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Assessing Nelson’s chances

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Publication:Waukesha Freeman (Conley); Date:Feb 11, 2010; Section:Opinion; Page Number:8A

Assessing Nelson’s chances
Enriquez is strongest challenger

When it comes to city government, the question I have been asked the most often is whether Mayor Larry Nelson can be beat. Of course, I tell them, anybody can be beat. It just takes the right circumstances.

I should preface this by saying I like Nelson. I think he’s honest, and I believe he truly loves being the mayor. That does not mean I would necessarily vote for him.

Like many of you, I think taxes are too high. Nelson points out that he raised taxes less than his predecessors. True, but his immediate predecessor, Mayor Carol Lombardi, claimed she danced on the desk when she heard the revenue caps might be lifted. Not exactly a tough record to beat.

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Waukesha residents understand that taxes have gone up, and they don’t necessarily see that services have improved. The pothole complaints are real. Waukesha residents also understand they are paying the highest taxes in the county, and they are not happy about it.

Making matters worse, the mayor received a raise during a recession. There is still strong sentime

nt that the mayor’s position should be part-time, given that we have a full-time city administrator.

Nelson’s perceived lack of professionalism is a real issue. I’ve been surprised by the number of people who complain to me about the last time they saw Nelson at a formal event somewhere in a pink shirt, pink Crocs and his infamous white jacket. Somewhere else, like Las Vegas, it might be quirky. Here it drives many residents nuts.

They have other concerns, too. The perception is that crime is looking more like what we typically associate with the community east of 124th Street. Meanwhile, downtown may be growing, but the Clarke Hotel investment is making people nervous.

The proposed stadium at Frame Park appears to be dead, but it divided the community and now looks like just another venture that was not fully investigated before the mayor supported the idea. Taxpayers are breathing a sigh of relief that the stadium didn’t get started before the financing collapsed, leaving an unfinished construction site.

Finally, Nelson may hold a non-partisan office, but he’s been hardly non-partisan. His brief venture into having a blog on the city Web site quickly ran afoul with his endorsement of Barack Obama for President. He brought Obama here to campaign, and has campaigned for unpopular Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle. OK for the Democratic mayor of Milwaukee, not so good for the Democratic mayor of Republican Waukesha.

Finally, there’s the water issue: perhaps the most important issue confronting this city. Nelson is correct to pursue Lake Michigan water, but who will trust him to handle the negotiations? Nelson has stated his preference is for Milwaukee water in the spirit of regional cooperation. But Milwaukee’s version of regional cooperation is to use water to force other communities to change their housing and transportation policies.

It still takes someone to beat someone, and Nelson has four potential challengers.

Alderman Randy Radish voted for the last budget and supported much of what Nelson has done. I’m not even sure why he’s running.

Bill Beglinger has run before. Unfortunately, he and Jeff Scrima are demonstrating they have not paid attention to the water issue to this point, and seem to think there’s a better way than pursuing Lake Michigan water. However, their ideas will cost more and are unsustainable in the long run.

Scrima is running an energetic campaign and is spending his own money. However, his gimmicky idea of only accepting $36,600 to be mayor is either shameless pandering or else terrible judgment. Either he makes the case that the job should be part time (and the pay much lower than $36,600) or pay the job what it’s worth. But don’t insult the voter’s intelligence.

That leaves former Journal Sentinel writer Darryl Enriquez. Enriquez is endorsed by Republican state Rep. Bill Kramer, a conservative, and former Mayor Lombardi. Enriquez has said he would be an advocate for the taxpayers. He agrees that we need to seek Lake Michigan water, but would keep the Oak Creek and Racine options open to avoid Milwaukee’s extra demands.

If voters are looking to fire Nelson, then the strongest possible opponent would likely be Enriquez. We’ll see if the voters agree Tuesday.

(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at http://www.wigderson.com and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)

JAMES WIGDERSON

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