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RACINE — John Dickert believes that Racine chose change when it elected him mayor in 2009 and in the eight years since his election, he believes in the strength of the changes he’s made.

Dickert’s last day as Racine’s mayor is today, as he steps down to become the President and Chief Administrative Officer of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, a Chicago-based water advocacy group. Dickert will be immediately succeeded by 10th District Alderman Dennis Wiser and a special election to determine Dickert’s successor through April 2019 will be held sometime between September and April 2018.

Looking back Friday in an interview with The Journal Times, Dickert said he is proud of the work he and his administration did to fight unemployment, decaying housing, budget shortfalls, and most crucially, a citywide loss of confidence.

“We brought together our team at City Hall and set out with a plan to change our direction,” Dickert said. “The 10-year plan focused on rebuilding our departments, our budget and our infrastructure. Together we worked our plan and built new partnerships that allowed us to do more with less.”

Dickert felt the largest challenge facing his administration when he took office in May 2009 was unemployment. The results of the economic downturn affected the entire country but hit Racine particularly hard, as city unemployment ranked No. 1 in Wisconsin at around 17 percent.

Earlier this year, Racine’s unemployment finally fell out of the top spot in the state and is hovering just above 4 percent, an accomplishment Dickert views with immense pride.

“We had been so high in unemployment for so long,” he said. “People we’re just tired of the high unemployment rate and wanted to try something new. A lot of that credit has to go to everyone who came together to make that happen.”

Still, Dickert feels employing unskilled workers is a major challenge the city still faces. He believes the proposed event center project, if approved, will provide a major opportunity for that demographic.

Other accomplishments

The city has seen consistent reductions in crime rates in Dickert’s tenure, including recent drops to new historic lows in Part One crime, which includes theft-related and violent infractions. Dickert credits that to the Racine Police Department, the city’s integrated task force and a number of community organizations that have contributed to crime-reducing efforts.

“Thank you to our police officers, the front line,” Dickert said. “These are the the unsung heroes. (They’re) not in headlines, but they do the work.”

Similarly, Dickert is proud of the work done to improve problem areas throughout the city, including Jacato Drive — now Anthony Lane — and Layard Avenue. He also credited those who assisted in housing improvement programs like the Pastors Housing Alliance and the Neighborhood Stabilization Program.

In the area of homelessness, he thanked all members of the Continuum of Care, the city’s alliance against homelessness, and particularly singled out the recent tiny home project led by Veterans Outreach of Wisconsin, which has received national acclaim.

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“Thanks to Jeff Gustin and his entire team who dedicated their lives to a vulnerable population of heroes,” he said.

Dickert expressed gratitude to his entire staff during his tenure at City Hall.

“We’ve built a very, very strong team at City Hall,” he said. “We hired very talented people who are dedicated to the city. They deserve more credit than they’ll ever get.”

He particularly mentioned Dave Brown, Kathleen Fischer and the city’s Finance Department for helping to bring the city’s budget “back into balance” and plan for long-term expenses. In that same financial vein, he thanked state legislators from both parties for helping bring tax credits to the city to aid with city development.

Dickert touted the awards the city received in his tenure, which included national recognition for beaches, the strength of the city’s local businesses and for affordable living.

“Never has the city received so many awards in such a short time,” he said. “Thank all of you visionaries, who helped build a better Racine.”

Looking Ahead

Dickert expressed confidence in the leadership of Wiser, who is set to be confirmed as mayor by the City Council next week.

“Dennis and I have been strong partners in the six years he’s been on the council,” Dickert said. “I’m complete comfortable turning over the reins because he not only does his homework, he thinks about things as a leader would.”

Dickert admitted that he wished he accomplished more with development during his tenure as mayor, but added that his administration has laid the groundwork for future success.

“I was hoping that development would move faster than it did,” he said. “I think we’ve set the stage for a strong future in development.”

Dickert will spend the foreseeable future traveling around the Great Lakes to help protect them on an international level. He’ll also spend more time with family, with significantly more nights and weekends to dedicate to his wife Teresa and his children Riley and Eleanor.

And he’ll always have pride and gratitude for the last eight years.

“We chose in 2009 to commit ourselves to a bright future for our children, and together we have done just that,” Dickert said. “Thank all of you who have worked so hard to accomplish so much over the last eight years.”

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