OPINION: Doubling Down on Village Hall
On a cold and rainy night this week, five candidates for the Greendale Village Board gathered at Greendale High School to answer voter questions in the candidate forum.
The crowd was almost exactly the same size as the school board candidate forum a week earlier. If attendance were being taken, you would placing a checkmark against many of the same names at both forums. I didn’t hear any major flubs — this time — as candidates fielded questions about a school district parking lot at 84th and Grange, improvements at Scout Lake and the Industrial Loop, economic development and their thoughts on a referendum to remove voting from the schools.
No one was talking about high rise condos at Scout Lake, but there was discussion about a beer garden or a restaurant. And, I heard that flooding on the 60th Street access to Scout Lake is a concern for many.
Some have proposed a bridge or other solution. The land is owned by Milwaukee County and they have been dragging their heels for years. Apparently, it isn’t a priority for County Executive Chris Abele or our County Board Supervisor Anthony Staskunas. No one at the forum seemed to have a good answer.
On this year’s hot button issue, they were asked about a voter referendum on removing polling from schools. The candidate consensus was that a referendum should be a last resort and more dialog was needed with stakeholders. But, no one ruled it out.
There was much talk of joint meetings between the Village and School boards. Such meetings are rather like unicorns. People talk about them, but they are rarely seen. One was held was a couple of years ago and it resulted in the school board bringing forward their ill-conceived plan to unilaterally put a stop to voting in school buildings.
I also heard ideas on how to save money on buying road salt and the candidates explained how they would read and review a contract. Exciting stuff.
The reality is the forums will have had minimal impact on how people actually vote on April 5. As one community insider said at the forum, “There are probably less than ten people in this room who haven’t already made up their minds.”
That doesn’t mean this April’s election won’t be interesting.
If you didn’t know, there will be two Village board races on election day. One race will see incumbents Ron Barbian and Carl Genz facing off against first-time candidates Brian Schuk and Rich Busalacchi for a three year seat. The second contest pits incumbent Bill Kewan against Busalacchi again for a one year term.
The “double down” is a rare and bold political move by Busalacchi and I’ve even heard some call it “greedy”. However, it wouldn’t be the first time a Village board candidate has attempted it — its just been a while. If successful twice on April 5, Busalacchi will have knocked off two incumbents and could become something of a king-maker in Greendale. It wouldn’t be surprising if he had his sights set higher than just Village trustee (think Village president).
Busalacchi has been campaigning furiously to create an Election Day juggernaut. He’s raised and spent a small fortune (by Greendale election standards) to secure a seat and has worked hard to build a coalition of school supporters, Lions Club members, scouting and band parents among others. I know the recent Lions Club Pancake Breakfast/Spring Fling event last weekend often looked and felt like a Busalacchi campaign rally.
In his opening remarks at the forum, Kewan took aim at Busalacchi saying, “Look beyond the bells and whistles and slick advertising and ask, what’s broken that needs fixing?”
It is a fair question. It is hard to argue that Barbian, Kewan and Genz have not been good stewards of our community. However, in last April’s Village board election, an unknown Lauren Kitner didn’t campaign, do an interview, participate in the voter forum or hand out a single campaign flyer and still earned 830 votes against Sally Chadwick and Al Sikorski (two long-time incumbents).
Both Busalacchi and Schuk are considered by some to be “school board” candidates. Schuck — who won the coveted first place slot on the ballot — does appear to have the support of some Highland View families. Busalacchi boasts a litany of endorsements school insiders from Joe Crapitto to Judy Fons to school board candidate Melanie Kuzmanovic. And, I’ve heard that school board candidate Tom Slota has a Bill Kewan campaign sign in his yard.
However, as most astute observers know, you can’t win an election in Greendale on the backs of school families alone — there just isn’t enough of them to make a majority. The school board might make note of that when planning for any referendum. Privately, I have heard more than one person lament that Busalacchi didn’t run for school board, saying that’s where the real help is actually needed.
So, what happens if he actually wins twice on election day? He can’t hold both seats — he’d have to pick — if it were me, I’d take the three year term. That leaves an open a one year seat that could be filled with another appointment, put on the November ballot or left open until April of 2017.
I am making one bold election day prediction: Municipal Judge Mark Kapocius will easily cruise to re-election as he is again running unopposed. In other Village races, incumbents typically have the advantage and I will be curious to see how the Presidential primaries drive turnout on election day. Greendale trends conservative and I wonder if the community will go for Donald, Bernie, Ted or Hillary? Soon, we will find out which candidates do well and who lays an egg.
Happy Easter Greendale!
A Parting Gif…
Image Source: Bloomberg