Trio running for D97 board form campaign alliance

? As in the past, candidates deny 'slate,' say grouping explained by overlapping support, but that they're running independently.

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By DREW CARTER

In what is becoming something of a tradition, an informal alliance has formed between three candidates for the District 97 Board of Education, primarily, the candidates said, for logistical reasons. A similar grouping took place in the last school board election.

Much campaigning for school board elections happens at "coffees"?#34;invite-only gatherings at private homes where voters can meet candidates and ask questions. The events sometimes serve as fundraisers, too.

On Sunday, former board member and president Ann Courter hosted a coffee at her home for candidates Peter Barber, Carolyn Newberry Schwartz and Kathryn Tortorice. She said she had nothing against the other two candidates vying for the three open seats on the board, but that she "like[s] these three very much."

An e-mail invite for the coffee lists other co-hosts, including former board member and president Elizabeth Lippitt.

Courter denied having the power to christen candidates with the approval of past board members. "I don't think I'm a kingmaker," she said.

Newberry Schwartz said the alliance of three was similar to one formed by Dan Burke, Marcia Frank, Michelle Harton and Jim Prescott for the four open seats in the 2003 Dist. 97 election. Burke, Frank, and Harton were elected.

"It's not a slate," said Newberry Schwartz, the board's vice president who is seeking re-election on April 5. "We have our own things going."

"We're definitely not running as a slate or running together," Barber said. "Each of us is running absolutely independently. It just makes life easier" to hold coffees jointly with other candidates, he said.

In March 2003, WEDNESDAY JOURNAL reported that the then-candidates explained their alliance in a similar fashion: "It's more about the efficiency," Burke said. "We're not trying to get anyone else elected."

"We're still operating independently," Frank said.

"I can't speak for the others, and they cannot speak for me," Harton said.

All the candidates but Prescott were elected to the board in 2003, and Courter and Lippitt were involved in the Frank and Harton campaigns.

Newberry Schwartz said she was "very aware" of the way the alliance campaigned two years ago, but that the decision to share coffees with other candidates was made after campaigning had begun.

Asked whether she thought appearing with her at coffees might give Barber and Tortorice a leg up in the election, Newberry Schwartz said, "It might. It's hard to know. ... You carry some baggage as an incumbent."

Tortorice said she didn't think that appearing at the same coffees with Newberry Schwartz would influence voters.

"That's not really why I'm doing it," Tortorice said. "I'm doing it because we have a large group of [supporters] in common" because both are Brooks Middle School parents.

When fundraising is paired with a coffee, each campaign accepts donations separately, and donors give to each independently, Newberry Schwartz said.

She added that she prefers Barber and Tortorice to the other candidates, Vic Guarino and Julie Blankemeier.

"I'm comfortable with [Barber and Tortorice]. I think they would be constructive board members and assets to the board. If I didn't believe that, I wouldn't have coffees with them," Newberry Schwartz said.

Barber and Tortorice each said they don't have any coffees scheduled with Guarino or Blankemeier, but that they would consider it if the offer arose.

Guarino would not comment on the alliance, other than to say, "I'm running independently. ... I've never discussed running with anyone." He later added in an e-mail message, "How the other candidates are running their campaigns has no bearing on my campaign."

Blankemeier agreed that the alliance would not affect her campaign.

"My method is to say, "OK, what's my message?" and to focus on that."

CONTACT: dcarter@wjinc.com

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