Thursday, April 05, 2007

For Becker, political weight plus luck equals free pass

A recent article in the Racine Journal Times which was written by Mike Moore, who I think will end up being one of the premier journalists here in Racine, if he is not the best already:
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Call Gary Becker a lightweight and he’ll probably take it as a compliment.When no opponent showed up to challenge his re-election as Racine’s mayor, Becker took the extra time he’d set aside for campaigning and devoted it to exercise. Before Tuesday’s workout, he was down 22 pounds.But election day brought a more telling measurement than waistline.

The city’s first uncontested mayoral race in my memory begs the question: Has the guy earned the title of political heavyweight?
Some of the local officials whose candidacy never got beyond the rumor stage think so.

There were other reasons to stay away. Alderman Greg Helding didn’t think he was ready. County Board Supervisor Ken Lumpkin doubts he could compile the cash to compete. The county’s Republican party crossed everyone off its wish list because family and jobs took priority.The one thing they agreed on was they’d have to overcome Becker’s popularity.“Right now, there’s not really this groundswell of ‘Let’s get this bum outta here,’” Helding said.

They tipped their caps to the mayor in his first four years, for things like building Downtown’s momentum; trying to revive neighborhoods; and sewing up the soap-opera-like rift with the Police Department.Wait, do we have the right address?

Is this still politics, where enemies are born with a single memo?Usually in a race that decides the top spot for a whole city, one or two others will trot out to the start line. That’s Democracy 101.Occasionally, experience exposes a flaw in that textbook.

If they know ahead of time they’re toast, maybe those token candidates aren’t the best use of everybody’s time or money.And apparently the mayor’s blunt style has won over enough to offset the people he’s honked off.“I’m amazed that nobody did run against him,” said Alderman Pete Karas, whose health problems stopped him short of even weighing the option to run. “Any mayor is going to upset some people.”

OK, Becker does figure he had one thing on his side other than popular support.“You also have to just get a little bit lucky,” he said.Meaning maybe a viable contender exists but the time’s not right to jump in, as Racine County Republican Party chairman Scott Rausch indicated. Or maybe a person’s scared off by the sitting mayor’s ability to raise campaign cash.“And I’m willing to take either one,” Becker said.

Here’s the fine print: The free pass only gets him to the gate of a second term, no further.“I hope he doesn’t see that as a mandate because nobody ran against him, that he can sit back and relax,” Lumpkin said.He can’t, as long as Racine sits high on the list in all the wrong categories like unemployment and teen pregnancy.
Or with the memory of the city’s deadly 2005 still visible in the rear-view mirror.In his office Tuesday, Becker looked ahead to sprucing up Uptown and increasing home ownership in the city’s neighborhoods. He touted the expansion of smaller companies and stressed the need for workers to update their skills, while admitting he hasn’t yet nailed down the “headline-grabber employer.”
Then he headed off to the gym to shear off some more mayoral girth. He’s got four years to convince voters the scale should remain tipped in his favor.

Mike Moore can be reached at (262) 631-1724 or mike.moore@lee.net
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