March 23, 2009
300 pack Gateway for mayoral candidate forum
And they say the Lincoln-Douglas debates are dead.
An overflow crowd of about 300 people attended Community for Change's two-hour mayoral forum Monday night at Gateway Technical College. The crowd was there to hear 11 candidates make their case to be the next mayor of Racine - or at least finish in the top two so they advance past the April 7 primary to the May 5 general election. Only ten appeared, however; Lesia Hill-Driver was attending a family emergency.
The candidate forum alone was an impressive accomplishment for organizers led by Kelly Gallaher. But the evening also included a cozy expo of local nonprofits (see the list here) that was effective in getting people to mingle and learn about the community. Groups ranging from United Way and the YWCA to Young Professionals of Racine and Crime Stoppers had representatives on hand to meet with attendees and candidates. It was a great way to create a community atmosphere before the forum.
The forum itself was carefully orchestrated to treat each candidate fairly. All variables were determined by random selection, from seating order on the stage to questions asked and who responded to the questions.
The format was a bit stilted given the sheer number of candidates and the limited timeframe organizers could expect the audience to handle. The candidates' responses to advance questions will be posted on Community for Change's website in a day or so.
The full forum will be shown on CAR25, so we won't/can't offer a full recap here. But here are some moments we found interesting (please add more in the comments):
* All candidates in favor of reducing crime and creating jobs.
* Pete Karas and Greg Helding differed on joint dispatch. While Helding felt it was worth exploring with neighboring communities as a way to save money, Karas said it may not result in the savings people expect. Karas noted Racine's efforts to combine its police and fire dispatchers didn't result in savings.
* Helding suggested the city take its old trees, turn them into firewood and sell it to make money. It was his example of an entrepreneurial approach to government.
* Jaimie Charon got a few laughs by saying he wanted to bring Salmon-A-Rama back (presumably meaning the old festival instead of the newer, smaller Big Fish Bash.)
* Everyone talked about creating jobs. Q.A. Shakoor II said the mayor needed to go out and bring businesses to Racine. Jim Spangenberg and Bob Turner said it was more important to work with existing businesses in the city.
* Karas gave the most original answer to lowering taxes. He supports a municipally owned power utility that could save clients 15-40 percent on the electricity bill and generate (pun intended) income for the city that can be used for property tax relief.
* John Dickert had a clever line in support of the LGBT Center in Racine: "The only things that should be discriminated against in Racine are gangs and drugs."
* Lots of ambitious environmental plans for the city (it was around this section I realized someone should start a list of all of the commissions, plans and projects the candidates suggested). Shakoor backed an energy audit for every city building and property. Charon wanted to look into hybrid buses and bike paths designed into city streets.
* Karas said he opposed development along the Root River in hopes of maintaining the river's natural beauty. Instead, he'd like a dog park.
* Kim Plache noted she helped get state money for the Root River Parkway.
* Spangenberg said the city considered natural-gas powered buses 10 years ago, but they weren't cost-effective. The buses now may be more affordable. He also wanted to examine customer-friendly bus routes.
* Helding flipped a question on connecting Racine to regional cities like Milwaukee and Chicago by asserting other cities should connect to Racine. The beach alone should draw people in, he said. "If you think you're isolated in Racine, that's your choice," Helding said.
* Raymond Fay said he supported KRM commuter rail.
* Dickert talked about taking KRM south to Chicago and seeing multi-million dollar developments at every stop along the way. Racine could attract similar development along the commuter rail line, he said.
* Dickert took a swipe at Helding's proposal to bulldoze apartments on Jacato Drive by saying crime problems of Jacato are a symptom of the city's problems. "You can't get at it by blowing your nose," he said.
* Jody Harding staked out the right side of the race's political spectrum by saying there should be no amnesty for illegal immigrants who approach police for assistance. Instead, illegal immigrants should have legal immigrant friends or family report crimes or tips to police for them.
* Dickert backed prevention as a cost-effective way to address crime, as long as there are jobs to help people leaving treatment programs or jails.
* Plache backed zero-based budgeting that forces city departments to start from scratch every year they prepare their spending plan.
* Spangenberg half-joked the the worst thing to happen to Racine in the last 10 years was losing the Piggly Wiggly grocery store. He said he's working on getting a new grocery store in West Racine.
* Karas said more minorities, women and young adults need to be appointed to city commissions, boards and committees. He talked about community engagement and participatory democracy throughout the evening.