Ralph Martire

District 90’s Community Caucus, the independent group that has endorsed every candidate sitting on the River Forest public school board in recent memory, has picked three people to run for the board this spring.

Only one of the three is currently on the Dist. 90 board — Jim Weiss. One of the new faces is Liz Fisher, who has worked in publishing and philanthropy, and served on the River Forest Public Library board from 2003 to 2009.

The other newcomer is Ralph Martire, director of a think tank focused on making sure economic and budget policies are fair for disadvantaged working-class families. He also served on a budget advisory team for ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

All three have children in Dist. 90. Current board members Janet Pyrce and Kristen Coe have said they’re not planning to run again in the spring.

The community caucus is one of the more organized groups in often-fractured River Forest politics. For nearly 20 years, the caucus has tried to pull in local residents of all backgrounds to vet candidates for the school board, said caucus Chair Kathleen Brand-White.

Each election cycle, a new chair puts together a caucus of 19 voting members from around the community — having kids in River Forest schools is not required.

Caucus members can only participate two cycles in a row, and the chair is responsible for bringing in fresh perspectives.

“The idea is to keep bringing in new people,” Brand-White said. “It’s just a cross-section of the community that shifts every couple of years.”

Once the caucus is formed, they start to solicit candidates through the newspapers, the PTO and other outlets. This year, the board interviewed six people for the three seats. Since the process is anonymous, the names of the three who weren’t selected have not been made public.

When asked if the process resembled the proverbial smoke-filled room of Cook County politics, Brand-White said, “The idea is to make it as little like that as possible. It’s not connected to the school in any ways. Other than the anonymity of the candidates who appear before us, it’s a pretty transparent process.”

The voters have the final say in who makes it on the board. However, Brand-White said none of the caucus’ candidates have lost an election in the last 20 years — and she only knows of one time when someone even ran against the caucus’ slate.

“The community’s placed a trust in the process, that we’ve done our due diligence to vet these candidates,” Brand-White said. “Everyone who’s sat on it speaks very highly of the process. It’s proven itself.”

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Ben Meyerson

Ben was Wednesday Journal's crime, parks, and River Forest reporter, until he kept bugging us enough to promote him. Now he's managing two of Wednesday Journal's sister papers in the city, Chicago Journal...