Howard County Board of Education candidate Tom Heffner announced in a social media post last week that he’s supporting his opponent, Jolene Mosley, in the race for the District 3 seat.
While it’s too late for Heffner to drop out of the race and be removed from the ballot, he posted in a Facebook group that Mosley — who received 66% of the vote in the June primary — led a campaign that “resonated with our county voters.”
“It became clear after the primary, and I was probably slow in doing so, that she was the candidate in our district who resonated strongest with the community,” Heffner said in an interview. “She’s smart, strong and capable. She’s going to do a great job. Rather than do what some other people would do and push through and try to win, why not support her since I think she’s going to do a good job?”
With Heffner supporting his opponent, who won the primary with a 40% lead over Heffner’s 26%, Mosley is likely to win the District 3 seat in November. She, along with the winners in the other four districts, will be the first Board of Education in Howard County to be voted in by residents in a district instead of the entire county.
“People need to make sure they still vote,” Mosley said, referencing Heffner still appearing on the ballot.
Voters in Howard County have the choice of voting by mail, dropping their vote-by-mail ballot in a drop-off box at nine locations, voting early at five spots or voting in person at 17 voting centers. The mail ballots require voters to fill out an application by Oct. 20. The early voting locations will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. from Oct. 26 to Nov. 2.
While it’s not official until after the election, Mosley said she’s thankful for Heffner’s support and that she’s looking forward to joining the Board of Education.
“I’m excited. I think with a good team on the Board of Education we can put our best foot forward to make the school system the best it can be,” Mosley said. “I think it’s great that [Heffner] is honest with his thoughts and feelings. I like that him and I were focused on the issues in the campaign, and I think we were both working towards similar goals.”
Heffner is the second person in District 3 to unofficially drop out before the election but after the deadline to be removed from the ballot. In the June primary, Gian Alfeo, who withdrew from the race in May after sharing Islamaphobic posts on Facebook, said he would not compete for the seat in the general election even if he had finished in the top two. He didn’t, though, receiving only 7.7% of the vote.
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Heffner said he recognized with the “polarization and contention” associated with the Board of Education election that he could take a “small step” to do something that was neither of those things. He believes that politics, both at the national and the local levels, are heated for multiple reasons, including money, social media and important issues.
“There is a lot of money involved. You have an incredible amount of money in the budget — close to $1 billion. Whenever there’s that kind of money, there’s influence and high stakes. Rightly so, whether you agree or disagree, people are seeing dramatic differences in educational outcomes. Whether you agree on the causes, we can agree there’s a big difference in outcomes, and people want their kids to be educated as much as anyone else. When that doesn’t happen, people get upset,” Heffner said.
“There’s also a part of social media that fans the flame. Your amygdala — your lizard brain — takes over on social media. People say things and do things on social media they’d never do in person. I think there’s an element, too, that is reflective of what’s going on here and the conversation and lack of civility that we’re seeing in the larger, national elections.”
Along with Heffner and Mosley in District 3, the other races for the Howard County Board of Education are: incumbent Christina Delmont-Small and Matthew Molyett in District 1; Antonia Barkley Watts and Larry Pretlow II in District 2; incumbent Jen Mallo and Sezin Palmer in District 4; and Yun Lu and Cindy Vaillancourt in District 5.
Current Vice Chair Vicky Cutroneo and member Chao Wu will remain on the board, serving as the first two at-large members. In 2018, the two won the most votes, securing each a four-year term. In the 2022 election, the new at-large members will be elected by all county voters.
Heffer is not endorsing any other candidates in the race. He doesn’t think he’ll run for office again, but he said that’s to be determined.
“I wouldn’t rule it out,” he said. “But, right now, District 3 is in good hands with Jolene.”