Waiting for the school board election results to come in Tuesday evening at Butter Bakery Cafe in Southwest Minneapolis, incumbent school board member Tracine Asberry and about a dozen of her die-hard supporters were glued to their phones and laptops, constantly hitting refresh to get updated results. The group was high-energy, confident their diligent door knocking and lit dropping would pay off. But by 9 p.m., the room fell silent. Asberry was tightly trailing her competitor, Ira Jourdain, with the results of just one precinct in District 6 remaining. And then their party got the boot. It was closing time at the cafe.
A few huddled together on the sidewalk, with Asberry, reluctant to leave on such uncertain terms. Cutting through the tension, one supporter pointed out how remarkable it was that she’d already secured more than 14,000 votes without the DFL endorsement — or any of the campaign finance dollars that come with it.
Not knowing how much longer it could take for the final results to come in, the group decided to disband. Asberry needed to drop her eldest daughter back off at campus and get her kindergartener to bed. Everyone walked to their cars and drove off. Then the final numbers came in: Asberry took 48.5 percent of the vote to Jourdain’s 50.7 percent.
Asberry’s narrow loss — by 665 votes, to be exact — fit a larger trend that characterized the Minneapolis school board race. In all three hotly contested districts, the DFL-endorsed candidates — Jourdain, Bob Walser and KerryJo Felder — eked out victories.
The at-large race between incumbent Kim Ellison and Green Party-endorsed candidate Doug Mann was the outlier, with Ellison securing nearly 79.5 percent of the vote. In St. Paul, the DFL Party’s pick, Jeannie Foster, beat out four contenders with nearly 38 percent of the vote.
Neck and neck
Taking time to process her loss in private, Asberry messaged her core team of volunteers and posted a public statement on Twitter just before midnight. She congratulated Jourdain on his victory, said she’s “excited to continue” the remainder of her term, thanked the volunteers who served on Team Tracine and celebrated the passage of the referendum.
The district’s referendum passed by a landslide, with nearly 84 percent of the vote. It’s a renewal of the existing operating levy, for the next nine years, which comes with no projected tax increases. The stakes were high, since this $74 million accounts for about 13 percent of the district’s budget. According to the official referendum campaign site, this money is used to manage class sizes, provide student support services and fund student activities across the district.
Jourdain — a Native American father of four who’s big on community schools, time for recess and student support services — ran without the DFL endorsement in 2014 and came in last place with just 11 percent of the vote for the at-large seat, which was secured by Rebecca Gagnon and Don Samuels.
In the 2014 race, according to his annual campaign finance report, filed Feb. 2, 2015, he reported receiving $600 in contributions. In comparison, this time around he’s already reported $3,200 for the period spanning from late July to late October. For the same period, this election cycle, Asberry’s campaign finance records show she had about half that amount in contributions.
In District 4 — which encompasses downtown, the Isles neighborhoods and Bryn Mawr — incumbent Josh Reimnitz, the Teach for America alum heavily financially backed by national education reformers in 2012, lost with 47.3 percent of the vote to Walser’s 51.6 percent. This matchup attracted the largest campaign contributions. By Nov. 1, Reimnitz had reported nearly $15,000 in contributions for the period from late July to late October; Walser, the music educator, had reported roughly $7,500 for the same period.
The closest race panned out between two passionate northsiders in District 2, with Kimberly Caprini losing to Felder by just 201 votes. The last campaign finance reports show Caprini had received about $1,700 in contributions — an amount trumped by Felder’s $7,000 pool of contributions.