Takeaways from Tuesday’s elections
Roswarski ties record as Lafayette mayor. Easter’s your new mayor in WL. Democrats sweep contested races. West Lafayette schools win big on property tax referendum. Dayton ousts town council leaders
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Takeaways from Tuesday’s elections
A few takeaways from Tuesday’s elections in Greater Lafayette …
Two cities, two mayors
As the final results popped, never really in doubt against a candidate who conceded he was running just to tout third-party bids, Lafayette Mayor Roswarski said he still went into Tuesday with the same nerves he’s had on every Election Day.
Even on this one, when he tied the late Lafayette Mayor Jim Riehle for a record six victories for the office.
“It really doesn’t get old,” Roswarski said, after getting 82% of the vote against Benji Milanowski, a public health nurse who ran as a Libertarian. “But it’s always nerve wracking, at least for me, no matter how long you’ve done it.”
Roswarski, a Democrat first elected as mayor in 2003, campaigned on his experience and an ongoing pursuit of city growth, downtown development and quality of life initiatives. It was another four-year cycle where Republican took a pass on challenging Roswarski.
“I think in general people are happy with the direction of the communities, they’re happy with the collaboration,” Roswarski said. “They’re comfortable that things are moving in the right direction. We get things done, so I think that’s a big part of it.”
For Democrat Erin Easter, the election has been a foregone conclusion since July, when no one joined her on the ballot for West Lafayette mayor.
Easter, the city’s development director, had entered the race in December with an introduction and full-throated endorsement from Mayor John Dennis, a Republican who declined a run for a fifth term.
“It doesn’t feel anticlimactic,” Easter said. “We’ve known since July that there was no competition, but that doesn’t mean everything else is a done deal. What comes out of the council races are a really important component of what local government in West Lafayette looks like in the next four years.”
Easter will step into the mayor’s office in 2024.
In West Lafayette
What came out of the West Lafayette City Council races, then, turned into a Democratic sweep, including winning three seats in a closely contested at-large race and flipping the lone Republican seat on the nine-member council.
“Everyone really worked for this,” Jacque Chosnek, Tippecanoe County Democratic Party chair, said. (Democrats did not lose a contested race on either side of the Wabash River on Tuesday.)
Pat Flannelly, retired Lafayette police chief, was one of two Republicans vying for three at-large seats on the city council. He and Republican Brian Russell finished a distant fourth and fifth, behind Democrat Iris O’Donnell Bellisario and Democratic incumbents James Blanco and David Sanders.
“I guess you can speculate West Lafayette is a pretty Democratic stronghold,” Flannelly said. “I think just having the ‘R’ next to my name was going to create an uphill battle for me. But that was OK. … I just hope that everyone that is there is there for the right reasons and is there for the best of the city.”
Stacey Burr, a Democrat, received 65.6% of the vote in West Lafayette’s District 6, beating council member Jeff Brown. (Brown replaced Norris Wang, the lone Republican to win in the 2019 council races, after Wang died midway through his four-year term.) Burr said the challenge was to figure out how to reach students and newcomers living in Purdue Discovery Park District in the newly shaped district that runs along the western and southern edges of the city.
“This was a hard one to predict,” Burr said. “Now that I’m here, I’m just going to wait and see where Erin wants me to help.”
The city council winners were:
District 1: Laila Veidemanis (71.1%) over Aaron Abell
District 2: Michelle Dennis, unopposed
District 3: Colin Lee, unopposed
District 4: Larry Leverenz, unopposed
District 5: Kathy Parker (67.1%) over James Waters
District 6: Stacey Burr (65.6%) over incumbent Jeff Brown
At-large (three seats): Iris O’Donnell Bellisario, James Blanco and David Sanders, defeated Patrick Flannelly and Brian Russell
City Clerk Sana Booker, a Democrat, and City Judge Lori Stein Sabol, also a Democrat, ran unopposed and won.
The lineup card at Lafayette City Council meetings will be the same in the next four years as it was going into Tuesday’s elections.
Of the eight Democratic incumbents, only three faced competition this year. The closest of those races had Eileen Hession Weiss winning District 2 with 62.5% of the vote over Republican challenger Mary Fisher.
“I spent a lot of time knocking on doors, introducing myself as a city council member,” said Hession Weiss, a former Lafayette city clerk during the Riehle era who was appointed to the seat when longtime council member Ron Campbell retired.
Jerry Reynolds, a retired Lafayette firefighter, is the council’s lone Republican, serving District 1. Democrats did not field a candidate in that district.
“I’m not upset with the results,” Perry Barbee, a Republican who was beat by incumbent Bob Downing in District 6, said. “We’ve just got to get out there and recruit Republicans to join us and to run.”
The other city council winners in contested races:
District 1: Jerry Reynolds, unopposed
District 2: Eileen Hession Weiss (62.5%) over Republican Mary Fisher
District 3: Perry Brown, unopposed
District 4: Lauren Ahlersmeyer (80.4%) over Libertarian Josiah Eller
District 5: Melissa Weast-Williamson, unopposed
District 6: Bob Downing (70.9%) over Republican Perry Barbee
At large: Kevin Klinker, Nancy Nargi and Steve Snyder
City Clerk Cindy Murray, a Democrat, ran unopposed, securing her sixth term in city hall.
West Lafayette school referendum
West Lafayette Superintendent Shawn Greiner said he didn’t sleep at all Monday night, heading into Tuesday’s election and a proposed renewal of the school district’s 37-cent property tax referendum. Never mind that the last time it went up for renewal, in 2017, the question won 94% approval. Or that going into this year’s election, consultants had reported that a survey this summer showed that 76% of the 400 registered voters asked said they vote for it again.
“We walked into the office pretty stressed,” Greiner said Tuesday night. “Just because we don’t take it for granted.”
The final tally Tuesday: 80.4% in favor.
The proposed 37-cent referendum would raise a bit more than $7 million a year – roughly 18% of the district’s overall budget – for the next eight years, stating its purpose as “retaining and attracting teachers and staff and funding academic programming and operating expenditures.” The district has had a similar property tax since 2010, when voters first approved it with 65% of the vote.
Tanya Finkbiner, a co-chair of the Vote Yes for our West Lafayette Schools committee, said supporters skipped yard signs this time in favor of door hangers for a door-to-door campaign, targeted mailers and red T-shirts that said nothing about the property tax but touted the West Side schools.
“This was more about telling friends to tell 10 friends,” Finkbiner said Tuesday. “For the most part, it was, ‘Yeah, we’re going to vote for the referendum. We’re going to vote for the schools.’”
David Purpura, who co-chaired the Vote Yes effort with Finkbiner, said: “Our community believes in strong public schools, and they showed that tonight.”
Greiner said the administration also listened to and soaked in some of the criticism of the district, reflected in some ways in recent school board elections.
“We’ve learned a lot from our community of the great things we’re doing in our schools,” Greiner said. “But we’ve also heard things that we might consider to improve. And as a learning organization, you always want to focus on continuous improvement. I very much, as superintendent, value the input we’ve had along the way.”
Last summer, Cindy Marsh, the wife of Dayton Town Council member Ron Koehler, had filed a formal challenge of two candidates looking for seats on the five-member board. Marsh had argued to the Tippecanoe County Election Board that she’d found technical deficiencies in the filing paperwork of Joy Tischer and Rocky Richards, who were among the eight candidates running.
The Election Board didn’t bite, rejected the challenge and kept Tischer and Richards among the eight candidates on the ballot in Dayton a small, neighboring town of Lafayette. But Marsh said at the time that among the reasons she challenged the pair was because she thought they were just trying to upset the work the current board is doing on a town’s comprehensive plan, annexation work and other ways meant to “really keep the integrity of the town and build a community identity.” She also raised questions about whether they were put up to run as payback or revenge for the work being done on the council since the 2019 election brought an overhaul of the town council, led by Koehler.
On Tuesday, Tischer and Richards were among the five winners, along with fellow newcomer Leah Copas and incumbents Marc Buhrmester and Carla Snodgrass.
Among those out were Koehler and Jen Manago, town council president. They finished a distant eighth and ninth in the nine-candidate race.
“We are absolutely thrilled and profoundly grateful to announce our victory in the Dayton town council election,” Tischer said Tuesday night. “This victory is a testament to the unwavering support and trust of our incredible community. … We're excited to work tirelessly to make our town an even better place to live.”
The changing of the guard – or at least of the makeup of the board, had those on the losing end seething.
“Evidently we have people that believed the lies they were told, and we had such poor voter turnout,” Manago said Tuesday night. “As I was campaigning door to door, I heard so many nasty things that were said about Ron. One woman was told to ‘watch her back’ because once Ron Koehler saw that she had the opposition’s signs in her yard he would ‘come after her.’ They were telling people we waste taxpayers money, that we don’t allow comments from residents.”
Marsh, who moderates a Facebook page called Dayton Watchdog,” said she still questions some candidates’ qualifications and why they challenged incumbent council members.
“It tells me that hate and vengeance are bigger motivators than love and appreciation, and that the lies and hate campaign against Ron and Jen worked,” Marsh said. “How sad for the town of Dayton. The nails were just put in the town’s coffin.”
The town recently filed a lawsuit against Lafayette, challenging annexation of 132 acres near I-65 and Haggerty Lane, on the Dayton side of the interstate. The Dayton Town Council contend that Lafayette overstepped its authority. (During a public hearing over the summer, Marsh called Lafayette “colonizers.”) Lafayette officials annexed the land when the Carr Family Farm LLC requested it of the city, after Dayton declined to commit to supplying water until it knew what users would be on the property.
A judge gave both sides until January for mediation, hoping for a negotiated settlement.
Whether a new Dayton Town Council would pull the plug on that lawsuit isn’t clear.
“That will be up to this council until the end of the year,” Marsh said. “That’s all I know.”
Odds and ends
Turnout: Just over 11%, with 7,391 of 66,960 eligible voters.
For full, unofficial results: Here’s your link.
Thanks to Purdue Convocations, presenting Johnny Cash: The Official Concert Experience, Friday, Nov. 10, at Loeb Playhouse. Get tickets here.
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