Another River Forest school board candidate has come forward to share her own experience with harassment leading up to the April 6 consolidated general election.
Sarah Eckmann, who is eying a seat on the River Forest School District 90 Board of Education, said she received unsolicited phone calls from a man who accused her of harassing former D90 candidate Scott Hall. The calls came just days after Hall on March 24 announced his withdrawal from the race on his campaign website. Though Hall did not detail what he and his family faced, he wrote that they had been “repeatedly threatened, harassed and disparaged.” Hall has not returned Journal calls for an interview.
In an interview with Wednesday Journal, Eckmann said a man called two different offices she worked at, and also called her husband and a friend’s teenage son who designed her campaign website.
“At one office that I was at, the receptionist got a phone call and obscenities were repeated and [he] yelled at her about me,” said the 39-year-old Eckmann, a first-time candidate and River Forest native. She added the incidents that have happened in the last week have been “totally unnecessary and uncalled for.”
In addition to the unwarranted phone calls, the same man also reached out to Eckmann through her own campaign website. In an email with the subject headline “Youra Pig [sic],” he wrote, “Pig!!!!!!!! You will regret your antics. Pig. [sic]”
Eckmann has since removed all her personal information on her site.
On top of that, Eckmann said the comments on Facebook targeting her and those who worked on her campaign and blaming them for pushing Hall out of the race have not stopped. Eckmann denies playing any role in Hall’s decision to withdraw from the race.
Sonia Green, a friend of Eckmann, opened up about the backlash she and her son received last week.
That same man who had been calling the Eckmanns allegedly moved on to Green’s 17-year-old son, who helped Eckmann with her campaign website. Green said that man called her son on the afternoon of March 29 and left a voicemail saying, “You’re a fat, fat pig. You will never work again.”
“I don’t know if he knew he was calling a minor,” Green said, adding that the message her son received was “just so ridiculous.” She explained further that her son is an avid photographer who has his own site where his age and contact information is displayed.
This past week, Eckmann and Green reported the unsolicited phone calls to police. The River Forest Police Department could not be immediately reached for comment.
The district launched an investigation, but Hall declined to participate. Instead, he suspended his school board candidacy and resigned from his position as a volunteer teachers’ aide.
“We weren’t in any way set out to malign him or destroy him,” Green said of her intention behind sending that letter to board. “It was just like, ‘look, he’s breaking the rules,’ however when the narrative became, ‘I’m doing this because I’m being harassed’ that didn’t sit right with me.”
But, John Lawrence, a supporter of Hall, told a different story. Lawrence turned to social media to share what he described as a case of voter intimidation.
In a Facebook post, Lawrence wrote about how his wife Pam, co-founder of Kindness Creators Intergenerational Preschool in Oak Park, received a letter that defamed Hall, who serves as board treasurer at Kindness Creators.
“The opening paragraph explicitly states that our and her school’s association with Scott would be bad for business – Scott is a very valued member of our Board of Directors [sic],” Lawrence wrote.
Lawrence continued to defend Hall, saying that “the statements made in the letter are flat out untrue” and called the letter’s author a “gutless coward” who should “grow up and be willing to stand behind your words – show yourself.”
Lawrence declined to further comment on his social media post.
When Eckmann was asked why some people have accused her of allegedly harassing Hall, she said she was unsure of their reasons and thought their opposing platforms, including a basis for reopening schools, might have been the issue.
“People can disagree with different decisions that any elected official makes,” Eckmann said, “and that needs to be done in a respectful way and resorting to harassment threats is just unacceptable.”
Eckmann is now one of four candidates competing for four open seats on the D90 school board. She joins three incumbents, Stacey Williams, Katie Avalos and Nicole Thompson. Hall’s name remains on the ballot since his withdrawal came after ballots were created.
With Election Day around the corner, Eckmann reflected on what she and her family and friends have recently faced. Despite the incidents that have transpired, Eckmann thought of the reason why she ran in the first place and the real role local elected officials play in their neighborhoods.
“People who run for public office are trying to do good things for their community, and people who don’t agree with them should just vote according to their views,” Eckmann said. “Nothing should be escalating in this manner.”
“It makes it harder to want to serve your community, but I still am going to,” she said. “I’m not going to drop out of the race because of this.”