to form a slate for the election.
Kopsaftis denies that's what happened.
Dittman, chairwoman for the ACTION PAC, said the group grew out a "grass-roots" effort by a few local moms to get involved in local issues. Forming a PAC was a way of pooling resources to fund their campaigns, she said.
The group agrees local elections are nonpartisan, Dittman said. As for the Republican organization's support, she said, "We welcome all the support, clearly."
Political action committees list financial contributions on the state board of elections website. As of Thursday, the ACTION PAC had listed $100 in non-itemized individual contributions and a $3,000 in-kind contribution from MJ Miller Jewelers, in Barrington.