January 29, 2009

Alderman Tom Friedel named interim mayor

Alderman Tom Friedel at Thursday night's Committee of the Whole meeting.
See more photos from the meeting here.

Respected Alderman Tom Friedel will be the city's next mayor.

The City Council, meeting as the Committee of the Whole, voted unanimously Thursday night to appoint Friedel to the city's top office. He replaces Gary Becker, who resigned after getting arrested in an Internet sex sting.

Friedel was selected based on an obscure city ordinance that laid out a succession plan in the event of a war. The ordinance listed the City Council president as first in line, followed by the chairman of the Finance Committee, Public Works Committee and Public Safety Committee.

Alderman David Maack, who is council president, passed on serving as interim mayor because he would lose his council seat in the April election. Friedel, as chair of the Finance Committee, was next in line and agreed to serve. He also agreed not to run for mayor in the special election this spring, an important consideration for council members reluctant to give an edge to a candidate.

Council members widely praised Friedel for his skill and experience in handling city business.

After the meeting, Friedel said he would take an unpaid leave of absence from his job at Twin Disc while serving as interim mayor. He will be paid as mayor, and will earn roughly one-third of the mayor's $69,000 a year salary ($91,000 when you add in benefits) for his 3-4 months of work as the city's chief executive.

The council will finalize Friedel's appointment on Tuesday, the same night the council scheduled to vote on a proposed $7 million development in West Racine.

Friedel said Thursday night he was undecided on the development.

Here's how the meeting went down:

5:53 p.m.

No one is parking in the mayor’s parking spot tonight.

5:55 p.m.

TV is here tonight. Channel 4 is parked in the lot, and another guy is carrying around a big camera. The crowd is smaller than last night’s Plan Commission, but the full council is here, so the room is hopping.

5:57 p.m.

Jim Smith is here. So is First District candidate Mercedes Dzindzeleta, and former Alderman Bob Morrison, Police Chief Kurt Wahlen, Mayoral candidate Pete Karas, City Administrator Ben Hughes, and former Alderman Tom Sollman.

6 p.m.

David Maack calls the Committee of the Whole to order. The whole council is here, and everyone is in a bubbly mood. Jeff Coe hands out bottles of water. Sandy Weidner points out she just got her hair done.

6:03 p.m.

Maack clarifies the council will not vote on when to hold the special election to replace the mayor. They’re just here to select an interim mayor.

City Attorney Bob Weber lays out the situation. The council is looking for a full-time mayor who won’t run in the upcoming special election. They have three ways to go about picking the mayor:

1. Do nothing, which would violate state law.
2. Appoint a mayor until an election takes place.
3. Use an obscure provision in city code that lays out a succession order for the mayor’s office in the event of a war.

Weber says No. 3 would apply to Becker’s surprising resignation. “An indictment is not a war, but it’s certainly created an emergency,” he said.

The succession order is:

1. President of the City Council
2. Chair of the Finance Committee
3. Chair of the Public Works Committee
4. Chair of the Public Safety Committee

Here’s where it gets messy. Becker had the discourtesy of attempting to hook up with a 14-year-old for sex near the spring election, which makes picking his replacement a lot more complicated. Under the succession plan, Maack would be first in line for the mayor’s office. But he’s up for election in April, and would have to resign his council seat and skip the spring election. The council could reappoint him to the seat, but then he’d have to run for re-election in 2010 and 2011.

In other words, Maack, who wants to stay on the council, wants no part of the interim mayor position. So who’s next in line? Tom Friedel, who chairs the Finance Committee.

6:09 p.m.

Alderman Ron Hart is the first to wade into the debate. He wants to talk about saving $36,000 by moving the special election primary up to coincide with the general election in April. But he can’t talk about it, because it’s not on the agenda. He tries anyway and gets point-of-ordered into silence.

6:12 p.m.

Alderman Jim Kaplan belabors the point saying an agenda was sent out listing the special election issue as up for discussion. Nope, says Weber, that was an internal staff memo.

6:13 p.m.

Alderman/Mayor Candidate Jim Spangenberg wants to go down the list of succession and see who’s interested in the interim job. Friedel, Helding and Shakoor (the committee chairs) all say they’re eligible. Helding and Shakoor shrug, though. They think Friedel is the way to go.

6:15 p.m.

Alderman Aron Wisneski takes the lead. He says he talked with a bunch of people and every single person said, roughly: Did you set an election date? About the interim mayor, they said: We don’t care who it is. There should be one. Make a decision.

“Having an empty executive seat for 3-4 months is not going to benefit the city at a crucial time,” Wisneski said.

He then introduces the motion to appoint Friedel interim mayor. It’s immediately seconded.

6:18 p.m.

Hart asks if the city could save money and just stick with Maack as a stop-gap until the special election. Weber says, under state law, that’s probably not a good idea. Hart pushes the point. There’s not really a need for an interim mayor, he says, and they’ll just take up staff time learning all of the issues. Plus, Racine’s legislators will take care of the city’s share of the federal stimulus funds.

6:22 p.m.

Maack, who’s managing a long list of speakers, accidentally skips Alderman Mike Shields and calls on Alderman QA Shakoor II. Shields isn’t amused. “I yield to the alderman, but pay attention,” Shields says to Maack. Maack winces.

6:23 p.m.

Shakoor says succession is the way to go. It looks like Friedel will be the next mayor.

6:24 p.m.

Shields wants to know if Friedel is, or isn’t, going to run for mayor.

6:25 p.m.

Friedel makes a statement. He says the last two weeks have been painful, and he’s worked behind the scenes to get Becker to resign. After talking with family and his employer (Twin Disc), he decided it’s not the right time to run for mayor. “I have no intention of running this spring,” he said. (Note how Friedel didn’t rule out a future run for mayor. He’s eyeing 2011.)

6: 27 p.m.

Shields says he won’t mind Maack filling in as mayor. He points out Mayor Olson was sick for two months and the City Council president filled in fine.

6:28 p.m.

Alderman Bob Mozol wants to make sure the council is following the succession path. It is.

6:30 p.m.

Alderman Jim Kaplan speaks against the motion, but not why you think. He says the succession plan automatically makes Friedel interim mayor, so no need for a motion. In other words; What are we all doing here?

Weber says Kaplan is right, but the council needs to vote to follow the succession plan,

6:32 p.m.

Alderman ray DeHahn supports Friedel. He asks how much training Friedel will need.

6:33 p.m.

Friedel says not a lot. He’s served on the School Board and City Council for a long time. He knows the drill.

6:34 p.m.

Weidner backs Friedel. She says she was surprised at the passion residents had on the need for a mayor, and for holding a special election. She notes Friedel was elected to the council, and describes him as trustworthy and diplomatic.

6:36 p.m.

Alderman Jeff Coe says Maack did a good job as a fill-in mayor, and that he respects Friedel. But he’s worried appointing a someone on the council interim mayor will cause divisiveness.

6:37 p.m.

Alderman Greg Helding backs Friedel. He says the council isn’t rushing to a decision, it’s being decisive.

6:39 p.m.

Spangenberg says Maack is doing a good job, but the council needs to follow the law. The city would be in very good hands with Friedel, he says.

6:41 p.m.

Shields says Friedel would do a good job, but wonders about his council seat. If Friedel is named mayor, won’t he have to resign his council seat? And, wouldn’t the council appoint a replacement to fill out Friedel’s term, which runs through 2010?

For a moment, the love fest is broken. If Friedel is named interim mayor, the council will have to reappoint him to his seat once the new mayor is elected. In a sense, they’re making a deal to keep his seat vacant for 3-4 months.

Weber muddies the waters by saying the council can’t appoint a replacement. Helding points out the council has left vacancies in the past and had other aldermen cover the district.

Spangenberg adds if Friedel’s constituents are having a problem, they can call the mayor’s office.

6:45 p.m.

Alderman Terry McCarthy is good with Friedel and the succession plan.

6:46 p.m.

Mozol quips, “The way it sounds tonight, everyone is running for something.” He really wants to nail down that council followed the succession plan.

6:47 p.m.

Wisneski agrees to reword his ordinance.

6:48 p.m.

Hart speaks in favor of the motion. He still wants to save $36,000, and adds about Friedel: “I played ball against him years ago. He couldn’t catch, but he still played ball.”

6:49 p.m.

Weidner points out the motion goes to the council meeting on Tuesday. Weber says Friedel would be sworn in Tuesday.

6:50 p.m.

Kaplan backs Friedel. The love fest is officially back on. Except for the money. He really doesn’t want to hold two special elections.

6:50 p.m.

Maack thanks the council for saying nice things about him. He calls for a unanimous vote for Friedel. Weber clarifies the council could appoint a replacement for Friedel.

6:52 p.m.

Wisneski calls to question. Weidner is worried Friedel may lose his seat. She wants to know if the council will hold it open for him. Maack says the council can’t talk about it.

6:53 p.m.

Friedel says he’ll risk losing his seat. “It’s more important I serve as interim mayor than alderman of the 10th District,” he says.

6:54 p.m.

Spangenberg points out Friedel is going to hear from his constituents as interim mayor.

6:55 p.m.

It’s unanimous for Friedel. Crowd applauds.

6:56 p.m.

Meeting adjourned.


  1. They Chose Tom for two reasons:
    1. He wasn't under current investigation.
    2. He looked liked the guy in the painting.

  2. downtown_racine1/29/2009 8:38 PM

    What a nice person, he and John Apple also look alike.

  3. Isn't that Gilbert Knapp?

  4. Racine is very lucky to have someone like Alderman Friedel step up and lead this city in it's time of need.

  5. Tom Friedel is a good man - a calm, quiet listener who understands what Racine needs. He's got integrity, and most refreshing of all...he's not ego-driven.

    This is good news.

  6. Anon 9:28:

    We identified him on our Jan. 22 front page. HERE

  7. If he trimmed his beard just a little differently he sure would look similar!

    The thing that bothers me about Friedel is he was one of Becker's diehard supporters, never opposing him on anything. It's not that I think he's a bad guy, but I feel he failed us on that account. He's not the only alderman on the council who did that though.

    Maybe this will be a lesson to some of them, to never blindly put your support and faith into anyone. Elected officials always need to be held accountable and questioned, and it's part of the alderman's job to make sure they hold the next mayor accountable.

  8. Alderman Friedel was a yes man to Becker and has been an alderman for too long. We need to get these alderman rotated out, with new people coming on board to give this community new, fresh ideas and new leadership. Yes, Tom Friedel can be a nice guy, but he doesn't always follow procedure with city business. We'll see how he works with the community, RPD, RFD, and City Hall.

  9. Friedel worked behind the scenes to get Becker to resign? Yeah...that only enforces how close those two really were.

  10. Outside of the obvious personal choices. What did Becker do politically that you didn't agree with.

  11. Look back at the last five years of city council meeting minutes. Many issues came up that were controversial, too many to name or even remember now. It's not humanly possible to never disagree with a person on a single issue. So why is it, there was never a hint of any opposition to ANY of Becker's ideas? Like perhaps, the closing of the Pearl Street dump? The outsourcing of the MIS department? The creation of the city administrator position? The plan to take Memorial Hall away from the Vets and turn it into a museum? The trip to France on the city's dime? Supporting the demolition of the historic fire station? The list goes on....

  12. Like perhaps, the closing of the Pearl Street dump?

    It was not closed. The hours were cut back and that came from DPW. To be fair, it was a response to Becker asking for budget cuts.

    The outsourcing of the MIS department?

    That move has saved money and has not brought about any of the problems the detractors said it would.

    The creation of the city administrator position?

    Smith pushed for that one, too.

    The plan to take Memorial Hall away from the Vets and turn it into a museum?

    Last I checked, Memorial Hall is part of the civic center and is not a Museum.

    The trip to France on the city's dime?

    The people who go on sister city trips pay their own way.

    Supporting the demolition of the historic fire station?

    That fire station was owned by the Journal Times - it was theirs to do with as they saw fit. Blame the city council that sold them the building decades ago.

  13. Anon, it wasn't for lack of trying that Memorial Hall didn't pan out for him - it was the uprising of the vets that stopped him, the city council sat back and did nothing. There are other examples just like this one.

    Yes I'm assuming everyone else on the sister city committee paid their own way but not the mayor. His trips were paid by the city.

    Talk to city hall employees and see how "improved" they feel MIS is now. Although, I guess if it weren't for the new outsourced employees they probably wouldn't have busted Becker for porn.

    The city council would not have made the decisions they did regarding the firestation without the mayor's advice - if the mayor had wanted that saved he could have made it happen. I watched that whole process from beginning to end.

    Quite frankly anon 4:37, you sound like an alderman or a friend of an alderman who is trying to justify in his/her own mind why you didn't stand up to Becker or oppose him on anything.

  14. I agree with anon 4:37 comments, all positive moves….I also agree with the artist community push in the uptown area…..Racine was created by risk taking creative people…. Besides creative, an artist is also a business person who will buy goods and services…I have a hard time understanding why any one would be against this development....no ax to grind here, I just like to look at the positives…….