March 30, 2009
Crowd packs City Hall for YPR's mayoral candidate forum
YPR and Leadership Racine drew a standing-room crowd Monday night for their candidate forum at City Hall. It was a strong showing for the organizations and a testament to their growing impact on the local political scene.
State Rep. Bob Turner was not among the 10 candidates who participated in the forum, which was moderated by Janet Days and Scott Terry. Turner sent a message that he had a prior commitment in Madison and could not attend.
Turner refused to participate in the last mayoral candidate forum at City Hall, claiming it was against city ordinance to hold a forum in the City Council's chambers. Mayor Tom Friedel and the City Attorney's office said forums in the chambers were fine.
Lesia Hill-Driver was the new candidate in the mix. She was unable to participate in previous forums because of a family emergency.
Now, to the forum. It was the fourth time the candidates got together to talk issues and each of them seem settled into their message. Here's a look at my impressions of the first four questions of the forum:
The four-term alderman seems to be growing in confidence as the primary approaches. He used his story again about Dubuque, Iowa luring an IBM plant as a model for Racine and emphasized his experience as a politician and business owner (he owns Johnson's Home Furnishings in West Racine). He supports KRM.
Alderman Helding had another round of solid answers to questions. On specifics, he talked about using the City Council's Alcohol and License Committee to crackdown on problem taverns in Racine. He said it was an example of him making "real changes" instead of nibbling around the edges.
Karas flashed the charisma and confidence of a candidate who's thought through his campaign and the local issues. He brought up his public power proposal as a specific he'd do as mayor, and backed it up with key stats like 82 other communities in the state have their own power plants utilities. A woman sitting by me whispered in response: Is that true? I'm guessing people like the idea of public power, but they're not sure if it's possible. He backed KRM, noting gas prices alone may force people to look for alternative transportation.
Dickert said he's the guy to break the stalemate over KRM in the community. He likes the idea, and says more people will buy in if they realize the development potential of a train station in the city. He emphasized his local, state and federal experience.
Plache said the city needs strong leadership, and she's the candidate to bring strength to the job. No doubt her state experience, both in the legislature and with WHEDA, will help her as mayor. She was the only candidate to point out the top business leaders in the Racine area testified in favor of KRM Monday at the Joint Finance Committee meeting at Case High. She also noted Racine's low housing prices will make it an attractive buy once the commuter rail station opens.
Fay emphasizes his County Board experience and reiterated his support for KRM. He has an interesting idea of having members of a Regional Transit Authority elected to office. He opposed an appointed board to levy taxes to support mass transit in the Racine area.
Charon split from the field Monday night by voicing his opposition to KRM. He joined Jody Harding as one of two candidates opposed to commuter rail in Racine. He supports expanding bus service. Charon also noted he's a former Coast Guard officer
Shakoor brought his crisp professionalism to the forum. It's clear he loves Racine - he's lived in the city for 55 years - and mentioned the Boy Scout program he leads in the city. He's a KRM supporter and would like to save property tax payers money by having the RTA funding the bus system with a sales tax. Other candidates agreed this would be a good way to improve mass transit while lower property taxes.
Harding noted she committed to running for mayor last August - months ahead of any other candidate. Of course, she was planning a couple of years to run for office, not a couple of months. But she's clearly been thinking through her stance on the issues. Like Charon, she's opposed to KRM. She said local government would translate any savings from an RTA into property tax reduction. Harding says she does support mass transit, though.
It's her first forum, but Hill-Driver debuted solid. She's looking to help people, and seemed confident she could do that as mayor. She's a KRM supporter.