The problem with a catchy campaign slogan is people remember it. The first President Bush learned this with his emphatic: "Read my lips, no new taxes." He raised taxes and lost re-election to Bill Clinton.
Mayor John Dickert emerged from a crowded primary field earlier this year based, in part, on his "10-year plan" to make Racine a "top 10" city. This post reviews the history of Dickert's 10-year plan and looks at whether a plan exists.
The earliest reference we can find to Dickert's 10-year plan is a March 24 Journal Times article that reported candidate responses to a question on redevelopment in the city. Here's Dickert's statement:
I am going to create a long-term plan for the entire City of Racine covering all five regions. Currently, Racine has five separate plans that are not coordinated and we need to create a 10-year city plan combining all five into one plan with benchmarks and measurable goals.Dickert's first reference to a 10-year plan on RacinePost was during an April 20 forum. Here's all we reported:
Dickert brings up his "10-year plan" and says it's focused on jobs, crime and housing.Denis Navratil at Free Racine briefly discussed Dickert's plan on April 20.
John Dickert has a plan. Like most people, I suspect, I don't know what it is nor am I inclined to find out. But I know it is a ten year plan.Dickert gave arguably the clearest explanation of his 10-year plan at an April 23 mayor candidate forum with Bob Turner. Here's Pete's reporting on the forum:
If I were Bob Turner, I would immediately announce an eleven year plan. I would then denounce Dickerts short term strategies while stressing the importance and superiority of a long term vision for Racine.
Question: Dickert, what are the specifics of your 10-year plan?Talk of Dickert's 10-year plan has picked up since he won the election. It's usually in the context of: Where is the plan? OrbsCorbs over at JT Irregulars has the clearest takedown of Dickert on this point. Orbs writes:
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.
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.
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 283rd among cities of our size. Businesses ask: What's your long-range plan, infrastructure, crime, education?
Well, the budget was presented yesterday and there's no mention of a 10 year plan. I do not understand. By saying that the ten year plan would be "in" the budget, does Mayor Dickert mean that taxes will be raised for the next ten years?What's Dickert's 10-year plan?
Am I the only person who is insulted when lied to? Why do we elect liars? Why do we let them get away with lying to us?
The mayor has plans. Whether they're a "10-year plan" is up for debate. Here's what we know Dickert is working on:
1. Dickert said in putting together his budget he tried to get every city department to look 10 years into the future. The goal is, over the long term, to save money with long-range planning. The mayor said he saved $678,000 in this year's budget alone, though a big chunk of those savings came from zero percent salary increases for city workers. Presumably workers will get a raise in the future, but it's also likely the economy will recover (increasing city revenues); the state won't cut shared revenue every year.
2. The mayor is working on overhauling the city's housing ordinances, codes, departments and programs. Dickert hopes to renovate 20-30 homes in a specific area to maximize impact on a neighborhood.
3. Parks are important to Dickert. He wants to turn the city's parks system into one of the best n the nation. He'll do that with a long-range plan that incorporates every park in the city. His hope is to overhaul 1-2 parks per year.
4. Dickert says he wants to blend together the city's five neighborhood plans into one plan that gives the city a road map for rehabbing neighborhoods and cleaning up industrial sites. The parks plan fits into this unified neighborhood plan.
5. Dickert is working to open a clean beaches research center in Racine that will build on the city's success in cleaning up North Beach and Zoo Beach. He sees Lake Michigan as a key long-term resource for the city.
6. Stimulus money will allow the city to hire three new community oriented police officers in the city. The mayor said this was a priority because COP officers save money by preventing problems, which saves police resources and focuses more attention on violent crimes.
7. Attracting small and medium-sized companies - focusing on green jobs - appears to be one of Dickert's priorities. It's also one of the early successes of his tenure. Dickert has announced in recent weeks at least three companies are expanding or moving to Racine, and he's reportedly talking with a handful of other companies (two from Atlanta interested in Racine's location near Lake Michigan) that could bring jobs to the city.
8. Dickert hasn't been shy in supporting KRM and regional transit. He sees buses running from Racine to Union Grove, Kenosha and Milwaukee. He also sees commuter rail spurring development on State Street. Dickert even backed a sales tax to pay for the upgrades, as long as the tax didn't fall solely on city residents. Commuter rail and expanded bus service appear to be part of Dickert's long-term plans for the city.
The success of Dickert's 10-year plan, or at least the promise of a plan, is that it got him elected. The problem with the plan is people remember what he promised.
Right now, the 10-year plan doesn't exist anywhere other than the mayor's head. On a practical level, it's easy to understand. Sitting down to write out a long-term plan for Racine with any sort of meaningful content (goals, benchmarks, etc.) is no small undertaking. Since being elected, Dickert has been wrapped up in learning a new job and writing his first city budget. He may simply not have had time to write out everything he hopes to accomplish.
But Dickert hasn't helped himself. He said a few months ago he'd start to incorporate his 10-year plan into the city budget. Then he delivered the city budget without a clearly explained plan. The mayor is running the risk of being defined by what's lacking. He's having early success in attracting companies, cutting city spending and coming up with strong long-term ideas. But if he doesn't put out a 10-year plan soon, he'll be labeled the mayor who didn't follow through on his most memorable campaign promise.
As we all remember with the first President Bush, that tends not to work out well come re-election time.