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Milton residents looking for a change

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Stacy Vogel
April 10, 2009
— “It’s just good to have a change.”

That was the response of one Milton woman to challenger Tom Chesmore’s victory in Tuesday’s mayoral election, but it summarized the feelings of many residents interviewed Wednesday.


Chesmore, a three-year city council member, defeated 10-year Mayor Nate Bruce by 15 votes. It was Bruce’s first challenge since he ran a write-in campaign to win the office in 1999.


Though the vote was close, most of the people interviewed Wednesday said they were excited to see a new mayor. Several said Bruce did a good job but the city needs new blood.


“We just need some fresh ideas,” said Becky, a 54-year-old woman.


This being a small town, few were willing to be fully identified when talking of local politics, so some people will be identified by first name only.


Chesmore and Bruce offer contrasting characters. Bruce, 74, is a retired principal with a calm, scholarly manner. Chesmore, 50, is a mechanic and former firefighter who tends to speak passionately and directly.


Carla Herbst, 49, owner of Books & Brew, said it will be interesting to see a younger mayor in action.


“It’s kind of nice to have a … younger person with new ideas,” she said.


A few people mentioned specific qualms they had with Bruce. Some said they were upset about the city’s handling of the United Ethanol plant. An appeals court ruled the city violated Wisconsin’s Open Meetings Law when it met in closed session with plant officials in 2004 and 2005.


“If that had not occurred, if things had been done properly … I think he’d still be sitting in the mayoral seat,” said John, 57.


Others said Bruce relied too much on city staff, particularly City Administrator Todd Schmidt.


But many listed no specific issues, just a desire for change.


“I think we need to change, and I think we need to support whoever’s in the office,” said Joan, a senior citizen. “(Bruce) has been in for quite a while.”


That doesn’t surprise Dan Thompson, executive director of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities.


“Typically folks don’t engage in mathematical calculations when it comes time to cast a vote,” he said. “They trust their sense of feeling. It’s more of an intuitive judgment.”


He estimated local elected officials stay in office an average of five years, whether that’s by choice or by election results.


He said after carefully watching municipal politics for 35 years, he still doesn’t know why people vote the way they do in most cases.


“It’s democracy,” he said. “People don’t have to explain why they vote the way they do.”


Of course, 49 percent of the voters Tuesday chose Bruce. Barbara Johnson, 83, said Wednesday she was sorry to see Bruce leave office.


“He just seems like a nice guy,” she said.



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