Devon Reid, left, and Clare Kelly will be sworn in as aldermen in May.

First-time candidate Clare Kelly is the official winner in Evanston’s First Ward Aldermanic race, defeating longtime incumbent Alderman Judy Fiske by 26 votes, according to certified results posted on the Cook County Clerk’s Election site in the early evening of April 27.

The Clerk’s office posts certified results after all the mail-in ballots were received in the race, close to three weeks after the general election. 

The First Ward race vote total was close enough that a flood of mail-in votes could have been a deciding factor. Ms. Kelly, a local activist, received 587 votes or 51.13% of the votes to 561 votes or 48.87% for Ald. Fiske, first elected to the Ward seat in 2009.

Ms. Kelly, a longtime Spanish teacher at Evanston Township High School, said in a statement, “I am so appreciative of the many individuals and small businesses that donated to the campaign and to those who put up yard signs, wore masks, hosted meet-and-greets, and endorsed our campaign with beautiful statements and letters,” Ms. Kelly said. “I am especially thankful to my hardworking and brilliant team. This campaign was truly our community pulling together.

“Evanston has a long history of leading some of our nation’s most important conversations,” she said. “When we are at our best, we’ve been a beacon of progress and humanity. Our campaign – our win – is about those values and about that commitment and our shared desire to be even better.  While I’m honored to have been chosen to advance that commitment on behalf of Evanston’s First Ward, this win represents a community effort. I’m humbled. I’m grateful. And I’m excited to get to work.” 

Ald. Fiske, a leading preservationist before her election to the Council, issued a statement about a week ago, with her opponent’s lead continuing to hold.

“I want to start by thanking everyone who voted for me in the most recent election, as well as to express my gratitude to everyone who has supported me over the years. More than anyone, you are fully aware that my work on behalf of the First Ward has always been based on honesty, transparency and listening to everyone, not on political expediency or personal interests, and I deeply appreciate what we have been able to accomplish together.

“When I first ran for office, I promised to put you first: that you would always be part of the decision-making process, that we would work together on issues facing the ward and the City, that I would be open, accessible and actually listen to you, that I would be responsive to your concerns, that I would work to get answers to your questions, and that I would help solve your problems. We have not always agreed on every issue, but I am proud that I always upheld my promise to you, even during a global pandemic and political upheaval right here at home.”

Ald. Fiske and Ms. Kelly had waged a bruising race, with Ald. Fiske raising character concerns about her opponent and charging she was in favor of changing Evanston’s form of government, and Ms. Kelly going after Ald. Fiske and the Council for reckless budget spending. Ms. Kelly also maintained she would work with colleagues to negotiate an agreement with Northwestern University for payment in lieu of taxes if elected.

Ald. Fiske’s defeat brings to three the number of longtime incumbents who failed to win new four-year terms on the nine-member Council in the City’s municipal election. Aldermen Donald Wilson in the central Evanston Fourth Ward and Ann Rainey in the southeast Eighth Ward had both failed to advance out of the Feb. 23 primary, in the biggest changeover to the City Council since 1997.

The certified results show close races in several other wards, most prominently the Second Ward (Dempster-Dodge) and Eighth Ward.

In the Second Ward, incumbent Peter Braithwaite received 714 votes or 52.62% to 643 votes or 47.38% for Darlene Cannon, like Ms. Kelly a first-time candidate and one of a handful of activists seeking aldermanic positions.

In the Eighth Ward, Devon Reid, currently the Evanston City Clerk, received 603 votes or 51.36% of the vote to 571 votes or 48.64% for Matthew Mitchell, an attorney and Ridgeville Park District Commissioner.

In the primary, Mr. Reid and Mr. Mitchell had finished ahead of Alderman Rainey, elected as the Ward’s Alderman in 1983, preventing her from advancing to the general election.

“What I find interesting is no matter who folks voted for in the Eighth Ward, they voted for a candidate who stood as a break from the past,” and someone committed to taking action on progressive policies, Mr. Reid said on April 27.

“It’s really an honor,” he said of his victory. “It’s both an honor, and reality sets in,” he added, noting there is “a lot of work ahead to do.”

Bob Seidenberg

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.