Larson says candidates who ousted councilmen took advantage of low turnout in Blues Factory-themed race
Instead of the traditional farewell to fellow aldermen and welcome to incoming officials, Port Washington Ald. Dave Larson used last Wednesday’s Common Council meeting — the day after the April election — to lecture the city’s newest aldermen on their responsibilities.
He singled out aldermen-elect John Sigwart, who defeated incumbent Ald. Dan Becker, the council president, by a vote of 260-98, and Mike Gasper, one of two candidates who ousted incumbent Bill Driscoll in the February primary and who ultimately won the election.
Both Sigwart and Gasper expressed opposition to the proposed Blues Factory development on the city’s lakefront in an election defined by concerns about development.
“I think we all know what issues were behind this election,” Larson added. “If there’s some type of message we’re supposed to be sent here, I don’t see it.
“I think this was a vocal minority that took advantage of a low-turnout election. I think that silent majority is going to become very loud very soon.”
Larson also told the new aldermen, “You’re not one of us. You’re part of this group.”
Larson told Sigwart and Gasper that while they may have won by a substantial margin, they represent all the people in their districts, not just those who oppose development.
“You represent the taxpayers, not the voters,” Larson said.
Sigwart said this week that he was taken aback by Larson’s comments.
“I was disappointed he felt he had to remind me I represent the people of my district. That was insulting,” Sigwart said. “He took a shot across the bow that’s going to be hard to forget.
“I don’t believe what he said was all that terrible, except when he said I was not one of them. I thought that was very bad.”
Gasper said this week that Larson’s comments were “kind of disappointing.”
“It’s not a very welcoming attitude to change on the council,” he said. “You have to roll with it if you’re on the council. There will be different people who come on and you have to work with them.
“If we want to be successful working together, we can’t all hate each other.”
In his speech, Larson also talked about the tone of the campaign, saying some of the rhetoric was “frustrating at best.”
He said he was surprised by the amount of misinformation being circulated, especially at a listening session he attended before the election.
“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” Larson said. “I truly believe they are only hearing what they want to hear.”
Much of the correct information is available, reported in Ozaukee Press and elsewhere, he said.
The outgoing aldermen — Bill Driscoll, Dan Becker and Kevin Rudser — were praised for their service by their fellow officials during the meeting, and they offered their own parting thoughts.
Driscoll said his biggest frustration was that throughout his tenure, few people contacted him to discuss their opinions on issues.
“That’s the one thing I would change,” he said. “I don’t know how to do that.”
He said there was one vote he regretted during his years on the council — not the Blues Factory, he emphasized — adding that he believes history will prove that the council’s decision to sell the north marina slip parking lot for the entertainment complex was the right one.
Becker acknowledged the development controversies, particularly the council’s decision to sell a city-owned lakefront parking lot for the Blues Factory, saying, “At the end of the day, it didn’t really matter what business was proposed for that site. They (development opponents) would have opposed anything on that site. What’s being opposed by many is change.”
Addressing the incoming officials, Becker said, “I ask you to be bold and not only look at the needs of the city today but for generations to come. We need to be forward focused.”
While the city has come a long way in recent years, there’s still plenty of work to be done, he said.
“We need development. We need redevelopment of certain sites in the city,” Becker said. “We can’t allow buildings to stay vacant for 20-plus years.”