It is an end of an era for Democrat Scott Mueller, who served on the South Kingstown School Committee for 24 years and was unseated Tuesday night as a result of voters’ overwhelming support of independent candidates.
“Clearly, voters wanted change,” Mueller said after results were totaled.
Democrats gathered at Dragon Palace in Wakefield and anxiously waited for their designated poll workers who arrived with results about 20 minutes after polls closed, citing delays in poll machines releasing results in places like West Kingston Elementary School and South Kingstown High School.
Independent candidates had a strong showing Tuesday night as newcomer Alycia Collins led all School Committee candidates with 5,018 votes and Kim Kimball finished second with 4,933 votes. The two secured more votes than incumbents Michelle Brousseau-Cavallaro and Jonathan Daly-LaBelle, who finished third and fourth with 4,225 and 3,836 votes respectively to earn another term in office.
Mueller, meanwhile, was not as lucky and lost his bid for re-election by coming in sixth among the field of nine candidates with a total of 3,627 votes. He and Democratic incumbent Keith Vorhaben, who finished ninth overall with 3,291, had hoped to earn another term in what was a crowded field.
All told, the next committee will be comprised of three independents and four Democrats. Democrats tried to hold their support, but failed to garner more than 10 percent of voter support each.
Five of the top seven vote-getters overall were independents as newcomer Andrew Gilmartin (3,794) narrowly missed out on the final seat on the committee by coming in fifth overall, just 42 votes behind Daly-LaBelle.
Independent newcomer Brian Kleczek was seventh with 3,481 votes. Democrat Kevin Jackson who had previously served on the committee, received 3,319 votes, and Vorhaben followed with 3,291 votes.
After a quarter century sitting through countless budget hearings, community discussions and numerous efforts to work on behalf of children, Mueller said it was his time to go.
“I’ve had a hell of a good time,” he added. “I met wonderful people in South Kingstown. I hope the newly elected members enjoy being on the committee as much as I’ve enjoyed it.”
Vorhaben said he was disappointed in losing the race after an experience that he called cathartic on the committee. In his two years, Vorhaben said he learned a lot and learned how much each person plays a role in decision making.
“Their success is our own success,” he said, adding he supports the voters’ decision for their new School Committee.
Vorhaben said he would remain an advocate for the town’s school department with hopes that his work on the wellness policy is adopted soon. He also said he hopes the town can remain positive and continue to move the district forward.
Voters like Bill Pizoli said that during this election cycle, he was looking for independent voices as he entered West Kingston Elementary School Tuesday. And although he didn’t share who he voted for for School Committee, he said he picked the independent candidates because they “listen to all sides” of issues.
Collins stayed home Tuesday night to be surrounded by family as results came in. She said she was surprised to be the top vote-getter but is ready to work on the School Committee and bring her motivation to the table, which was inspired by wanting to get involved in making changes in South Kingstown.
“I think a lot of people have heard concerns or that of their neighbors in their experience in our schools and they are excited to hear new ideas,” she said. She hopes to be instrumental in the fight against standardized tests and a shift “back to basics” instead.
For voter Kathy Ramsey, gender played a big role in who she voted for in her local races like School Committee.
“Women should rule the world,” she said, adding that she voted for Collins and Brousseau-Cavallaro after reading their stances on issues in local papers.
Kimball, Daly-LaBelle and Kleczek spent Tuesday night together at Salt Water Tavern with about eight to 10 supporters with them.
“I’m very pleased that there will be some changes for the School Committee,” Kimball said.
She said she believed that her message of knowing the insider-politics from being a former teacher and wanting to widen the “narrow view” of South Kingstown and reach the kids who fall through the gaps resonated with voters.
Before some voters at Dragon Palace and alongside Democratic candidates, Brousseau-Cavallaro said she was grateful of voter support to re-elect her for another term.
“I’ll be right in there in two weeks fighting the good fight to keep our schools great,” she said.
Daly-LaBelle was canvassing throughout the day Tuesday and thanked his campaign volunteers and his supporters who helped make a difference.
“Superb congratulations to Alycia and Kim,” he said. “Their victory is one for the children of South Kingstown.”
He added that voters proved they wanted something different this election season by voting heavily for independents, whom he said can better represent the community’s values.
School Committee candidates will be sworn in by the end of the month.