RACINE — In conversations released by The Johnson Foundation at Wingspread Wednesday night, mayoral finalists Rep. Cory Mason and Alderman Sandy Weidner both advocated for greater collaboration between Racine and its surrounding communities.
The conversations are part of the Johnson Foundation’s ongoing Resilient Communities initiative and were filmed the week after the Sept. 19 primary, which Mason and Weidner won. Both candidates were asked similar questions by moderator Jennifer Pratt-Miles, a program manager at the Meridian Institute in Denver.
To begin both their conversations, both candidates discussed what being a resilient community means to them and how they could apply that to leading Racine and the region.
“It allows us, Racine and its neighbors, to withstand the changes coming in this current century,” Mason said. “It’s recognizing the interconnectedness that we all have and then working really well together to be resilient to the changes that are coming.”
Weidner called Racine “a very resilient community.”
“The resilience should stretch beyond our borders and I’ve always been an advocate of that,” Weidner said. “Resilience is about ‘Do you have the guts and the stamina to keep going when it feels like the odds are against you?’, and that’s something that the people of Racine absolutely have.”
Both candidates also touched on the need for intergovernmental cooperation between Racine and surrounding municipalities. Weidner criticized former Mayor John Dickert’s and his administration’s relationships with those communities and indicated a desire to simplify borders between the communities.
“We need to straighten out our borders so there’s a little clearer cut line,” she said, citing a time she got into a car crash near the Racine/Mount Pleasant border. “A rising tide raises all ships and I think that would happen for our communities as well.”
Mason also questioned the relevance of the current borders, saying what may have made sense in 1975 might not make sense today. He added that all of the communities in the Racine area would succeed with increased collaboration.
“The broader we can collaborate the more it’s going to keep costs down and keep taxes at a place where it’s sustainable,” he said.
The candidates also were asked about their theories on leadership as it relates to leading versus serving.
“You can never forget that you are serving the people that elected you and their interests, but oftentimes leadership requires people who are elected and hold office to lay out a vision,” Mason said. “Those things go back and forth.”
Weidner theorized that a good leader is defined by how they adapt to circumstances.
“A good leader reaches out to as diverse a population as possible to get information and input from a variety of different viewpoints to come to an agreement on what the best solution forward is,” Weidner added.
The final question asked the candidates about their experiences in the political minority, Mason as a Democrat in a Republican State Legislature and Weidner on the City Council’s voting minority. Weidner noted how she feels most of her contributions to the council “fall on deaf ears.”
“Our City Council has become so divided on partisan lines that there is no reaching across right now,” Weidner said. “Perception divides the council in a very, very negative way.”
Mason said he prefers to be in the majority, but noted that he had his most successful session as a legislator this year, including times he’d been in a Democrat-led Legislature.
“It shouldn’t becomes so acrimonious and so personal that you can’t still find a way, when you can mutually agree on something, to do something good to move the community forward,” he said.