In Racine’s mayoral election next Tuesday, incumbent John Dickert faces a challenge from the Rev. Melvin Hargrove.
Normally, an incumbent would seem to have a strong advantage, and in campaign fundraising, Dickert certainly has an edge.
But what voters should be looking at on Tuesday is who is best qualified to lead the city forward and who has the best vision for where the city needs to go.
Dickert’s years in office have not been easy ones due in part to the economic malaise across the country and the changes in the municipal landscape as the result of Act 10 and the sweeping reforms that Gov. Scott Walker and the GOP-controlled Legislature enacted across the state.
Under Dickert’s watch, the city fumbled when it attempted to rush through city employee contracts before Act 10 went into effect and then came back and tried to rescind those contracts. Predictably, that ended up in court when three unions sued and the city lost when Judge Gerald Ptacek ruled the city must honor its contracts — at a cost of $1.96 million
Dickert himself also landed in court four years ago in a slander suit brought by a former city employee that was eventually settled for $5,000 and cost the city $100,000 in legal fees. More recently, last summer he accused a city alderman of interfering with the city’s attempt to acquire property on Mound Avenue and said he had a recording of the alderman doing so. That claim ultimately had to be walked back by the City Attorney’s Office, which said no recording existed.
And, while there has been no substantive proof offered as of yet, the mayor and others are also the subject of federal court litigation by the owners of five shuttered taverns alleging a conspiracy to drive minority bar owners out of the city.
Even without the federal suit, those instances of misjudgment, shading of the truth and multiple court cases have given us great pause.
We have no such compunctions with the Rev. Hargrove, a respected church leader who has led Zoe Outreach Ministries, a non-denominational Christian church, for the past 17 years. Hargrove has also served on the Racine Unified School Board since 2007.
Hargove sees Racine as an “ailing city” and worries that if it does not get its house in order it could end up going the way of Detroit.
“I don’t want to just keep (the city) afloat, I want it to prosper,” Hargove said in a meeting with The Journal Times Editorial Board.
To do that, he would focus on the city budget, job creation and small business growth.
He characterizes himself as a fiscal conservative, with a philosophy of “you can’t keep spending it if it’s not there.”
“I would use Act 10 more,” Hargrove said. “Whether you agree or disagree with what Gov. Walker has done, revenue for the city has remained flat. You have to raise revenue.”
And the city may well be in for more cuts, he said, adding that may be a difficult conversation. “I believe if people are informed — they may not like it, but they will respect you.”
Hargrove said he would look at shared services with neighboring communities to see if some economic savings can be made and would look at Caledonia, Mount Pleasant and Sturtevant as partners who can work together.
He would also work with the city’s faith-based community and non-profits to build job skills, including soft skills to get people back to work. “It’s not going to be just about land development, it’s about people development,” he said.
In our view, Hargrove would have a steep learning curve to master the intricacies of city budgeting and planning, but he would bring a fresh perspective to City Hall, a more collegial outlook to municipal neighbors and could be a catalyst for change in the city.
The Journal Times Editorial Board endorses Rev. Melvin Hargrove for mayor.