Wilmette, Elections

‘My daughters will be pretty pleased’: Women now have majority on every public board in Wilmette

After election night in Wilmette, voters made it clear they wanted new blood in local government, as incumbents lost in three major races (Wilmette Village, Park and Library boards). 

But that was not the only statement local voters made. Based on unofficial voting tallies from the county clerk’s office, once the elected take their seats in May, women will hold the majority on every major governing board in Wilmette, while also occupying the village president’s chair.

That is a first in village history, according to Wilmette officials.

The Wilmette Village Board and Park Board will seat four women and three men, as will the Avoca D37 School Board. The Wilmette D39 School Board will feature five women of seven members, and the Wilmette Public Library will have an all-woman board of trustees for the first time in its 120-year history.

“I think having all these boards where they stand reflects on what women do in this community. I think it’s a pretty accurate reflection of the involvement of women leaders across the community” said Senta Plunkett, who once sworn in will be the second female village president in Wilmette. “Women know they are educated, they are empowered and have a lot to contribute. They are stepping up and feeling comfortable.”

The data supports Plunkett’s statement. Twelve women ran for Wilmette’s main four governing boards: Village Board, Park Board, Library Board and District 39 School Board. It is the highest total of the 11 consolidated elections this century.

The 10 women elected are tied for the most in that span, tying the 10 women who were elected in 2015. The female participation this cycle more than doubles what it was in 2003 and 2001, when just four and five women, respectively, ran for the open seats on the four boards.

Senta Plunkett (second from left) stands with current and former Wilmette public servants (left to right) Carol Ducommun, Nancy Canafax and Julie Wolf. | Photo Submitted

Plunkett, a Wilmette trustee, won a competitive race for her new position, besting fellow trustee Joel Kurzman by about 17 percentage points (58.68% to 41.32%).

She will lead a board that already features Gina Kennedy and Daniel Sullivan Jr. and will gain election victors Kathy Dodd (incumbent), Kate Gjaja and Justin Sheperd. The board must soon appoint a seventh member to fill Kurzman’s seat.

According to the Village of Wilmette, it will be the first time in 30 years (1989-93) the majority of village trustees are women.

Nancy Canafax was a member of that board and four years later became the Village’s first woman village president. She first served two terms as trustee from the late 1980s to the early ’90s and then — at the urging of her predecessor John Jacoby, she said — two terms as village president (from 1997-2005). 

Canafax, who still serves on commissions for the Village of Wilmette, was happily surprised to learn that local governing boards are women-led. She called it “progress” for women and for voters.

“I think fundamentally and most importantly women now are able and eager to jump right into the fray,” she said. “They don’t feel constricted by the burdens of child care and home maintenance as they can do it all … and the women are right: Many of them can do it all.”

She also added, “It shows Wilmette is not subject to the misogynistic fears a lot have, at least a majority of voters aren’t.” 

We had a tremendously talented, educated, incredible group of women running. I’m so grateful to be standing by them.” Allison Frazier, commissioner-elect for the Wilmette Park Board

The race for Wilmette Park Board featured nine candidates for just three spots. Two of those spots went to the only women in the competition: Allison Frazier and Kara Kosloskus, both newcomers to local elections. The third went to Patrick Duffy.

Frazier earned the most votes in the contest with 2,379 and said she leaned on women leaders across Wilmette for support during the campaign.

“We had a tremendously talented, educated, incredible group of women running. I’m so grateful to be standing by them,” Frazier said. “I found that we supported each other. I was able to pick up the phone and call people … running for village president and trustee.”

Kosloskus echoed Frazier’s thoughts and said she’s not the only one happy about the outcomes.

“We have a lot of strong women leadership in Wilmette and I think it’s great,” she said. “My two daughters will be pretty pleased.”

Four women challenged two male incumbents — Ron Rodgers, a 36-year board veteran, and Stuart Wolf, also a multi-term library trustee — for their seats on the Wilmette Library Board of Trustees. Three of the women won seats: Mary Anne O’Keefe, Tracy Sommer and Trish Nealon.

“There is a passionate dedicated, educated base of women in Wilmette and I think you see in volunteerism — whether elected or on the PTO or PTA level — often is women,” O’Keefe said. “I’m excited that many women put their hats in and wanted to go for it.”

They will join Lisa McDonald, Jan Barshis, Joan Fishman and Fina Riddle on the first all-women board in the history of Wilmette public boards.

Bonnie Kim and Anne Hart were voted onto the Wilmette District 39 Board of Education, as were incumbents Lisa Schneider Fabes and Jon Cesaretti. They join Amy Poehling and Erin Stone. 

In Avoca District 37, Ami Das and Sarah Balassa were elected to the board along with incumbent Gil Gibori and Dan Seals. Louise Dechovitz and Dr. Gretchen Witte Glader are already seated on the board with Dr. Sumit Dhar.

It was a similar story for the New Trier High School Board of Education, to which two women — Kimberly Alcantara and Sally Tomlinson – will be added. They will join Cathy Albrecht and Jean Hahn for a female majority, alongside Brad McLane, Keith Dronen and newcomer Avik Das.

Other area boards will be women-led as well.

In the Village of Kenilworth, Cecily Kaz was elected village president and will take the seat of Ann Potter, making for the second consecutive woman at the head of the board of trustees. The board will feature three women and four men.

Wilmette resident Gail Eisenberg will take over for Alan Goldberg as supervisor of New Trier Township.

In other local communities, women are also represented, though fall short of the majority. For instance, two women are councilmembers in Winnetka and two are trustees for the Township, while there is one woman trustee in both Glencoe and Northfield.

The only local race that did not feature at least one woman winner was for Kenilworth School District 38 School Board. Three men will be added to a School Board that features two women, Mia Casey Sachs and Dr. Liza Metzger Mugg.

Canafax said the dynamic in the board room is changing.

“There are more women who first of all grow up differently. They don’t see themselves in some house in second position and unable to hold political position,” she said. “They are people who are just as good as men at making decision, political and public decision. So you are going to have a lot more women running. … It will be men and women and that’s the way it should be. It should be good candidates.”

And Plunkett hopes it soon gets to a point where stories like this are unnecessary.

“In the past, it was more like women competing to be at the table for smaller piece of pie,” Plunkett said, “and now I think now women can support each other and support the best candidates and it’s not competition, it’s just a reflection of how smart and talented and educated those women are.

“Hopefully, we won’t be counting numbers in several years of how many men and how many women.”

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joe coughlin
Joe Coughlin

Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319

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