Backyard brawl: The 2023 Lake Forest mayoral election

Ambika Gupta, Editor-in-Chief

    This year’s Lake Forest mayoral election was marked by unprecedented controversy: the role of the Lake Forest Caucus, the lack of female representation in Lake Forest government, the value of contested elections, the sources of campaign funding, and the role of local partisanship all came into question. In most years, the Lake Forest Caucus nominates a candidate who typically wins without contestation. This year, however, the Lake Forest Caucus nominee, Dr. Randy Tack, was competing against two independent candidates, Prue Beidler—a finalist for the Lake Forest mayoral Caucus nomination—and Paul Hammon. The Spectator was able to interview the incumbent mayor Dr. Randy Tack, Prue Beidler, and a representative from the Caucus. 

    The Caucus nomination of Dr. Randy Tack is one of the most controversial aspects. The Caucus vets different candidates through an interview, and then at their annual meeting, the chosen candidates are confirmed by a majority vote. Typically, 100 to 200 Lake Forest residents attend this annual meeting, but around 500 residents attended this year. At this meeting, the mayoral candidate was not confirmed by vote—receiving more ‘no’ votes than ‘yes’ votes. This was unprecedented. Despite the fact that this Caucus candidate was not confirmed by vote, the Lake Forest Caucus continued to support Dr. Randy Tack as their nominee. 

    No where in the bylaws of the Caucus did it specify what to do in the event their candidate was rejected. According to S. Aneeqa Aqeel, External Communications Chair of the Lake Forest Caucus, during an interview with The Spectator “This is a part of the bylaws that is vague.” In fact, the confirmation of the nominees by the public was a fairly recent addition to the bylaws. 

    During an interview with The Spectator, Tack commented on this situation saying, “What they [those writing the Lake Forest Caucus bylaws] didn’t anticipate was that a candidate within the process might look at that [the confirmation annual meeting] as an opportunity to be re-considered.” He recalled what happened after the annual meeting, “After this occurred, they re-convened and reconsidered candidates and re-voted and they selected me for a second time.” 

    The role of the Caucus at large was questioned. Some questioned its credibility and power. Technically, every registered Lake Forest voter is part of the Caucus. However, each ward of town has elected officials who work at the Caucus. These elected officials unofficially vet candidates for important positions—like the mayor.  

    When asked why the Caucus was created, Aqeel responded, “The Caucus is in its 88th year and the mission is to support non-partisanship and agenda-free municipal government to keep both the cost of government low and the effectiveness high.” 

    When being vetted for a position, the Caucus asks each candidate if they would run against the chosen candidate if they are not elected. Beilder agreed during her interview with the Caucus. She said during her interview with The Spectator, “that’s a requirement for you to be a candidate…I think that’s kinda against your first amendment rights.” She continued, “Do they [the Caucus] want to close down worthy opponents? They do.” She reflected saying, “the point is as recently as November 9th I sent emails to people saying I’m not running as an independent, and when the vote happened [at the annual meeting], they basically just ignored the vote…If they are playing by new rules…why should I have made an agreement to them and I’m expected to honor that..when they aren’t even following their own bylaws.”

   As a reflection on her experience being vetted by the Caucus, Beidler said, “Now, I have been the second choice candidate for mayor, and they believed that I stirred people, that I was an activist.” Beidler continued, “Since 1861 there have been no female mayors, does that suggest a system that’s working smoothly to you?” She reflected, “I’m not sure in any other highly educated community you would find that [no female mayor] at this point.” She continued, “I don’t think they [the Caucus] have made it a priority, frankly they would disagree, but I feel like they could have done a better job seeking people out.” She points out how this year there were no female candidates nominated for city council [there were female candidates for other positions on the ‘ballot’ at the annual meeting] and that the plan committee is made up entirely of men. 

    On this subject, Tack said, “We’re going to have one [female mayor] and we will have one when the right one steps up and is chosen by the community…now the question is will the person be self-selected or chosen by the community.” He continued, “In other words, it’ll be a merit based selection…I would never want to be selected for any reason other than the fact I was the best person for that position.” 

    On a broader note, the value of contested elections came into question. Some think that contested elections are a symbol of well-functioning democracy, while others believe that contested elections can have negative ramifications on the community. 

   When reflecting on this year’s contested election, Tack said, “It’s unfortunate…it put the community through something that wasn’t positive.” 

    The cost of the contested election was an important issue for the Caucus. According to Aqeel, “Our typical budget in a year is $10,000.” However this year, Aqeel said, “We were able to raise about $60,000 pretty quickly and crucially it was no strings attached.”  

   A prominent criticism of Prue Beilder’s campaign was the funding source. On the topic of this year’s advertising costs, Aqeel said, “I think our opponent who ran against the Caucus nomination expected that we would not be able to raise the money. That was kinda the strategy.” 

    Additionally, some claim that contested elections introduce partisanship into local politics. This could discourage people from remaining active in the Lake Forest government. On this subject, Tack said, “We have all volunteer government and, in order to get people to get in, they don’t want to fight about social and political issues.” Tack said that “it [this year’s election] brought into partisanship that normally isn’t here.” 

    Beilder also voiced a similar sentiment, “Is this [the contested election and its resulting hostility] a reflection of the divisiveness in the country? I would say yes, probably. To think Lake Forest is immune to what is happening in the rest of the country would be naive.” 

    During campaigning season, discussions of partisanship came about. Prue reflected on this and said, “They [her opponent] began making issues about candidates I’ve given money to.” She said comments came up like, “She is going to bring Chicago to Lake Forest.” She added that, “It should have been irrelevant [her donations] since the Caucus is in fact nonpartisan.” She stressed in her previous positions in local government she made it a priority to separate her political beliefs and the nonpolitical, local issues she dealt with. She reflected, “Now to my knowledge, we have not had a Democratic mayor…maybe running as a woman who also happens to be a democrat was a problem.”

    Conversely, Tack said, “There was also an undercurrent..the person that I was running against was very politically active…donating a lot of money to a political party and political candidates that—perhaps I would say—have viewpoints and philosophy that aren’t very reflective of Lake Forest.”

    Aqeel also voiced a similar belief, she said “All the support for her [Beilder] campaign…came from one political party—a national level political party. Non-partisan goes right out the window.” Aqeel also added, “It’s important to understand the structure of government here. The mayoral office is involved in potentially creating but mostly enforcing local laws (minor taxes, zoning laws, etc). They are not really involved in litigating things considered hot button issues or national issues. The task of mayor is actually quite non-political.” 

    The 2023 Lake Forest mayoral election sparked conversation and, hopefully, was a reminder to stay aware and involved in local politics.