Scrima, Congdon behind already
Tuesday night’s election results came with an interesting surprise. City of Waukesha Mayor Jeff Scrima actually came in second to local attorney Shawn Reilly.
The 84 votes that separate the two candidates would seem like a small margin, but it’s not the real number that should concern Scrima. Nearly two-thirds of the voters on Tuesday were ready to vote him out of office.
The two candidates that gathered the most votes against Scrima, Reilly and Alderman Terry Thieme, directly questioned the mayor’s honesty in the campaign. It’s unlikely any voter that supported Thieme is going to suddenly fall in love with Scrima.
In fact, it is likely Thieme will probably endorse Reilly, if he hasn’t done so by the time this column runs.
That’s not a situation that leaves Scrima with a lot of wiggle room. He has to find a new constituency out there that can rescue his candidacy. He only has two months to do it.
The problem for Scrima is that he’s a known quantity. He is not considered trustworthy. His claim of fiscal responsibility has enough holes in it that it could be used to strain spaghetti. His grand flip-flop on the water issue just reminds voters he was never suited for the job of mayor in the first place. And the grand Scrima opera has worn on the public so that Reilly’s promise of “no more drama” resonates with the voters.
In the immortal words of Christopher Hitchens, Scrima has no one left to lie to. It’s going to be very hard to find some previously unknown voting bloc large enough to win that Scrima hasn’t already offended.
It’s not impossible for the mayor to win. With the larger electorate in April comes the opportunity to try to start fresh.
Reilly and Scrima will both need to reach directly to the voters. That means knocking on doors and asking people directly for their vote. It means direct mail. It means communicating through the media. It means connecting through social media, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
Either candidate can still win at this point, but Scrima is in the unenviable position of being the incumbent who has to come from behind.
Right now the race is Reilly’s to run. He has to seize the moment and show voters passion and commitment to a different Waukesha. Not only criticize the mayor, provide an alternative vision. Give the voters a reason and they will elect Reilly in April.
*** The other interesting election from Tuesday is the city attorney race. Chris Wiesmueller came in third, leaving former Doyle-appointed Judge Rick Congdon and local attorney Brian Running.
Running finished a strong second despite a terrible last-minute, completely inaccurate and unethical attack by Wiesmueller. We’ll never know for sure, but the bad publicity probably hurt Wiesmueller’s candidacy.
There will be those that will try to turn this into a Scrima-Congdon ticket versus a Reilly-Running ticket. That would be a mistake given the unique characteristics of the two races.
At stake in the city attorney race is not just the drama and falsehoods of Scrima’s mayoral tenure, of which Congdon played a key role as the chief agent at GuitarTown and the New Day Fund.
Congdon brings additional baggage to the race. A former Waukesha County Democratic Party chairman, he was appointed by Gov. Jim Doyle as a judge. That lasted until the next election when the voters tossed him out.
Congdon is also a recall petition signer, which means the Republican Party will not want to see him elected, any more than they wanted Larry Nelson serving as mayor.(Although some Republicans tell me privately they wish Nelson beat Scrima four years ago.)
For all of Wiesmueller’s flaws, he ran as the “conservative” candidate. It’s very unlikely that his support in the community will suddenly vote for the liberal Democrat Congdon. So while Congdon received the most votes, he actually starts out behind.
Running, on the other hand, is an experienced attorney with no political affiliation. He will bring a fresh perspective to the city attorney’s office at City Hall.
Running will have to work hard to win. Yard signs, as Congdon proved, are not enough. It’s time for Running to take the case directly to the voters. There will be a lot more of them in April.
(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at http://www.wigderson.com and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)