Des Moines Voters Oust Gay School Board Member
Voters in Des Moines, Iowa, turned out in record numbers last week to defeat an openly gay school board veteran and elect two candidates backed by local and statewide conservative groups.
The stage for the election was set last winter when Jonathan Wilson, a 12-year board member, publicly declared his homosexuality during a bitter debate over a proposed curriculum on sexual orientation. (See Education Week, Sept. 6.)
Last week, Mr. Wilson finished fourth out of eight candidates vying for two seats on the seven-member board.
"He was elected four times before," said Phil Roeder, a consultant to Mr. Wilson's campaign. "All that changed was that the public now knows he's gay."
The winners were Jane Hein, a former teacher and local PTA leader, with 15,062 votes, and Harold "Sandy" Sandahl, an engineer who had not previously voted in a school board election. He received 13,368 votes.
The Concerned Parents of Des Moines, a group opposed to the curriculum proposal and Mr. Wilson's re-election, had backed both.
Mr. Wilson received 9,770 votes, behind third-place finisher Mark R. Schuling, who got 10,903 votes. The Des Moines Education Association had endorsed both men.
While the city schools superintendent eventually killed the curriculum proposal, the issue remained a catalyst for conservative groups to rally against Mr. Wilson.
"I think people are saying they aren't interested in social engineering," Ms. Hein told The Des Moines Register newspaper after the election.
Gay and lesbian activists nationwide helped Mr. Wilson raise nearly $50,000 for his campaign, far more than any other candidate.
The controversy also brought out 29,157 voters, 26 percent of those registered. A typical turnout for school board races in Des Moines is closer to 7,000, election officials said.
In another local election last week with implications for schools, Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke overwhelmed his challenger, Mary Pat Clarke, in the city's Democratic primary.
Although the race had been called a dead heat going into its final days, the two-term mayor captured nearly 60 percent of the more than 134,000 votes cast. Victory in the party primary is tantamount to winning the mayor's office in the heavily Democratic city.
Mr. Schmoke recently decided to extend for another year the city's controversial contract with Education Alternatives Inc. to manage nine public schools. (See Education Week, Sept. 6, 1995.)