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Winds of change sweep through City Hall


Publication: Waukesha Freeman (Conley); Date: Apr 8, 2010; Section: Opinion; Page: 10A

Winds of change sweep through City Hall

Several factors worked against Nelson

(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.) (Editor’s note: Regarding the alleged hanging up on a reporter, Scrima has claimed the disconnection was involuntary due to a phone malfunction.)

The other day, my wife, the lovely Doreen from Waukesha, said to me, “Do you know what day it is?” I panicked for a moment. I’m pretty good at remembering our wedding anniversary, the day we met, and her birthday. “No,” I confessed. “Is it the first day of spring?” “We closed on the house 10 years ago today,” she said. “Really?” I replied, suddenly relieved. “That long?” Ten years ago I became a resident of Waukesha. I left Milwaukee County a poor refugee escaping higher taxes, silly politics, high crime, poor schools and Democrats running everything. Of course, Democrats running everything may explain the rest.

Prior to moving to Waukesha County, it was hard to avoid voting for a Democrat for public office. With the exception of County Executive Scott Walker, Milwaukee County is largely one-party rule.

Moving to Waukesha was a breath of fresh air. Now I was offered a choice of different flavors of Republicanism.

That is why it always was so odd that the city of Waukesha had a Democratic mayor, especially one so blatantly partisan. But we knew what we were getting with Larry Nelson four years ago. If anything, we got better than we deserved.

Nelson was a pro-business-growth mayor. He aggressively sought new opportunities for business growth in the city.

Some have argued that the growth would have occurred with or without Nelson. Even if you accept the premise that Nelson was not responsible for the business growth, you would have to concede he did not impede it, either.

In the last two years with City Administrator Lori Luther, Nelson managed to hold the line on city spending. Two years ago, I even suggested Nelson could have passed himself off as a Republican when the budget was introduced. The Common Council will vote today on new contracts with city employees with wage and benefit concessions, not typical of a Democratic mayor.

But Nelson’s personal style (which he finally recognized as an issue too late), crime, the water issue, his support of regional transit, the Frame Park stadium, continued bad news about The Clarke Hotel – all conspired against Nelson.

The most important issue of the race was the rejection of Nelson’s Democratic Party affiliation. Four years ago, voters chose Nelson largely in disgust with the Republican Party. His opponent was a Republican state representative who was forced to defend her party’s failures in the Legislature.

Now Nelson is the victim of the change in sentiment toward his party. Hope and change have not worked out the way Democrats planned.

Nelson’s victory four years ago was a bellwether for Democratic victories in the fall. Republicans will probably look at Nelson’s loss the same way.

Meanwhile, Jeff Scrima is the mayorelect. Scrima campaigned in part on a promise of openness in government. However, his relationship with the media (including me) was a bit contentious.

If Scrima is to keep his promise of openness, he is going to have to learn not to attack the media when they report what he says even if it embarrasses him later. He is also going to need to not hang up on reporters when they ask him legitimate questions, such as when a reporter for The Freeman asked him about a campaign contribution.

Whatever Nelson’s flaws, he always was cooperative with any inquiry. I’ve often joked privately that there could be no secrets left in City Hall because Nelson would have offered to Xerox them for me by now.

Either way, the next four years promise to provide plenty to write about. When Scrima does well, he’ll receive praise from this corner, and when he screws up, he’ll receive fair criticism.

If Scrima doubts my word on that, he can ask his predecessor.

I wonder how Mayor-elect Scrima will react when callers to Sound Off start kicking him around.


Update! “Editor’s note: Regarding the alleged hanging up on a reporter, Scrima has claimed the disconnection was involuntary due to a phone malfunction.”

I have since learned Scrima never called the reporter back after the “phone malfunction.” -JW

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