RACINE — In the latest upheaval of the 2019 spring election, Alderman Sandy Weidner’s announced last week she will register as a write-in candidate for Racine mayor against incumbent Cory Mason in the April 2 election.
This is not the first time Mason and Weidner have competed for the office. Both ran in the special election held in October 2017 to fill the position after John Dickert resigned. Mason won by 964 votes.
The hot-button issue at that time of that election was the proposed Downtown arena, which Mason vetoed when he took office. This spring, Weidner’s open-records lawsuit and contempt of court case, which have been submitted to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, cast a shadow on the race. While Mason is not directly connected to the case, it has raised questions of transparency in City Hall.
Weidner said she had not intended to campaign but was told by supporters that they planned to write her name in on the ballot.
The Journal Times asked both candidates to make their pitch to voters.
What would be your priorities as mayor?
Mason: My main priority as mayor continues to be improving the lives of city residents. Racine is home; it’s family. I am so honored to have been your mayor for the last 16 months. I get up every day and work to make Racine a better community. I am asking voters for their support to fill a full four-year term as Mayor.
Weidner: Racine was built, and prospered, through the energy and creativity of its people. I want to unleash that again. I hear all the time about how difficult it is to begin a business here. It’s self-destructive to try to seduce outside interests with breaks and favors, hoping they will rescue us, while at the same time stifling our own people.
I will have an open-door policy to everyone.
To Mason — What are your plans for the next four years if you’re re-elected?
Mason: My plans for the next four years are about building a strong middle class where prosperity is broadly shared and everyone has the opportunity to succeed. In just the last year, we have invested in workforce training, passed Racine Works to ensure 20 percent of hours worked on publicly supported projects go to city residents, reinvested in our neighborhoods with home repair grants for home owners, adopted the goals of the Paris climate accord, and started a micro-loan program for small business. We announced a $50 million housing development and businesses are buying up buildings in our downtown. We are investing in Smart City design to make Racine more equitable, sustainable, livable and workable. The next four years will allow us as a community to build on these goals.
To Weidner — What are the biggest things you’d like to see changed?
Weidner: Improvements to our infrastructure and assets by reinstating an aggressive street and alley maintenance program through our Public Works Department, paid for by a reduction in debt spending.
The reduction in red tape for businesses to open and expand in our community. The permitting and conditional use process must be streamlined and made user friendly.
I also want to see public events and festivals return to Festival Park. It is sadly ironic that a facility build specifically to accommodate those activities has become unaccessible for our citizens use.
How would your administration handle issues of transparency?
Mason: I believe strongly in the open meeting and public records laws. Unless there is a specific legal prohibition on releasing them (health care records, employee investigations/discipline, contract negotiation information that would benefit one party over another) the public will have access to public records as quickly as possible.
We are expanding transparency in government with the body cameras that will be deployed later this year in the Racine Police Department.
Weidner: The City Attorney’s office has become a bottleneck for communications within City Hall and between the citizens and their government. This hinders the efficient operation of our city and makes it difficult for citizens to keep up to date on what we are doing as their representatives. We should welcome public curiosity, not fear it.
What would be your approach to the city budget? What are your thoughts on increasing the tax rate and addressing the city’s debt?
Mason: This year we reduced the property tax levy for the first time in more than 10 years. Budgets are about living within your means, reflecting your values, and getting input from a broad array of community partners. I would continue with this approach.
Weidner: Reducing our debt will not only allow us to reduce our tax rate but will also allow us to improve the services our residents currently pay a very high price for. I intend to initiate an effort aimed at improving the quality and fairness in the city’s property assessment practices. We have an intergovernmental account that is funded by surrounding communities in which roughly $20 million has passed through it with little to show for it. I will initiate an independent audit of that account and create stricter guidelines for oversight. I will reformat our budget to make it understandable to everyone, using Kenosha’s budget as a great example of how to do this.