RACINE — City staff is hard at work on the biggest development project in its history — the proposed event center — but on Tuesday night, all six candidates to lead the city made it clear they don’t support it.
The candidates appeared on stage together for the second time in four days Tuesday night, as the Racine Branch of the NAACP hosted another mayoral forum before Tuesday’s primary, this time at Cesar Chavez Community Center, 2221 Douglas Ave. The candidates again answered seven predetermined questions from a moderator, but this time the city’s proposed event center/hotel project was on the list, and all six candidates indicated they were against the plan.
A few of the candidates emphasized that they were “against the plan from day one.” That included Pastor Melvin Hargrove, a former Racine Unified School Board president, and local Green Party leader Fabi Maldonado, who appeared at anti-arena protests this spring.
“As a pastor, if I want to build a new sanctuary and hold 500 people in that sanctuary, then I better make sure that my sanctuary I’m in right now is being packed every Sunday,” Hargrove said. “And then I’m going to make people pay for the building and then don’t tell them what they can do with their money. I think that that’s just flat wrong.”
Maldonado said that the city cannot afford to build the event center.
“It’s dangerous to put the city in so much debt,” he said. “The people that are going to get affected the most are the poor and vulnerable in our city.”
Alderman Sandy Weidner, who has fought against the plan in her role on the City Council, said that while she’s “not personally opposed to it,” she emphasized the need for a referendum before anything moves forward.
“If the city is going to take 60-plus million of your dollars, the least we can do is come to you and ask you via a referendum,” she said.
State Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, came out in opposition to the plan in a video posted to his campaign Facebook page Friday. He reiterated that position Tuesday, saying he’s against it for both financial and community reasons.
“When it comes to the arena, it’s not something we can afford and residents simply don’t support it,” Mason said.
While community organizer Wally Rendon and small business owner Austin Rodriguez didn’t directly say that they were against the plan in their answers, they confirmed after the forum that they were. Rendon said the city needed to spend the money it’s devoting to the plan more wisely.
“We’re still messing around with Machinery Row,” Rendon said. “We’ve already lost a couple of million dollars that we probably won’t get back. Why are we talking now about spending another $55 (million) to $60 million, as the alderman said, on an arena that nobody wants?”
Rodriguez said that he leaned more negatively on the event center plan, calling his opinion a “60/40 split.”
“I believe it needs more private investors other than what we have right now,” he said. “If it leaned less on taxpayer dollars, that would definitely be more encouraging.”
Candidates talk diversity, LGBT rights
The candidates fielded four separate diversity-related questions during Tuesday’s forum. In their own ways, each of the candidates pledged to stand up for minorities, racial or otherwise, in their responses.
Hargrove said he would make sure the people on the city’s various boards and committees “look like the city” and said he would fight for equity and the constitutional rights of the LGBT community.
Maldonado said he would “welcome everybody,” and proposed creating an LGBT committee at the city level.
Weidner said she would do away with what she perceived as past administration’s tactic of removing people from city committees that disagreed with its position, adding that she enjoys the “volleyball” that differing viewpoints provide.
Mason referenced his record of supporting LGBT rights, including voting to support gay marriage when a number of his colleagues in the state Legislature were against it and said diversity would be a top job priority for his administration, alongside hiring local and emphasizing a living wage.
Rendon said he would reach out more consistently to minority contractors for city projects and repeated the phrase “we are all one,” in reference to the LGBT community.
Rodriguez said we should all “love one another,” and said “it’s important for all of us to work together as a unit.”
Tuesday was the final mayoral forum before the Sept. 19 primary. The NAACP, Racine Taxpayers Association and Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce all plan to host forums with the two finalists before the Oct. 17 general election.