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.
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"I give you the new mayor of Racine," says City Clerk Janice Johnson-Martin, moments after John Dickert is sworn in as mayor of Racine on May 19, 2009.
Racine Mayor John Dickert, right, laughs after being introduced as the mayor of Milwaukee, in a slip of the tongue by Gov. Scott Walker as Walker visits DeltaHawk, a manufacturer of diesel aircraft engines, 2903 Golf Ave., Thursday April 7, 2011. Stephen Smiley, the company's vice president for manufacturing, looks on. Walker was speaking about private-sector job creation. The company received $720,000 in state loans, and a $1.2 million low-interest city loan in February. / Mark Hertzberg firstname.lastname@example.org Buy this photo at jtreprints.com
Milwaukee Mayor, and Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Tom Barrett, left, samples kringle with Mayor John Dickert, at O & H Danish Bakery, 4006 Durand Ave., on primary election day, Tuesday September 14, 2010. / Mark Hertzberg email@example.com Buy this photo at jtreprints.com
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks with Racine Mayor John Dickert after he takes part in a ceremonial groundbreaking for an expansion project at Ruud Lighting in Sturtevant Tuesday, November 15, 2011 as protestors several blocks away loudly chanted "Recall Walker." Walker was at Ruud for an announcement that 469 jobs will be added over four years. The effort to recall Walker began at midnight.
Racine Mayor John Dickert puts his hand on Democratic State Rep. Robert Turner (D-Racine) during the Mayor's speech before an overflow crowd of about 450 people on Monday afternoon, for a Town Hall meeting in Support of Workers' Rights held February 21, 2011 at the Racine Labor Center, 2100 Layard Ave., Racine, Wis. Area politicians and citizens alike spoke during the meeting.
(left to right in foreground) Tom Mattioli, Senior Exercise Officer at Wisconsin Emergency Management, Mayor John Dickert, City Administrator Tom Friedel and County Executive Jim Ladwig talk strategy in a crowded Emergency Management headquarters on Thursday. Racine County officials participated in a functional disaster exercise in a simulated response to a train derailment on the Union Pacific Railroad in the City of Racine. In the simulation, City and County officials convened in the Racine County Emergency Management headquarters in the basement of the Law Enforcement Center on Thursday morning, April 19, 2012, as officials coordinated resources and developed strategies for evacuation, rescue and resource deployment, sheltering and public information. In a real emergency, officials would convene in this space to perform essential functions, Racine County Emergency Management coordinator David L. Maack said. / Scott Anderson firstname.lastname@example.org Buy this photo at jtreprints.com
A group of public officials including Mayor John Dickert and church leaders huddle under a collection of umbrellas for a groundbreaking ceremony at an empty lot at 61 Riverside Drive in the City of Racine on Thursday, April 19, 2012. The lot is the future site of a new three-bedroom home after a dilapidated property was demolished last year. The City of Racine is partnering with Faith Builds Community, Inc. to construct the new home. / Scott Anderson email@example.com Buy this Photo at jtreprints.com
Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz hugs Mayor John Dickert after he gave her a kringle Wednesday morning, May 30, 2012, during a stop at the recall field office in Racine. She visit Racine to support candidates John Lehman and Tom Barrett.
Mayor John Dickert talks with Tay Willis, 11, as he hands out backpacks Monday afternoon, August 20, 2012, during the Back-to-School Stay-in-School Festival and backpack giveaway at Festival Park, 5 Fifth St. Volunteers handed out 3,000 free backpacks filled with age-appropriate school supplies according to SC Johnson, a major event sponsor. / Gregory Shaver firstname.lastname@example.org Buy this photo at jtreprints.com
Racine Mayor John Dickert meets with community and business leaders as part of a Business Now roundtable event held Sept. 13, 2013, at Gateway Technical College’s iMet Center, 2320 Renaissance Blvd. The event focused on immigration reform, and "the challenges and successes" its passage would entail for businesses and for the community as a whole.
Racine Mayor John Dickert leads a press conference June 10, 2014, announcing the Machinery Row redevelopment project along the Root River corridor.
Mayor John Dickert talks with supporters after he defeated the Rev. Melvin Hargrove to be reelected mayor of Racine. Tuesday evening, April 7, 2015 at Salute Italian Restaurant, 314 Main St., during an election night party.
Mayor John Dickert hugs Chris Flynn as he greets supporters Tuesday evening, April 7, 2015 at Salute Italian Restaurant, 314 Main St., during an election night party. Dickert defeated the Rev. Melvin Hargrove to be reelected mayor of Racine.
Racine Mayor John Dickert answers a question Thursday afternoon, February 4, 2016, during On the Issues with Mike Gousha. The program was about Waukesha’s water diversion request with Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly and Dickert at Marquette University’s Eckstein Hall in Milwaukee. Waukesha is looking to Lake Michigan to meet its future water needs amid problems with its underground water supply, to do so it needs the approval from all eight Great Lakes states. The program discussed the impact on Waukesha Coutny, Milwaukee and Racine, as well as Lake Michigan and the Root River, where treated wastewater will be returned.
Mayor John Dickert talks with people Tuesday afternoon, January 12, 2016, at Wilson’s Coffee & Tea, 3306 Washington Ave. It was the first “neighborhood” office hours session that Dickert plans on holding in the community.
Racine Mayor John Dickert reads a proclamation for retired St. Catherine's High School boys basketball coach Bob Letsch, right, during a pre-game ceremony on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016 at St. Catherine's. The Angels opened their season against Kenosha Tremper.
Markeey Collins, 9, gets a hug from Mayor John Dickert after Collins gave the mayor a present during the 14th annual Cops ‘N Kids Holiday Book Giveaway Saturday morning, Dec. 17, at Festival Hall, 5 Fifth St.
Mayor John Dickert announced at a March 27 press conference at City Hall that he plans to resign as mayor to pursue an executive directorship at a water advocacy group.
“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.
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.”
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.”