The field of Madison School Board candidates narrowed in Tuesday's primary, with David Blaska and Ali Muldrow vying for an open seat and challenger Ananda Mirilli facing off against incumbent TJ Mertz in the April election.
Muldrow, the co-executive director of GSAFE, held a commanding lead in a four-way primary for Seat 4 at nearly 56 percent of the vote with all precincts reporting, more than twice the number of votes for second-place finisher Blaska, a former Dane County Board member and conservative blogger.
"Nobody runs for school board because they want to win an election," the 31-year-old Muldrow said. "People run for school board because they want a shot at re-imagining education. Right now we got that shot, and we're not going to waste it."
She said she doesn't take her large primary victory for granted and plans to keep reaching out to voters before the April 2 general election.
"We thought we could survive simply because no one else is saying what I'm saying," Blaska, 69, said of the primary results.
Blaska, who has been sharply critical of the policies and practices of the liberal-leaning board, said he's optimistic his messaging can lead to a general election victory.
Out of the Seat 4 race is restaurant owner Laila Borokhim and semi-retired physician Albert Bryan, who placed third and fourth respectively. Incumbent Dean Loumos decided not to seek re-election this year due to health reasons.
With 52 percent of the vote, Mirilli, a consultant for the state Department of Public Instruction, took first place in the three-way primary for Seat 5. Mertz, who is seeking a third term on the board, came in second at 37 percent. Piano teacher and performer Amos Roe trailed with 11 percent.
The 41-year-old Mirilli said she didn't "have words to describe all of the excitement." If elected to the School Board, she said, her main priority would be fixing the district's racial achievement gap.
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"We've already seen the data. We know the numbers," Mirilli said. "Now our priority is how do we look at the schools with the greatest needs and how do we immediately start to address them from the ground up."
Mertz, 57, said he was a little disappointed in the results but said he was optimistic about his chances in the general election, which typically draws many more voters than the low-turnout primary. If re-elected, he said, his main priorities would be to increase transparency and accountability in the district.
As expected, Kaleem Caire, founder and CEO of independent Madison charter One City Schools, and Cristiana Carusi, an associate communications director at the UW-Madison Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, advanced through the primary for Seat 3 after a third candidate dropped out earlier this year.
Skylar Croy, a UW Law School student, suspended his campaign for Seat 3 after he filed paperwork to run, too late for his name to come off of Tuesday's ballot. Carusi led the race with 49 percent, Caire received about 44 percent, and Croy still got nearly 7 percent.
Incumbent James Howard decided not to seek re-election and is leaving the board after nine years.
Three of the candidates who advanced Tuesday have previously run unsuccessful bids to get on the Madison School Board.
In the 2017 primary, Muldrow was the top vote-getter in her bid for Seat 6, but lost in the general election to Kate Toews. Carusi came in last during a three-way primary that year as well.
Tuesday was the second time Mertz and Mirilli have been on a primary ballot together. Mirilli placed third in the 2013 primary for Seat 5. Mertz went on to win that seat.
As expected, Kaleem Caire, founder and CEO of independent Madison charter One City Schools, and Cristiana Carusi, an associate communications director at the UW-Mad