Energy shapes election

Oak Creek sees growing interest

— The petitions have been verified, the candidates are hunkering down for a few weeks of campaigning, and Oak Creek appears ready to elect (or re-elect) its next mayor and Town Board.

Oak Creek Town Clerk Karen Halterman said Friday she verified the town's two mayoral candidate petitions and nine Town Board trustee petitions. The number of candidates appear to reflect a growing interest in Oak Creek politics as the town heads toward its April 4 municipal election.

"This was a really healthy turnout. It's a really good mix," Halterman said.

Although "healthy turnouts" are not necessarily unusual for Oak Creek elections, Halterman said the large number of candidates is a unique representation of new energy and spirit she thinks the town can benefit from.

With the election a little less than four weeks away, candidates are making it known where they stand on key issues and the town's future.

"Some of the newer people to town are taking interest in their town. Their interests seem to be healthy and open. It really just shows how many people have spirit for community involvement," Halterman said. "I think with this election the town has a real opportunity to ensure that we keep moving forward."

Oak Creek Mayor Kathy "Cargo" Rodeman, who is running for re-election against Bill Babcock, agreed that the number and diversity of the candidates are positive signs for the town. She said she's concerned about what direction the town may head if she is not re-elected.

"I think there are two reasons people run for office. Either they have a personal agenda and an axe to grind with the town, or they really like the town and want to serve their community," Rodeman said.

Regardless of who is elected, Rodeman said, she hopes the new face of Oak Creek's Town Board will be able to work together to make the community better.

"My main concern is that (the town) carries through with the projects we're working on now, whether I get re-elected or not," she said.

"I really, really love this town. I plan on dying here. I want everything fixed. I know that if I can get it fixed, it will last until after I die," she said.

Rodeman was referring to a Main Street beautification project, a planned trail system, a dirt bike track and other improvements and projects the town has discussed and approved.

Although many in the town support Rodeman's vision and acknowledge her recent successes, there are plenty who think Oak Creek might not be doing as well as she thinks it is.

Longtime Oak Creek resident Bill Babcock said he thinks the Town Board needs some guidance.

"I backed Cargo for the last two elections, but now I questions some of the things she has done. I have been disappointed in a few things," he said.

Specifically, Babcock thinks the town's spending is out of control, and he is concerned about expending the town's budget.

"There has to be change. The current board has given Cargo carte blanche; she's pretty powerful," he said.

Babcock said he likens himself to the group of Oak Creek residents who populated the town years ago, when it was "cleaner."

"I would say I am one of the Oak Creek people that was here years ago, when the town was taken care of," he said.

"There are some people here who have been around a long time with concerns of the direction the town is going in."

Oak Creek Fire Chief Chuck Wisecup said he is concerned about his town, too, and he thinks changes need to be made.

"I've worked for the town for 20 years," he said last week. "With (former Town Clerk) Nancy Crawford gone and the changes we've had with the treasurer, the board itself and the police department, it seems like the town's continuity has been lost. I still have an interest in this town."

David Bonfiglio has lived and worked in Oak Creek for 11 years, and although he said he may not be the "quintessential" voice for the town, he has noticed a definite change in the atmosphere that he thinks has been met with open arms.

"What says it all to me is that we have nine people running for four (Town Board) positions. We have a new energy for the town as well as an old energy that seems to be rejuvenated. It's really key to the town," he said.

Bonfiglio said that although he has picked up on the recent energy surge, there are those who don't consider it positive.

"That's why I think it's important we have a great cross-section of some people with history and the newer people who might not have the history but have the energy. It's an exciting time. It's culminating in the fact that we have more than double the people running for these positions," he said.

Town Board member Tom Bleuer said he was inspired to run for a four-year term because of the optimistic future he sees for Oak Creek.

Bleuer was appointed to the Town Board several months ago when Halterman stepped down from her position on the board to accept her position as town clerk.

"When Cargo began making the changes she did as mayor, it made me realize that once person can make a difference. I want to support the positive direction the town has gone," he said.

Although Bleuer opted not to comment about any other candidates, he said it seems as though some of the candidates are "coming in attack mode with negative moods."

"In the end, I hope there are four people sitting there -- Cargo included -- with more progressive ideas. I'm hopeful for the future of Oak Creek. This could be an example of how politics should be done," he said.

Dave Fisher has lived in Oak Creek for 6 1/2 years. He recently opened a bike shop and is entering local politics. "I'm not a savior, but I have some ideas. I'm not afraid to open my mouth," he said.

Whether he likes it or not, many Oak Creek residents equate Oak Creek's new energy to Fisher, primarily because he is young and as he said, not afraid to open his mouth.

Fisher said that although he may not always agree with Rodeman, he thinks she has done a lot for the town -- strides he hopes to continue.

"We're definitely going in the right direction. I personally see this as a very pivotal race for the town. There is a wide spectrum of candidates, and that's cool," he said.

Halterman said regardless of who is elected, the objective for the town is to work in a cohesive manner and to do what's best for everyone.

"The truth of it all is that it's a team effort to do what's best for the town. When you serve on the Town Board, you're really representing the entire community."

-- To reach Alexis DeLaCruz, call 871-4234

or e-mail adelacruz@steamboatpilot.com

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