Contested East Lawrence election sees large turnout amid arts corridor debate
All of the 2014-15 East Lawrence Neighborhood Association board members who filed as candidates were reelected Monday in what was one of the most contested and attended elections in the group’s history.
Twenty-one candidates ran for 13 spots on the association’s board, and 238 people voted, said Lane Eisenbart, coordinator for the association.
Ten of the 21 candidates had been board members this past year.
New members elected are John Sebelius, Joshua Davis and Matt Pryor.
All of those elected are, in order of number of votes: Christine Kosirog, Jacki Becker, Eric Jay, Josh Davis (of Pennsylvania Street), Sebelius, KT Walsh, Dave Loewenstein, Phil Collison, KH Harris, Pam Blackburn, Joshua Davis (of New York Street), Pryor, Cindy Suenram.
The only position safe Monday was that belonging to Aaron Paden, the association’s president. The group’s bylaws require the previous year’s president retain his or her seat on the board for the following year.
Paden said the election was made competitive because of discussion surrounding the East Ninth Project, an effort by the Lawrence Arts Center and city to transform East Ninth Street from Delaware to Massachusetts streets into an arts corridor.
“There’s been so much interest,” Paden said. “Ninth Street has been sort of this catalyst for making things very excited.”
2014-15 East Lawrence Neighborhood Association board members who ran for reelection:
Bill Wachspress, who has been involved with East Lawrence Neighborhood Association for more than 20 years, said it was the most contentious race he’s seen.
Usually, he said, there are just enough candidates to fill the board’s 13 spots.
Paden said 16 people ran in 2013 for the board’s 13 spots. In 2014, 14 people ran.
“It’s never been like this,” Wachspress said. “We knew it was coming; that’s why we showed up with 500 ballots. We knew it would be contentious.
“I guess the people who get elected will be able to say they truly have community support.”
It was Wachspress’ job Monday night to stand at the door to New York Elementary School, counting voters as they entered.
During the busiest point of the election, a line of people stretched down two hallways and out the door, he said.
Polls closed slightly after 8 p.m., and members of the League of Women Voters of Lawrence-Douglas County, who helped run the election, emptied the cafeteria of stragglers and started counting.
East Lawrence property owners were allowed to cast ballots Monday. Paden said those who owned businesses or nonprofits in the neighborhood — but did not own residences — did not qualify.
Each voter was asked to select 13 of the 21 candidates. Board members will serve a one-year term.
Results were announced shortly after 11 p.m. Monday.
The East Ninth Project, a divisive issue in the election, is in its preliminary phase.
A design team, led by Josh Shelton of Kansas City-based el dorado inc., has presented options for street reconfigurations to the neighborhood association, the Lawrence City Commission and other public bodies. The team is currently working on a more detailed plan to be publicly presented early next year.
Some East Lawrence residents, including 2014-15 board members, have said they want more input in the project and what changes are made in the neighborhood, while others, such as board candidate Amanda Davis, have said their voices of support went unheard with the 2014-15 board.
East Lawrence residents with concerns about the East Ninth Project formed a group, The 9th Street Placekeepers, and created a website, eastninth.net, where members post critiques.
On Monday, that group posted on its Facebook page that it supported the reelection of the 10 candidates who served on the board this past year.
Supporters of the project created their own Facebook group, Community and Culture on East Ninth Street, and a website, eastninth.com, where they’ve posted testimonials from residents in favor of the project, along with other information.
The group posted on its page Oct. 20 that the East Ninth Project had “widespread neighborhood and community support” and that all of the candidates who had not served on the board this year were in favor of it.
“Clearly, residents are ready for change,” the post stated.
Paden said there was “a lot of misinformation” about the 2014-15 board’s stance on the East Ninth Project and that it had not come out with a clear position.
“ELNA hasn’t come out opposed or in favor; what it’s done is just relay information in an unbiased way, trying to make a case for having as much neighborhood participation as possible,” Paden said. “What we’ve done and what we’ve tried to say is it will be a better project if you have as much neighborhood participation as you can get.”
Paden reiterated Monday that the neighborhood is “stronger if we’re together, if we’re not trying to get at each other’s throats.”
“I think the current board thoroughly believes that,” he said before the election. “We want to make people feel comfortable in coming to meetings and for dialogue to occur. It’s the most important thing we can do, creating compassion for each other’s voices.”