Dickert drew clear differences between each other Thursday night during a contentious forum at Gateway Technical College.
Turner defined himself as the experienced candidate with strong connections to the state Legislature. Dickert countered Turner's experience by saying he was the candidate for change.
The two opened the forum with sharp blows over campaign tactics. Dickert accused Turner's campaign of spreading lies through phone calls. Turner said he was unaware that any negative campaigning was taking place and asked his campaign to stop.
On the issues, Dickert repeatedly referred to himself as the "aggressive" candidate who would fight for jobs. Turner tried to paint Dickert as naive, saying Racine faces the same problems as every other city in the country and city officials haven't done a bad job along the way.
On the issues, debate over the need for a city administrator summed up the differences between the candidates. Turner stood by his opposition to hiring a city administrator, saying he had the experience to run City Hall. Dickert said a city administrator was needed so the mayor could be freed of day-to-day activities and work on big picture issues.
The debate, organized by Community for Change and the Young Professionals of Racine, drew about 150 people. It was also webcast. Organizers estimate 400 people watched the debate online.
The special election to choose Racine's next mayor is May 5.
Here are our notes from the debate:
We're here in the Great Lakes Room at Gateway Technical College, it's 6:30 -- and Bob Turner is running "a few minutes late." When he arrives... the debate will begin. There are about 150 people here.
6:35 Bob Turner has arrived from Madison; and both he and John Dickert are in the house...
6:40 But first, a short film made during the primary... which starts with a few words from all the candidates who started this campaign some two months ago. Has it really only been that long? Mayor Gary Becker resigned in January, if I remember correctly... yup, on Jan. 20.
6:45 Kelly Gallaher of Community for Change welcomes the audience... the room is not nearly as full as it was during the primary. Moderators will be Ryan Gleason, Lesia Hill Driver and Bonnie Prochaska. Questions will come from the moderators in the first half, then from the audience in the second.
6:50 Opening statements.
John Dickert: First, you have to understand the respect I have for Bob Turner... but wants to clear up "blatant lies" coming in phone calls from Madison... sponsored by two special interest groups supporting Turner have got to stop. "They're lying to our people. Got to get the garbage out of the road...my mother got one of these calls."
We have to talk about the issues of unemployment and crime. Bob, please, call these people and ask them to stop this.
Bob Turner: Ignores Dickert's question... I've been in office 32 years... you do it because you have a love for the community. This is my first time hearing about this. It would have been nice for you to call me first.
I'm running not against John Dickert, but because I want to be mayor of Racine. It's not coming from my committee...but if anyone from my committee is doing this, stop it. (Dickert says thanks.)
6:55 First question: Gleason, to Dickert
Many people believe you are virtually identical on the issues. Name ways you're different.
Dickert: The aggressiveness of the position. Next mayor must talk not only to companies, but also to the people here. We've got a great pool of employees losing their jobs daily...I meet two people a day who've lost they're jobs. People are hurting, and hurting badly. It's time to stop talking about jobs and do it aggressively.
Turner: The city doesn't need an administrator because I have the experience to run the city.
Dickert rebut: This is the stark difference. We've had a 20-year decline in manufacturing. If you want day-to-day operations, that's fine, but we know what that's gotten us here. When you're at 16 percent and rising unemployment, the mayor can't sit there.
Turner: We have a lot of tools in place. What's wrong with having these people in Madison and Washington coming to Racine? If I go to Washington, I'm just another body. Besides, only ex-legislators have access to the floor in Madison, so I have access Dickert doesn't have.
Turner: I'll leave the Assembly after the budget is passed. The mayor will not take office until the third week in May, and the state budget will be passed in June. I'll be in Racine until I have to go to Madison to take a vote.
Dickert: After election on May 5, I'll get a team together on May 6. The fact is, the mayor has to be there on Day one, running, on May 20. The budget doesn't always end on June 1. It's gone until September and October.
Question: Dickert, what are the specifics of your 10-year plan?
Dickert: If you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there. I'll get groups together to focus on the areas where we have the largest problems. I'll call it The Riverview area (instead of "Census Tracts 1-5.") I said Top 10 because if I said Top 250 nobody would be excited about it.
Q: Will you privatize the community centers?
Dickert: That's the first time the word "privatize" has been used. I never said I would privatize the centers. What we want is a public-private partnership in those community centers. People don't feel safe going into their own community centers. I want to bring the public into them, and tell me what's working, what's not working, do we need to be cleaned up, modernized. I can't do all this alone. We need to be sure we're getting the best value for your dollars.
Turner: I've been involved with the community centers for more than 20 years. We can work with the county and other communities to build safe community centers.
Question: Dickert, how does your plan work with other plans?
Dickert: There is no comprehensive, long-term plan. Just neighborhood plans. We don't have a comprehensive plan; the Workforce Development Plan is a good one ... but doesn't go far enough. We need to work with the city and the county to make it better.
Turner: You're never going to have a mayor who has all the answers. You want a mayor who will sit down and hear your plans. I want to take citizen input to make this city great; I will be that kind of mayor.
Q: Dickert, define a Top 10 city.
Dickert: Quality of life, education, job force. They look at various criteria. They work off of something... a plan, or leadership. Cities don't make this by saying we want this... they're rated. Last time city was rated we were 283 of cities our size. Business ask: What's your long-range plan, infrastructure, crime, education?
Turner: I'd be appalled if we don't have a long-range plan. Want to talk about city administrator: Madison doesn't have one, Green Bay doesn't have one... (and named other cities). Reason Antaramian goes to Madison is he's a former legislator.
Question: Provide examples of what you've done.
Turner: I bring more experience than any mayor in Racine history. Other mayors, one thing they had in common, willing to listen. I was a sergeant in Army for four years; had top military clearance.
Dickert: With all due respect, Bob has a lot of experience. But we need leadership. Racine has consistently been one of the worst-rated cities for crime and jobs in Wisconsin. When we saw problems around St. Cat's, me and Uncle Jim went in and rehabbed houses... ditto on Sixth Street. It's not about what we talk about, it's what we do.
Follow-up to Turner: What are the specifics of your experience?
Turner: I have been a part of all decision making in Racine for past 28 years....finance chairman, lakefront development, when St. Mary's was moved, most all improvement downtown started years ago. I've been a part of every decision made in Racine over the past 28 years, the good and the bad. I can't be any clearer.
Is limit of 60 Class A liquor licenses good for business?
Turner: It's important we don't allow too many liquor licenses in one area, but without knowing all the details I'd have to look at it.
Dickert: Not sure about putting a strict number on licenses.
Question: Turner, why is it important to have access to the Assembly floor?
Turner: Only reason a mayor would go to Madison is if he has a budget concern. Why would a mayor go? You have three legislators... they can go on the floor, talk to other legislators and talk about the concern you have. In my time in Madison, I only received about two calls from the mayor.
Dickert: Proactive vs. reactive.... by the time it gets to the floor, most of the work is already done. If you know how to work the process, that's how things get done. My experience, I do know the process and I do know the players.
How will the candidates work out the KRM funding issue?
Turner: I support KRM 100%. I've been involved in the issue for 30 years. When they get it started, I hope they call it the "Turner KRM." (Audience chuckles.) Anyone spending on KRM needs to come from the county of the whole, not just the citizens east of I-94. Turner says he won't support any taxing that just affects the city of Racine.
Dickert: I've worked on KRM since 1993 with Peter Barca. My uncle and I had $40 million in development lined up around the KRM station two years ago, but the Legislature failed to pass it. That cost the city $880,000 per year. You need to think long term on KRM: Yeah, it may take a tax, but the benefits outweigh the tax.
Follow up question about Sen. John Lehman's stance against a sales tax to pay for KRM.
Turner: Lehman's district stretches out into Racine County and he has to think about all of his constituents. If people want it, they have to pressure Lehman to support it.
Dickert: Mayor has to lead on the issues and work out the problems. Dickert says he constantly argues with State Rep. Robin Vos on KRM, even though Vos opposes the plan. "You have to fight for your city," Dickert said.
Observation: Turner stood with his hands at his side while Dickert answered questions, a relaxed look. Dickert looked a little more wired, at times taking notes.
Dickert repeatedly said he respected Turner and credited his experience. Turner did the like to Dickert, but it was that kind of night. These two were in a street fight, so platitudes may not have been called for.