We're live this morning at the mayoral forum sponsored by RAMAC and RCEDC. Thanks and kudos to both organizations for opening this forum up to the media and the public. Not only did we attend, but the JT and WGTD were there too.
Here's my summary of the forum. John Dickert threw out some specific proposals - no impact fees for 18 months for new businesses - and looked comfortable with the business crowd. Basically, these were his people.
Bob Turner did a nice job of staying on his campaign message. He said at least three times, probably more, that he has 32 years of elected political experience, he's made the tough decisions and that he's ready to step in and lead. That's probably Turner's best line, and could be effective on May 5. After all, the candidates who offered specifics in the primary election - Helding, Karas, Harding, Shakoor - finished behind the candidates who spoke more in generalities - Dickert, Turner, Plache and Spangenberg.
Here's our recap from the event:
Bob Turner and John Dickert are upfront and ready to go.
And we're off ...
Dickert goes first. He says he respects Turner, but there are differences between the candidates. Dickert brings up his "10-year plan" and says it's focused on jobs, crime and housing. He also emphasizes his ties to the business community.
"The next mayor has to blend public and private," he said.
Dickert talks about changing the direction of Racine. "We cannot afford to stay on this path," he said.
Then he talks about his philosophy of working hard and getting up after you fail. "Are you going to worry about falling down, or are you going to get back up?"
He ends with a story about a woman who lost her job and realized she was going to lose her house. Dickert says that's why he's running for mayor, to help people like her.
Turner is up ...
He launches into a high-energy talk emphasizing his experience. He notes he's served in elected office for 32 years, and worked on every city committee.
He talks about delegation and setting policy. "The mayor doesn't go out and find jobs, they work with folks who know how to do it," Turner said.
Turner, as a state representative, also played up his access to Madison and state government. "I have the ability to go to Madison and have access to the floor," he said. "If you don't have access to the floor, you can't get anything done. You're just another person who went to Madison."
First question is about how the candidates would reorganize city government, if elected. They're asked to specifically address the city administrator.
Turner and Dickert have a good clash on the administrator issue.
Turner says he wouldn't need a city administrator and would return to a "mayor-cabinet" style of government with the department heads advising the mayor.
Dickert says he would bring in a city administrator to handle day-to-day issues and handle the business side of City Hall. "The city is an $83 million company that serves people," he said.
Dickert also says he would propose eliminating impact fees on new business for the first 18 months.
Turner is given a chance for rebuttal. He gets in a dig at Dickert saying if he was new to city government he would need a city administrator. But since he has experience, he doesn't need an administrator.
This question is on education. The candidates trade answers on plans and supporting schools. Dickert gets the last word and says the city can help by improving safety around schools.
How does the city attract new businesses since it can't annex surrounding land? The candidates are asked to address redeveloping brownfields and improve existing business districts.
Turner goes first and says he supports the sewer agreement that landlocked Racine, but gave the city a portion of the tax base created by development in Mount Pleasant, Caledonia and Sturtevant. But he also says he would try to revisit the agreement to see if improvements can be made.
Dickert says everything is regional these days and everyone needs to work together. He also says he worked on a brownfield redevelopment that failed. But in failing he learned what didn't work and is ready to give it another go.
He talks specifically about Pointe Blue failing, but says he's already talking with a Texas company about a new project for the site.
He also said he wanted to work on a microlending program with local banks.
The next question notes Racine has lost about 4,000 residents over the last 18 years and asks how would the candidates attract families back to the city.
Dickert says it's a marketing issue. The city needs to sell itself to young professionals and families. He also will talk with businesses now to keep them from leaving.
Turner also says it's a marketing issue. He blames the city's troubles on the economy and says Racine needs to be ready for the economic turnaround. "As mayor, I'll sit down with the business community and get their ideas," Turner said.
Dickert attacks Turner on the rebuttal, saying it's not the economy. "You don't get into this situation over night," he says, explaining it was a series of long-term decisions that led to current problems.
Good question on public transportation. Would the candidate support a sales tax for a Regional Transit Authority to pay for public transit and KRM?
Turner says public transit has been a problem for a long time. He supports a sale tax to pay for transit, but only if it includes the whole county.
Dickert says he's been working on Metra since 1983, and that people need to "step up to the plate" to get this taken care of now. Dickert says he and his uncle, Jim Dickert, had $40 million in development lined up for the area around Racine's proposed KRM station. That would total $880,000 in property taxes for the city. He also wants to make sure people have access to jobs along I-94.
Turner says in his rebuttal he doesn't have a problem making "tough decisions." He supports regional public transit.
The sixth question asks what the candidates will do to improve student performance in Racine Unified.
Dickert says people need high school diplomas. He also wants to sit down with Gateway and make sure their classes line up with local jobs. He then talks about zero tolerance for crime in schools and says his wife hopes to teach in Unified next year. He closes by asking for the business community's help in mentoring students and teaching them skills.
Turner gets personal, saying he grew up surrounded by people who didn't go to school. But he was taught that going to school was critical, and that you need education to succeed. He says he knows how to talk with young people and emphasize the importance of going to school.
Dickert gets the rebuttal and takes on the state's "unfunded mandates" on education. He says the system needs to improve to help teachers.
Questions from the audience ...
First is about teacher accountability and the candidates say, basically, we need high-quality teachers.
Second is also about education and they agree we need good schools.
Third question is about business and what can the city do to bring business to Racine. Dickert re-emphasizes his 18-month, zero-impact fee proposal. He says one new business wanted to come to Racine, but faced a $100,000 fee to hook up water. Turner says the city needs to work with business.
Fourth question is about the Workforce Development Center. Turner says the existing Workforce Development Center is a good example. Dickert agrees and then points to former Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian who spent a lot of time in Madison improving his city. Racine needs to do the same.
Fifth question is about consolidation. Dickert says it's a good idea if it serves the city's interests. Turner agrees.
Closing statements ...
Turner goes first. He reemphasizes his 32 years experience. He says he's been involved in every decision affecting Racine over the last 29 years. He says he's running for mayor to give something back to a city that's given him so much. He'd bring more experience than any other mayor in history. "There's nothing wrong with the city of Racine," Turner said. "We need to talk positive about the city of Racine." But he also said the city is a car running on three wheels and needs the fourth wheel of people involved.
Dickert says the time for talk is over. He says there's been too many closed door sessions and too much partisanship. He then talks about the need to get "wins" for the city (instead of losing). Once that happens, he said, it gets easier to keep on winning because you've learned how to win.
He gets in a jab at Turner noting in the first month on the job the mayor needs to go to the Great Lakes Conference and the National Conference of Mayors. Turner has said he'll keep his Assembly seat through the state budget process, which will probably end around mid-summer.