Kelly Wright upset two-term incumbent Edna Cale and two other challengers Tuesday to win a five-year term on the Appoquinimink school board.
"As much work as this campaign was, now the real work begins reuniting the community and working to solve some of the district's financial problems," said the 33-year-old environmental engineer, who was making her second bid for a school board seat, having lost a four-way contest in 2011.
This year, Wright earned 328 votes, or 41 percent of the 799 ballots cast.
Cale came in second with 240 votes, or 30 percent of the total, followed by Matt Brown, who picked up 227 votes, or 28 percent, and Miguel Gonzalez, who managed to garner 4 votes.
"A lot of people will say this election was driven by money, but money only buys you signs and mailers," said Wright, who won the backing of local unions that represent teachers, paraprofessionals and food services workers in the school district. "I think what made the difference in this election was the time I spent in the schools and in the community answering people's questions as truthfully and as transparently as I could and trying to correct a lot of misconceptions that are out there."
In addition to being backed by the teachers' union, Wright is also the wife of Appoquinimink Education Association President David Wright, a teacher at Middletown High School.
Because of that relationship, Wright has said she plans to recuse herself from voting on a new contract for the teachers' union when its current three-year collective-bargaining agreement expires in August.
"That troubles me because the union asks for things that make no sense to me," said Edna Cale, a 10-year veteran of the school board. "No one thing decided this election, but the big difference, I think, was that this time I was running against the union and the wife of the union president … But the fact is I ran and I lost. It is what it is."
Cale said her loss Tuesday would mark her retirement from elected politics, although she vowed to remain an advocate for children and continue lobbying federal and state legislators for increased public education funding.
"This just means I will be able to do things I wasn't free to do as a member of the school board," the 70-year-old part-time Walmart cashier said. "I was a community person before I got on the board and I will be a community person now that I'm not on the board."
Brown, who was also making his second bid for a seat on the Appoquinimink school board after garnering 30 votes in a four-way contest in 2012, said he was disappointed by Tuesday's result.
"I think could have brought a lot to the table," the 33-year-old businessman and former banker said. "If you're going to run you have to be passionate about it and the board has some important decisions coming up regarding [the May 9] referendum and whether they will have to seek another one in three or four years."
Page 2 of 2 - Brown said he believes the fact that three candidates each drew more than 200 votes shows an ongoing divide in the community and the need for his continued involvement in the district.
"I'm not going anywhere," he said. "I plan to stay active in the schools, continue my involvement with the PTA, continue attending school board meetings and being a voice for the residents who voted for me," he said.
Gonzalez declined to comment for this article.