Mayoral candidates will make their case

Incumbent faces 2 challengers in forum Tuesday

Shawano’s three mayoral candidates have been out making their pitch to voters ahead of the Feb. 20 primary race, but before that vote takes place they will gather for a public forum where they each will make their case face-to-face with their opponents.

The candidates will express their views, present their positions and face questions Tuesday in the LGI room at Shawano Community Middle School, 1050 S. Union St. The event is free and is scheduled to run from 7-8:30 p.m.

Incumbent Mayor Jeanne Cronce is seeking a second two-year term against challengers Jim Oberstein, a retired businessman, and Ed Whealon, retired Shawano police chief.

Cronce has been out in the community making the case for continuing the work and completing the projects that have been started over the last two years.

“We want to continue growth by supporting the businesses we have while trying to attract new business,” she said.

Cronce said she also wants to address the perception among some in the community that the city is not supportive of business.

“I want to meet with business people who feel the city is not business-friendly, which is not true,” she said. “I want to know their specific concerns so we can alleviate that perception.”

Oberstein said business development is at the top of the list of his priorities, with a particular emphasis on the downtown.

“We need to revitalizing the downtown,” he said. “We’ve got to address the empty buildings.”

Also of concern is the city’s level of debt and taxation.

“We have to be careful of spending and borrowing,” he said.

Whealon expressed similar concerns about the city’s budget and its spending, as well as the number of Tax Incremental Finance districts the city has established.

TIF districts are areas where municipalities invest in infrastructure, such as sewer and water, to attract development where it might not otherwise occur, make improvements, or provide financial incentives to developers.

Whatever increase in tax revenue that results from development in those districts goes to paying back the debt the municipality incurred to make improvements or provide incentives rather than going to the tax base.

Whealon highlighted his experience with budgeting as a longtime business owner in the community and his familiarity with the city budget gained during his tenure as chief of police.

“I bring a lot of positives to the table, like leadership,” he said. “I’m not afraid to tackle tough issues.”

What each of the candidates say they’re hearing from voters seems to conform with the message each of them are pitching.

“They’re liking that the city is moving forward,” Cronce said. “They’re thrilled with the parks — the splash pad, Franklin Park. They’re happy with the work of the downtown steering committee. People are excited that things are moving now.”

Cronce said people are also happy with progress of the Redevelopment Authority as it works to address vacant and blighted properties, particularly downtown.

“But they understand it’s a slow-moving, legal process,” she said.

The feedback Oberstein said he’s hearing is a little more negative.

“Spending and taxes is the overall theme,” he said. “They say the city is spending money faster than they can make it.”

He said people he has spoken with are also concerned about the $1.85 million parks expansion.

“Most are concerned about the amount of spending on the parks,” he said. “It could have been spread out over a few years instead of being done all at once.”

Whealon said he is hearing similar financial concerns.

“They’re concerned with the budget, with taxes. We just had the largest tax increase in the city’s history,” he said. “On top of that, the city was contemplating a wheel tax. It’s too much.”

Whealon also said city residents want to see development, in housing, business and the industrial sector.

“We need to look at all areas of development,” he said. “The city is poised to grow. We have a lot to offer.”

The candidates will have a chance to argue all those points, or even rebut them, at Tuesday’s forum.

The 2018 Shawano Mayoral Candidates Forum is being presented by The Shawano Leader, WTCH Radio and the Shawano Country Chamber of Commerce.

The two top vote-getters in the Feb. 20 primary will face off in the city’s general election on April 3.

Cronce and Oberstein faced off in the last Shawano mayoral general election in 2016 when Cronce edged Oberstein 1,434 to 1,290.

Whealon’s campaign for the city’s chief executive post marks his first foray into politics. Whealon retired as the city’s police chief in 2014 following a 34-year career with the police force, the last 12 serving as the city’s top law enforcement officer.