CRYSTAL LAKE – McHenry County College's proposed expansion plan could have played a large part in what ultimately decided Tuesday's winners, the candidates said.
Chris Jenner and Thomas Wilbeck, who were strongly opposed to MCC's plan to grow its health and wellness programs, won six-year terms on the board, as did Molly Walsh, though she tempered her criticism of the expansion plans.
"Certainly, I think the expansion heightened the awareness of the race," Walsh said, adding that she was "humbled" by the community's response to her campaign. She received the most votes, with 13,239.
Jenner garnered 9,919 votes to Wilbeck's 9,070, according to unofficial results, which do not include late absentee or provisional ballots.
The college currently is exploring the cost and scope for expanding its health and wellness programs, with added space for a fitness center. The college's plan has drawn fire from the community and many, like Wilbeck and Jenner, argued that an expansion is not needed. The men were gunning to stop the college from issuing alternate revenue bonds – debt that doesn't require taxpayer approval.
"I don't know if it's what ultimately got us elected, but I think it contributed to it," Jenner said. "When people heard what the proposal was and how it was going to be funded, it resonated with people."
Wilbeck could not be reached for comment late Tuesday.
Carol Larson, who had a seat on the board for 24 years, said some challengers focused only on the health club aspect of the college's plan, though it would make up only a portion of an expansion.
"The candidates hung their hats on a lie to scare people," Larson said. "Because they threw the mud the farthest, they got the votes."
Throughout the campaign, Jenner and Wilbeck were critical of the sitting board members and college administration, but Jenner said he looks forward to forming a new working relationship with them.
"I've been on the District 26 board for eight years," Jenner said. "We've always had civil and rational conversations, and I intend to approach it that same way."
Larson expressed disappointment at the election results, saying she was worried about the direction certain new trustees, namely Jenner and Wilbeck, will take the college.
"I'm afraid they're just going to make one-agenda decisions, such as they don't want to spend any money," Larson said. "That's not a good decision. A good decision is how do we spend that money well."
Jenner said support from McHenry County-based Citizen Advocates for Taxpayer Accountability could have played a large role in his win with Wilbeck and Walsh. The organization endorsed and bankrolled some marketing materials for the three.
But Walsh made it clear she was not on a platform with the two men, though signs with their three names popped up all over the county.
"I was running my own campaign and those were the result of an organization that endorsed all three of us," Walsh said.
MCC's district also spills into Boone, Lake and Kane counties, where the incumbents Larson and Barbara Walters did well, but not enough to edge out the competition. Both have been on the board for more than two decades.
Out of the nine candidates running, Walters and Larson came in fourth and sixth place, respectively.
Mike Smith, Arne Waltmire, William Scott Alford and Erik Sivertsen also were vying for seats on the board.