The image of the plump, red apple on Rebecca Smondrowski’s election website was not marked with the endorsement of Montgomery County’s teacher’s union, but, by Nov. 6, it did not seem to matter.
Smondrowski won the open District 2 seat on the Montgomery County Board of Education, with 9,343 more votes than Fred Evans, or 163,598 of 319,053 total votes, according to updated results posted Sunday on the county’s Election Board website that includes two absentee canvasses.
More than 13,000 provisional ballots still need to be reported, so mathematically, Evans could take the District 2 seat. However, both campaigns have declared Smondrowski the winner.
Smondrowski, of Gaithersburg, is the fourth candidate of 24 in the last seven school board races to be elected without the endorsement from the Montgomery County Education Association, according to information provided by the teacher’s union.
Smondrowski said it took work to take a bite out of the Apple Ballot.
“I was definitely concerned about [not receiving the endorsement],” Smondrowski said. “I feel like without it, I had to step up my campaign double. ... Do you think it made a difference for me? Absolutely. I had to make an extra effort to talk to people, and tell them why to choose me.”
Evans, of Rockville, said he had a gut feeling he had lost the election when he saw early voting results that showed Smondrowski in the lead.
“She was obviously out there, and she ran a good campaign, and folks made their decision,” Evans said.
Doug Prouty, MCEA president, said he was disheartened to hear that Evans didn’t make it through.
“It was a very close race,” he said.
But Prouty said that despite the loss, the Apple Ballot is not losing steam.
Andrew J. Rotherham, co-founder and partner at Bellwether Education, agrees with Prouty.
The Apple Ballot still carries as much weight as it has in the past, despite overall declining public opinion of unions, he said.
“Unions are facing a range of problems,” Rotherham said, “but with the teachers union, there is still sort of a halo effect there.”
Evans said he realizes that the attitude toward unions has taken a turn, but said Maryland does not have the same anger or bitterness as other states, such as Wisconsin, where a controversial collective bargaining law recently was struck down by the courts, or Chicago, where, in September, teachers went on strike.
Prouty said he believes that candidates who are accepting of the teachers union value its endorsement.
The endorsement helps not only because they may receive campaign funds from the state’s teachers union, but also because they can place MCEA’s apple on their campaign literature and yard signs, and get manpower at polling places. This year, the Maryland State Education Association donated $6,000 to Evans.
The power that the Apple Ballot has may start to diminish as voters — parents especially — are able to access information more easily through the Internet, Rotherham said.
“Research shows that parents are using technology more and more to become more savvy consumers of schools,” Rotherham said. “... To the extent that the information flow starts to become more democratized, you will see a change. But it will take a while.”
Smondrowski said the teachers union endorsement has more power than it should.
“I don’t think the [endorsement] process is as fair as it should be,” she said. “[The endorsement] is picked by a committee. In some extent, people take it, knowing it is not completely unbiased.”
Smondrowski said she was glad to receive the backing from Service Employees Union International Local 500, the union that represents support staff in schools.
The two unions have not split their endorsements for at least 10 or 15 years, said Christopher Honey, Local 500 spokesman.
The union liked what Smondrowski offered the school board, and she appealed to the groups that the union supports, such as paraeducators and bus drivers, Honey said.
Honey thinks the union’s support played a major role in her win — SEIU sent representatives to about 40 to 50 polling places in the county on Election Day to campaign for Smondrowski, and donated $1,000 to her campaign.
It was the grass-roots element of Smondrowski’s campaign that she said she is most proud of — the fact that so many of her friends and people she has worked with in the community supported her and campaigned on her behalf.
“It was definitely a team effort,” Smondrowski said. “I’m grateful for the support of the two unions, but mostly the community members, the elected officials and the PTA, who really gave up their time for me. I can never express how much it means to me.”
Evans said he is disappointed, but not depressed.
“I’ll bounce back,” he said. “I already have.”