Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk may run unopposed again. Falk, who last week announced her bid for re-election next April, had no opponent in 2005 either. Area conservatives are searching for someone willing to take on the three-term incumbent.
"I think some of us are still a bit surprised she's running again," says Phil Salkin, a former County Board supervisor. "A lot of us were expecting a different cast of characters."
Salkin says it's easier to find people willing to run for an open seat. Falk is a well-liked incumbent, first elected in 1997, with a war chest of nearly $100,000. "It's going to be hard to unseat her," says Salkin. "I don't see who else is out there who could raise that kind of money or overcome the advantage of long-term incumbency."
Supv. Dave Wiganowsky says at least four candidates were willing to run if Falk stepped down, but he doesn't know if they'll run now. Wiganowsky, who himself challenged Falk in 2001, is not running either. "Not unless I get some more psychiatric treatment," he jokes, adding, "I disagree with her politics totally, but obviously the people of Dane County seem to like what she does."
Salkin says he's been asked to run, but isn't interested. Fitchburg Mayor Tom Clauder, who planned to vie for Falk's seat in 2006 if she won attorney general, is still pondering: "These are big decisions."
Mark Bugher, director of the University Research Park, has also been approached. "I've had a lot of inquiries about it," he says. But it's not his intent: "I've got a real exciting job here. I don't need to run for elected office now or ever."
Conservatives do see some chinks in Falk's armor. The 911 debacle, says Salkin, "was a fairly major assault on Kathleen's management skills. There's a feeling that Kathleen has been far more bruised than she ever was before."
Despite the 911 Center's numerous problems, Falk defended her choice as its director, Joe Norwick, until he resigned last week. Wiganowsky thinks Falk pushed Norwick out to ease her re-election: "She wanted that off her back." (Falk has denied asking Norwick to resign.)
Candidates have until Jan. 6 to file papers. Salkin says conservatives are looking, but "Running against a well-heeled candidate - that's not something you do lightly."
Igor offered new leash on life
Alliance for Animals wants to save Igor. The 130-pound bull mastiff killed a small dog at the Middleton Dog Park last month, and a judge will soon determine if he should be put down. The Middleton City Council recently recommended that Igor, who has a history of biting people and other dogs, be euthanized.
But Lynn Pauly, head of the local Alliance for Animals, thinks Igor could be rehabilitated - if he was taken away from his owner, Gary Lohrke. Pauly says Lohrke recklessly allowed Igor to run free in the park: "The fact that they're going to punish the dog for the irresponsibility of his guardian bothers me."
One of the group's members has offered to pay for Igor's transportation to the Best Friends Sanctuary in Utah, the same facility that is rehabilitating 22 pit bulls seized from former NFL star Michael Vick. "They do wonders with them," says Pauly. "Those were fighting dogs."
Pauly is writing a letter to the judge and to Lohrke to ask if an agreement can be worked out. "I feel horrible for the dog that was killed," she says. "It just breaks my heart that Igor will have to pay for it."
Making them pay
The Madison Common Council is considering a proposal to change the way the city collects fees for maintaining the Capitol Square and State Street. Under the current formula, downtown property owners pay a special charge, depending on their square footage and the amount of frontage they have on the Square or State Street. The fund pays for things like snow plowing and sidewalk cleaning.
But some property owners on adjacent streets were paying the extra fee, even if they didn't get services.
"We heard a lot from property owners," says Mary Carbine, head of the Business Improvement District. "They did not like that."
Under the new proposal, 47 property owners that didn't get services before will no longer have to pay. Other parcels will start receiving services, for which they will be charged. The change results in an increase in costs for some property owners. For example, for Isthmus newspaper, on the Square, the formula change would hike the fee for 2008 from $413 to nearly $1,400.
Carbine says some of the cost variance is due to the amount of services needed. "We had a record 100 inches of snowfall," she says. "The budget this year was different from a budget in a mild winter."
But because some businesses will be getting a break, "There are different perspectives on this," says Carbine, adding that the council will hold a public hearing on the proposal. "I'm sure there will be a good discussion."
Time is on their side
The Dane County Timebank is close to signing a lease with the city of Madison for a vacant apartment on Allied Drive. The timebank would pay the city $1 for the space, which it wants for its first retail store. Residents could earn credit by volunteering, then spend the "time dollars" on groceries, clothing and other items ("Timebank Idea Travels to Allied Drive," 7/31/08).
"It's not a done deal yet, but it's moving forward," says Stephanie Rearick, head of the Dane County Timebank.
The city was initially wary of letting the Timebank use the vacant apartment, since the building is scheduled for demolition next summer as part of Allied's redevelopment. Mayor Dave Cieslewicz also didn't want other groups to think they could get the same deal.
"He was concerned about setting a precedent for a neighborhood association or nonprofit using space like this, essentially for free," says Rachel Strauch-Nelson, the mayor's spokeswoman. But she says the mayor reviewed the proposal and decided it would benefit the neighborhood. "It's clear this is where they want to be, so we're working with them."
Rearick hopes to open a store by Oct. 30, and thinks having even a temporary site works great. "It's a pilot program," she says. "It's a great opportunity to work out the kinks before making a big investment."
Will drugs fill the void?
No condos yet, but there is at least one proposal to build something on the east side's vacant Union Corners lot. At a neighborhood meeting next week, CVS will propose building a pharmacy on the corner of Milwaukee Street and East Washington Avenue.
Ald. Marsha Rummel says a chain store was not what the neighborhood expected. McGrath Associates originally planned a mixed-use development, with condos, offices and possibly a grocery store. But the stagnant housing market has put the condo plans on hold, and the site has been vacant for nearly two years.
"I have to keep an open mind, but it doesn't really fit the vision for Union Corners," says Rummel. She wonders whether the neighborhood will support a CVS store, especially when there's a Walgreens just up the street. Still, "Something happening there belies people's worries that nothing will happen there."
The neighborhood meeting is Monday, Sept. 15, at 7:30 p.m. at Holy Cross Lutheran Church.