Gary Anderson chats with James DeMatthew, right, as he opens his Assembly run
James DeMatthew's lifetime interest in politics -- as a teenager he helped campaign for Scoop Jackson and Les Aspin, before getting a degree in political science -- crossed over into real action Monday, as he opened a campaign office on 5th Street and formally announced his candidacy for Racine's 61st District Wisconsin Assembly seat held for the past 20 years by Bob Turner. The Democratic primary in which they will compete is Sept. 14.
Making jobs and local economic development the theme of his campaign, DeMatthew told about 30 supporters "not enough is being done to promote economic development in Racine." A lifelong resident of the North side, DeMatthew decries the fact that an Illinois construction company -- Walsh, of Chicago -- is doing the bulk of the I-94 reconstruction, and work at Park High School also is being done by a non-Racine company. "I want to see companies from Racine get a slice of the work," DeMatthew said. "We have too many people needing work."
DeMatthew said Dave Blank of realracine (the former Racine County Convention and Visitors Bureau) is doing a good job of bringing events here -- he estimated that the upcoming Splash and Spike Festival would bring $500,000 worth of tourism and the Triathlon another $1.2 million -- but said "We need to get our infrastructure built up, do more development on the lake, maybe a bigger Oasis. We're not getting the dollars brought in to do that."
"We need some fresh ideas; we need to put Racine first," DeMatthew says, being careful not to say anything negative about Bob Turner, who was first elected to the Assembly in 1990. "He's a nice gentleman," DeMatthew says. "He's a likable elder statesman."
DeMatthew suggests the state needs to "restructure the tax system, to ease the burden on middle class taxpayers." He would "restructure" hotel and convention fees and user taxes statewide to help ease property taxes. "It would not be that dramatic for the average person on vacation."
"I remember when Racine outshined many regions in the Midwest," he said. "We were the third largest city in the state, we had jobs, we were buliding a new lakefront and we had some of the best schools in the state. ... We believed in our city, in our schools, our businesses and we believed in ourselves.
"What we don't have right now is economic strength... we must create jobs that do more than pay some of our bills....We must create an environment where families can thrive...where there is funding for senior citizens... where businesses can expand." DeMatthew said he will support "both local employers and unions."
Legislators, he said, need to remember that "it is a privilege to serve."
DeMatthew, 48, and his wife, Kathleen, have two children: son Nick, 18, who will attend Marquette in the fall, and daughter Dana 16. He is a graduate of UW-Whitewater, worked 14 years for the Social Security Administration, and for the past 10 years has been an investment advisor with DeMatthew, Gorichanaz and Associates, located at 5402 Douglas Ave.
The elephant in the room -- figuratively speaking, of course; he wasn't actually present -- was John Dickert, who ran against Turner in 1990, and again in 2002 -- the only years Turner had Democratic primary opposition. Introducing DeMatthew Monday night was Monte Osterman, a friend for years, who was one of Dickert's campaign managers during last year's mayoral election. (Dickert returned the favor, campaigning for Osterman this year when he ran successfully for the County Board.
DeMatthew and Dickert also go 'way back. DeMatthew and Dickert's older sister, Ann, went to St. Cat's together, and he and the mayor have been friends since then. Last year, Dickert reappointed DeMatthew to the Civic Center Commission -- he was originally appointed by Mayor Gary Becker in 2006; DeMatthew's wife serves on the Water Works Commission and Wastewater Commission; her term began in 2006.
Greeting DeMatthew at the opening of his two-room campaign headquarters at 310 5th St. was Gary Anderson, who also was appointed to the Civic Center Commission by Dickert.
DeMatthew said voters should not focus on the connection -- "This is a small town; everybody knows everybody," he said. "I speak my own mind, and follow my own principles." When he told the mayor he was planning to run, DeMatthew said Dickert replied, "You're a friend, but I can't have anything to do with this. I can't touch you with a 10-ft. pole."