Sizing up the Wausau mid-term elections…

It’s been a busy time on the Blackberry since yesterday as people offer thoughts on the Wausau City Council and other non-partisan local races that took place yesterday. Overall, I have to say that it was about as good of a night as some of us could have hoped for and the new council looks very promising to me.

I’ll start with myself, since I’m in the 1st district anyway. I was pleased with the decent turnout of a bit more than 30 percent of registered voters and even more pleased to pick up 60 percent for the first time since I originally came into office in 1998. As the longest currently serving elected official in the City of Wausau, I have a group of strong supporters and a bit smaller (so far) group of committed detractors. It gets to the point where I know where a share of my opponents’ yard signs will show up each cycle. I’ve never used yard signs. I don’t have anything against them, but I’ve tried to adopt a Bill Proxmire approach of running a high profile in serving and a much lower profile in campaigning. It drives some of my strongest supporters nuts, but it has also worked (so far.)

Romey Wagner took the open seat in the 2nd and that is going to be a big change from having Deb Hadley on the council. Romey is the manager of the Wausau Business Development Center and he does interesting things like drilling wells for impoverished villages in Kenya. Although we disagreed on plenty of policy issues, I have to say that I enjoyed serving with Deb. In my view, her biggest political liability has always been her doctrinaire conservative, shoot-from-the-hip husband, Mark, who is well known in the community, for better or worse. If leaving the council on her own terms was a strategic decision to position for another try at the mayor’s office in 2012, it isn’t looking a good move this morning.

Third District: I don’t know Jonathan Havel, but I certainly would have voted for him. I’ve known his opponent, Chuck Szalewski, essentially all of my life. We played hockey, hunted and goofed off together with a group of kids on the southeast side. He’s not a policymaker, in my view. His mother, who lives next door to my daughter, had a sign up for my opponent for weeks. I guess she doesn’t like me as a policymaker, either.

District 4, 5, 6 and 7 had uncontested races for Jim Brezinski, Gary Gisselman, Gary Klingbeil and Lisa Rasmussen. Actually, that’s not quite true, since Klingbeil had an aggressive write-in challenger who managed to pick up 37 percent of the vote and that is a significant accomplishment.

District 8 saw a squeaker, with newcomer Chris Barr coming in six votes ahead of former council member Karen Kellbach. This may be the lone accomplishment for what has become popularly known as “the dark side” and it isn’t a gain because he replaces Tom Miller.

Matt Kaiser lost his bid for re-election in District 9 to Dave Overbeck, an architect and Main Street volunteer. This is pretty significant. Kaiser was the successor to Christine Van De Yacht so the 9th has provided a political home for some pretty interesting representation over the last dozen years.

Dave Nutting was elected to the 10th District seat over Dan McMullen. It was pretty clear when the appointment was being made to fill the remaining term of Steve Foley that McMullen was the choice for the infamous negative voting block on the council. They never said why and it was inexplicable to anyone who was seriously evaluating the three candidates that came forward at that time. Nutting was able to translate his solid win in the lightly attended February primary into a general election victory that was also fairly lightly attended.

Sherry Abitz turned back a challenge by District 11’s county board member Tom Wolfarht and also took his county board seat. This was not surprising, since Sherry has been doing a lot of work on the ground in that neighborhood.

Ed Gale retained his District 12 seat in another squeaker; this time by five votes. He ran a very close race in 2008, too. I like Ed and although we’ve had plenty of disagreements over the years on policy matters, we debate it out fairly and it’s never personal. Like me, he has built up a group of dedicated detractors over the years. He was running against a candidate who was joined at the hip with Matt Kaiser and you can read about their big bungle on campaign literature in my preceding blog entry. It is not difficult to believe that absent this incredibly ill-thought out strategy and the unbelievably lame, disingenuous explanation for it that followed, both the District 9 and District 12 races might have played out differently. Two people saying the exact same thing at the exact it time is more than interesting. What might be even more interesting than that would be to find out who actually came up with the words in the first place?

JR

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