Northwestern University students have been a hit-or-miss factor in past City elections but may have been key in challenger Clare Kelly’s bid to become the next First Ward Alderman, precinct totals show.

With mail-in votes still being counted, Ms. Kelly holds a 27-vote lead over incumbent Judy Fiske, collecting 584 votes to 557 for Ald. Fiske. The final results will not be available until two weeks after the April 6 General Election at the soonest and can sometimes be three weeks out.

Ms. Kelly achieved her biggest margin in precinct 1, where students vote, receiving 52 votes to 8 for Ald. Fiske, final precinct totals on the Cook County Clerk’s Election site show.                                                            

Ms. Fiske, the Ward’s alderman since 2009, rolled up her strongest figures in much larger precinct 4 – which includes residences closest to the Lake Michigan as well as the multi-residential buildings and retirement communities such as The Mather – receiving 275 votes to 173 for Ms. Kelly.

Ms. Kelly neutralized that advantage to some degree in the Ward’s third precinct, where the polling place, in the far west part of the ward, was at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes St. There she received 209 votes to 133 for Ald. Fiske.

The two fought to a near standstill in precinct 2 – polling place, the Jane R. Pearlman Apartments, 1900 Sherman Ave. – but Precinct 1 and the Alice Millar Chapel where students vote was a different story.

With students away or working remotely, only 1 vote was recorded from that precinct in the Feb. 23 primary.

City Clerk candidate Stephanie Mendoza and Ms. Kelly were the only City candidates in the non-partisan general election to receive the endorsement of the Democratic Party of Evanston. Mayor-elect Daniel Biss received the party’s backing in the primary.

The party devotes resources to endorsed candidates and issued sample ballots highlighting the names of favored candidates.

Jackson Paller, a recent Northwestern University graduate, served in an advisory role in Ms. Kelly’s campaign and visited the Alice Millar site later on election day.

“We talked specifically to Northwestern students about Clare’s progressive platform and all the strong endorsements she got,” he said, crediting Tom Oser with Ms. Kelly’s campaign and student Ben Moskow as playing major roles.

“My perspective is that Northwestern’s student body has gotten a good deal more progressive and just generally more politically engaged than when I was an undergrad four years ago,” Mr. Paller said, “and it paid off.”

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.