Who should lead Waukesha through next four years?

Published on: 2/25/2014

With less than five weeks before residents will go to the polls for the mayoral general election, voters must decide who they want to lead the City of Waukesha in the next four years: Shawn Reilly or Jeff Scrima.

Voters spoke four years ago, saying they wanted a change and voting out first-term mayor Larry Nelson in favor of Scrima.

Will voters make Scrima a one-term mayor as well and select Reilly, a longtime attorney and a strong community volunteer who was formerly the Business Improvement District president, as the city's new representative?

If the primary is any indication, Reilly, who upended the incumbent Scrima for first place last week, is off to a good start.

"The voters have sent a clear message for change," Reilly said. "I am humbled that there are so many that believe in me and want me to be Waukesha's next mayor. I think voters have indicated that they're not happy with Mayor Scrima. Otherwise he would have received much more of a vote in the primary. It's unusual for an incumbent not to be No. 1 in the primary."

A day after the primary, Scrima wouldn't publicly say he is worried heading into the general election.

"Similar to what we've seen on the Olympics is that the good news is we made the finals," Scrima said. "And the results of the semifinals do not necessarily determine who wins the race in the end."

But the results show that Scrima has work to do if he wants to earn another term and keep his mayoral seat.

Reilly received 35 percent of the vote in the primary. When combined with the other candidates, 67 percent voted against Scrima.

It's a change from when Scrima easily won the primary in 2010 by 9 percentage points and dominated the general election with almost 60 percent of the vote.

Terry Thieme, who finished third in the primary after a strong campaign, is putting his support behind Reilly. Fourth-place finisher Mike Volpano is also supporting Reilly.

"It's very advantageous for me," Reilly said of receiving their support. "But I have a lot of work to do. There's going to be more voters in the general election than there were in primary. I still have a lot of voters to convince, and even though it's good being ahead, you can't take anything for granted."

If all of Thieme's voters now turn to Reilly, does that worry Scrima?

"We are optimistic," Scrima said. "We would encourage all voters to simply look at what affects them on a day-to-day, month-to-month basis, and during my term we've delivered proven results. We've provided better tax relief and value. We're no longer heading toward Milwaukee, we're heading toward Oak Creek for water. We more than doubled our investment in roads. We created 700 family-supporting jobs, and we're growing our community front-porch events.

"We trust the voters that they want to see that continue."

Reilly has criticized Scrima on many issues during the primary, including Scrima taking credit for the city's water deal with Oak Creek, the mayor's relationship with the former city administrator, the way Scrima handled the BID disbanding, a lack of transparency in the mayor's office, clashing with the Common Council and for Scrima's decision not to attend President Barack Obama's visit to Waukesha last month.

If elected, Reilly is looking at holding quarterly meetings with business leaders in the city after creating a business advisory board, having city documents aldermen receive as part of their packets available to the public online, instituting a compliance program for unkept properties that are being sold, working more collaboratively with Waukesha County and working toward a AAA bond rating for the city.

"(Scrima) is taking credit for things he had very little involvement in," Reilly said. "As for (some of) the jobs, all the hard work (getting them approved) happened before he was mayor. You shouldn't claim credit for things you inherited. If he had been involved in the budget and worked with the Common Council in crafting the budget it would be fine. But he didn't work with the Common Council. He did three last-minute vetoes that were surprises to the Common Council and then they had to scramble.

"Waukesha residents have repeatedly told me that they are tired of the focus being on the mayor's behavior and not on the city. My vision for the city is one without drama, one where all of City Hall works together and one where faith is restored in the mayor's office."

Scrima replied by saying, "for every action there's a reaction."

"Our opponent is slinging mud as a means to distract voters because he does not have a positive record of his own," Scrima said.

When asked what he meant by Reilly's 'record,' Scrima simply replied: "As the old saying goes, those who throw dirt lose ground," he added. "The Scrima campaign is above that. And we will continue to focus on what matters most to our citizens, and that's delivering proven results."

Reilly, however, responded saying that "if (Scrima) wants to deny the issues, that the issues didn't happen then he should do that. We're not slinging mud. The drama has occurred."

Scrima would not directly say whether he regrets not attending Obama's visit to the General Electric Gas Engines manufacturing facility or whether he thinks that decision hurt him in the primary election.

"When we look back on each of our lives, we can look back on something we wish we would have done differently or words we would have said differently," Scrima said. "However, when the citizens elected me four years ago they wanted a nonpartisan mayor. So I have not accepted invitations from Madison or Washington."

Scrima said "I respect that people have other opinions, and we can look back on our lives and think of something we'd do differently."

Reilly said he would have attended Obama's visit.

"The mayor needs to be there," Reilly said. "There is a big difference in a campaign stop and showcasing a business. If the president was coming here to showcase one of largest employers, I would be there."

At a glance

What: City of Waukesha Mayoral Debate

Who: Jeff Scrima and Shawn Reilly

When: 7 to 8 p.m. Monday

Where: University of Wisconsin-Waukesha Northview Building, Room N133, 1500 N. University Drive

Info.: The debate is open to the public and doesn't require registration. The debate will be moderated by Joseph Foy, UW-Waukesha associate campus dean and associate professor of political science. Parking is available in any lot on campus or on the street (parking restrictions end at 4 p.m. in all campus lots).

Questions: Attendees will be able to submit written questions during the debate and questions may be submitted in advance by emailing them to alliance@waukesha.org.