Conflict in Lake Geneva: Chesen and Condos
It was evident during their bitter 2008 campaign for mayor.
It was clear at city meetings.
And it remains obvious as one man prepares to leave the local political spotlight and the other again campaigns for a seat on the city council.
Chesen and Condos this fall were at the center of a heated battle that divided the city and put government at a near standstill for more than two months. The Gazette talked to both men about themselves and about each other.
Chesen and Condos have more in common than they might like to admit:
-- Both were raised in the area.
Chesen grew up in Pell Lake, and his family was in the construction business.
Condos grew up in Lake Geneva, and his family was in the restaurant business.
-- Both graduated in the same class at Badger High School, although they ran in different social circles.
Chesen hung out with the band kids; he played string bass and drums.
Condos hung out with the jocks; he played football, basketball and tennis.
-- Both pursued careers in law enforcement.
Chesen worked 32 years for the Racine Police Department and the Racine County Metro Drug Unit and now is a part-time officer for the Waterford Police Department.
Condos worked for eight years as a part-time patrolman for the Lake Geneva Police Department and volunteered for 12 years for the Lake Geneva Fire Department. He now owns and operates the Harborside Café downtown.
Despite what they share, Chesen and Condos appear diametrically opposed.
Chesen said he has a hard time pinpointing why they don’t get along.
“Philosophically, I don’t think we’re that far apart when it comes to what’s best for the city,” he said. “So I don’t know what it is. I don’t hate him. But I’m guessing they (Condos and his supporters) hate me.”
Condos said he knows exactly why they clash.
“He has no respect for anybody. Even if you disagree, you treat people with respect; it’s not personal,” he said. “But he takes everything personally. And he doesn’t like anybody who disagrees with him.”
Chesen and Condos entered local politics under similar circumstances: Condos was approached by longtime city council members, and Chesen was appointed by the mayor.
Condos was elected alderman and served from 1985 to 1988.
“I saw things that weren’t right,” he said of his foray into city government. “I started trouble right from the start.
“I always called a spade a spade. And that’s not always good. I don’t have a following where they like me a little, but … or they agree with me a little, but … I’m either red or black because I call it like it is.”
Condos was elected mayor—the youngest in city history at age 32—and served from 1988 to 1992 and from 1998 to 2001, when he lost his seat in a recall election.
Chesen was appointed to a vacant seat in 2004. He was elected and served from 2005 to 2008.
“I really and truly did believe that at the very least I could have a minor impact in making things better,” Chesen said. “I’m certainly not crazy enough to think I was going to make some major changes … but I really did hope and I really did think that I could bring some new ideas and some new methods to the city.”
Chesen and Condos squared off in the race for mayor in 2008—perhaps the nastiest campaign in the city’s history and maybe the origin of their dislike for each other.
Chesen said the mudslinging started with Condos—and it got personal.
“The things that were said about me and the lies about me … the campaign went from being fun to being arduous,” he said.
Chesen said his victory only fueled the fire in Condos and his supports.
“I don’t know what I’ve ever done to offend him, and I’m sorry for it whatever it was. I hope we can both get over it,” he said. “But I’m just another one of the people on his list.”
Condos said little about the political and personal attacks. He said only that he and Chesen are very different people.
“I tell it like it is,” he said. “My heart is with the city. I have no personal interest. I do what’s right for the people,” he said. “But Bill Chesen is, ‘What I can do for my buddies.’ I’m a public servant; he’s a self servant.
“I wish I could say something nice (about him).”
Center of the storm
Festering conflict in city politics came to a head this fall—and Chesen and Condos were at the center.
Chesen and council members Mary Jo Fesenmaier, Arleen Krohn, Penny Roehrer and Tom Spellman were at opposite ends of a tug-of-war as they sought to appoint a replacement for Alderman Gary Dunham, who resigned from the city council in early August.
Chesen claimed the council members made “back-door deals” to appoint Condos, who took the vacant seat in late August. The council members denied making any such pact.
Chesen in mid-September suspended Fesenmaier, Krohn, Roehrer and Spellman, accusing them of misconduct and violating the open meetings law. The council members tried several times to get the charges against them dismissed.
The battle raged for more than two months. But the mayor and the council members—after the intervention of a judge—reached an agreement in late November: Chesen would drop the charges against Fesenmaier, Krohn, Roehrer and Spellman if Condos would resign from the city council. Both sides carried out the deal, and things were (almost) back to normal in Lake Geneva.
Condos said the council members were doing what they thought was right for the city.
“I know these people. They’re not that way. They care about the city,” he said. “They didn’t do anything wrong.”
Condos thinks Chesen should have let the authorities determine if the council members acted in violation of the law.
“He should have turned it over to the district attorney’s office,” he said. “It’s not his job to be judge, jury and executioner.”
Chesen admits he could have reacted differently but maintains he did what he felt he had to do.
“The only regret I have is that I wasn’t a better chess player,” he said. “They broke the law. They violated the trust of the community. They made deals behind closed doors and needed to be held accountable. … I had a job to do here. And I did it.”
Chesen knows the cost of his actions.
“It was the end of my political career,” he said. “But I’m not unhappy about that. It’s time for someone else to take their turn. …
“But I’m sad that there still are a lot of people in this community who look to the city council for help on issues, and I’m not going to be one of those people they can turn to.”
Chesen might be done with local politics, but Condos again is seeking office. He is challenging Alderman Todd Krause in the 1st District.
But the conflict isn’t over.
Condos on Monday filed a letter with the city attorney indicating he intends to rescind his resignation from the council. He claims Chesen reneged on their court-brokered agreement because the sheriff’s office continues to investigate Fesenmaier, Krohn, Roehrer and Spellman on allegations of open meetings law violations.
Chesen said he held up his end of the bargain by writing a letter withdrawing his charges against the council members. He said he did not ask the sheriff’s office to continue investigating the case.
But Condos insists Chesen just can’t play by the rules.
“If he was going to drop the charges, he should have taken back his complaint, too. It all would have been over. But he didn’t,” he said.
“And that goes against the agreement. … I want my seat back.”