Wilmette, Elections

Gerry Smith will become Wilmette’s first Black trustee, and Gina Kennedy and Stephen Leonard will return to the Village Board

Election Night delivered another momentous result for the Village of Wilmette.

Two years after the town’s second female village president (Senta Plunkett) was elected, its first Black trustee won the voters’ support.

With 25.35 percent of the vote, Gerry Smith earned a top-three spot and will be sworn into the Village Board in May.

“It is a huge accomplishment for both Wilmette and myself,” Smith said. “Being a man of color, an African-American, it’s important to have representation in the North Shore and a voice that needs to be heard.”

A 30-plus-year resident of Wilmette, Smith is the chairperson of the Village’s Human Relations Commission and has served on town commissions for 13 years.

Smith called his first public-office campaign “daunting,” but credited its success to his efforts visiting with voters and officials over the past several months.

He said winning a board seat, though, is just Phase 1.

“Now the hard work begins, to represent voters … and do good for the village and make everyone proud,” Smith said. “I’m ready. You got to do the work.

“I want to say, to a person, this means a lot to me.”

According to complete but unofficial totals from the Cook County Clerk, Smith collected 2,486 votes, finishing third behind incumbent Gina Kennedy (2,912 votes, 29.7%) and Stephen Leonard (2,697, 27.5%). The three winners finished ahead of John Kolleng (1,712, 17.46), a former member of the Village’s Zoning Board of Appeals.

The trustee race garnered 4,038 ballots, a turnout of 18.56% of Wilmette’s 21,762 votes, according to the county.

The only incumbent, Kennedy said she was nervous going into Election Night but emerged as the top vote getter and will serve her second term as trustee.

“I’m still kind of in shock,” Kennedy said on Wednesday morning, April 5. “I eventually convinced myself that I could win — just needed to do one vote better than one person — but I didn’t expect to do as well as I did.

“I still feel like I am new to this. It’s always hard to judge public sentiment in a place where no one does any polling and you only know so many people.”

Stephen Leonard also returns to the board but not as an incumbent.

Leonard was elected to the Village Board in 2017 but resigned because of professional responsibilities in 2018. With that path cleared this time around, Leonard said he is excited to get a seat back.

“This is definitely something I wanted to spend my time with,” he said of being a trustee. “… We have really important, impactful projects and I have the opportunity to bring experience and expectations to the table.”

In May, Smith and Leonard will join a re-elected Kennedy, second-term Trustee Kathy Dodd, and first-term Trustees Kate Gjaja and Justin Sheperd on the Wilmette Village Board.

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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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