Everybody says it's hard to beat an incumbent. And Tuesday's elections for Madison Common Council proved that to be true -- with one stunning exception.
Tim Bruer, the so-called dean of the Common Council who has served since 1984, was upset by the relatively unknown John Strasser. The Dane County Clerk's Office's unofficial results had Strasser ahead by 904 to 634 votes.
But Strasser said the loss shouldn't have been surprising to anyone familiar with the south-side District 14, where Bruer hasn't had a viable opponent in 18 years.
"It's been so long since anyone has had a chance to say 'no' to him," he said. "I ran a campaign. I spent four months going out talking to people, and people were very fed up with the way they'd been treated by Tim Bruer. People had wanted a change for a while. It was not as steep a hill to climb as people might think."
Bruer could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.
Ald. Mark Clear blamed Bruer's loss on a failure to campaign seriously. "I don't think he ran a very strong campaign. He saw himself as a Bill Proxmire-type figure -- everybody knows me, so I don't have to campaign," Clear said, referring to the former U.S. senator from Wisconsin, who served for 32 years.
Strasser said Bruer did very little campaigning until the last two weeks of the race. "At some point, he realized he was in trouble and he pulled out all the stops, but by then the cake was baked," he said. "There was nothing he was going to do in two weeks to undo what I had done in four months of campaigning."
All other incumbents facing challenges survived. Marsha Rummel easily fended off Scott Thornton with about 70% of the vote on the near east side's District 6. Sue Ellingson beat Zach Madden with 60% on the near west side's District 13. Also surviving challenges were alders Paul Skidmore, Lauren Cnare, Joe Clausius, Matt Phair and Lisa Subeck.
Going into Tuesday, Rummel's race against Thornton seemed to be the biggest wildcard, with many politicos unsure of what would happen. A last-minute negative flier -- mailed by a mysterious political action group -- might have backfired and solidified Rummel's commanding win. Rummel said the results show she's "a very responsible, hands-on alder, despite what I was accused of."
Seven other alders ran unopposed: Mike Verveer, Shiva Bidar-Sielaff, Steve King, Scott Resnick, Chris Schmidt, Anita Weier and Mark Clear.
Although not technically an incumbent, Ald. Larry Palm also won a new seat on the north side. He currently represents a different district because of redistricting. The new District 12 became open when the incumbent, Satya Rhodes-Conway, stepped down.
The most competitive open seat was District 2, now held by Bridget Maniaci and covering parts of downtown and the northeast isthmus. Ledell Zellers eked out a victory over Bryan Post, with 1074 to 998 votes. David Ahrens beat Hawk Sullivan on the east side's District 15 with about 53% of the vote.
Two newcomers had a cakewalk getting on the council. Denise DeMarb and Maurice Cheeks ran unopposed for vacant seats.