Janesville46°

Primary will whittle field to six

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MARCIA A. NELESEN
January 8, 2008
— Will a primary election give Janesville residents a better chance to know the candidates, or is it an attempt by the sitting council to marginalize “fringe” candidates?

A Tuesday, Feb. 19, primary will narrow the field from 11 to six, the council decided Monday night.


No incumbents are seeking re-election. Three seats are open.


Candidates and interested residents gathered in council chambers Monday, and President George Brunner allowed those who wished to speak. Council member Tim Wellnitz was absent.


The council has rarely, if ever, held a primary, even when 10 candidates ran for four open seats in 2001. Statutes allow councils to make the decision.


One resident who spoke said he believed a primary would change the rules in the middle of the game. But candidate David Henke said the city clerk told him in their first conversation that a primary could be possible with more than six candidates.


An editorial in The Janesville Gazette on Sunday urged the council to hold a primary to foil any fringe candidates who belong to the Citizen Association for Rights and Dignity. Supporters of CARD might pool their votes in the general election to elect those candidates, overcoming votes thinly spread among others on the ballot, according to the editorial.


Candidate K. Andreah Briarmoon, who founded CARD, said her candidacy is being labeled as fringe because she dares to challenge the administration. The editorial made it clear that a primary would be unfair for her, she said.


“We need a fair election, and we need an authentic campaign of all 11 candidates on April 1,” she said.


Candidate Billy McCoy, too, urged the council to forgo a primary. He has been associated with Briarmoon in the past. He worried that fewer residents would vote in the primary.


Joyce Shea, Janesville, said she would like to see all the candidates on the April ballot. A February primary would not give residents enough time to know the candidates, she said.


But candidate Yuri Rashkin requested a primary, agreeing that not having a primary would help fringe candidates.


“I don’t think that’s in the best interest of the citizens,” he said.


The city has a “deep pool of qualified candidates,” Rashkin said. “The citizens of Janesville deserve a right to get to know the candidates as well as possible. I think having 11 candidates in a debate would not be a helpful number. You wouldn’t remember what a candidate had to say.”


Councilmember Russ Steeber said he doesn’t look at a primary as a way of weeding out people.


Rather, those candidates remaining “are the people we choose (who) we want to know more about in the long run,” he said.


Everyone has the same opportunities in the primary to have their voices heard and to garner support, he said.


“From my standpoint, it’s democracy in action. I think it serves citizens better in the long run rather than a crowded forum with little ability to get to know anyone.”


Council member Bill Truman remembered sitting at crowded forums during long nights when he ran with eight candidates last year.


“I think the six candidates will get a better understanding,” Truman said.


Truman noted that he is a truck driver living in the Fourth Ward.


“You can’t say you’ll ‘weed out’ candidates because I was that underdog last year,” he said.



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