After serving four years as an Alderman in Racine, what is the biggest force in your pursuit to run for another term?
When I first ran for office, I believed I could make a difference bringing new ideas and balance to the City Council. The feedback I have received and my instincts have told me that I have made that difference. I wish to continue to serve the people of the ninth district, the City of Racine, and also be an advocate with other governmental bodies and decision makers on behalf of the people of the City, as evidenced by my frequent testimony and communications to the State and County levels.
I have lived in the City of Racine my entire life and at my home in the ninth district for 20 years. As I intend to spend the rest of my life here, I want to contribute as a public servant so that I and my fellow residents are able to thrive and feel secure in the city we call home. I believe that my often out-spoken voice on the issues that are most important in Racine – jobs, taxes, and crime – have been heard by the people of Racine and elsewhere and that my words and actions have, and will continue to, better Racine and stimulate discussion on important issues.
What do you consider your biggest accomplishment/success as Alderman?
Of course, to the people of my district directly, I feel I have gone above and beyond what is the norm in constituent service. I am most proud of the way I have been accessible, responsive, and inclusive to the people of my district and their specific personal or neighborhood concerns, often standing with them at City meetings and navigating the system for them.
On a City-wide scale, I believe that I have accomplished many things, but if I had to list the top few they would be:
- Worked on public safety issues, both in the district and also citywide, creating a greater awareness of this problem and offered the solutions we have available to reduce violence, particularly gun-related violence.
- Diligently been involved in the process and solutions to lowering the cost of healthcare for City employees, retirees, and the taxpayers — an area that I have an expertise in and is the City’s largest and most addressable variable budget concern.
- Created a greater atmosphere of openness and transparency in City Government
- Offered out-of-the-box thinking and created a vision for Racine, including heading a group that is exploring the formation of an environmentally friendly, job-creating public electric utility.
Have you had any regrets as Alderman in the past 4 years?
On a personal level my biggest regret, while uncontrollable, was that I was unable to serve my constituents for several months in 2006 due to two major spinal fusion surgeries. Fortunately, during that time Alderman DeHahn helped my constituents greatly and the surgeries were successful so that my chronic pain is now gone.
On a policy level, I do look back and wish that I would have done more independent research and not relied only on the information the City provided the Council when I voted, along with the rest of the Council (15-0 vote) to form a Storm Water Utility. Generally, I do diligently research issues on my own, but in this case, I did not dig deep enough. If I would have, I would have realized that creating this utility was in effect a major tax increase instead of a budget and tax shift, which we were led to believe. Lesson learned.
What are three issues that you believe Racine needs to improve upon? And do you have suggestions on how to make these improvements?
Crime: We can not have further reductions in our sworn officers. We are down from 211 to 198 in just a few years. During last year’s budget process, I offered an amendment to keep the officers we were reducing this year and this was funded by a mistake I found in the actuarial estimates for our healthcare costs. Unfortunately, this amendment was defeated on a close vote. It is not only police that fight crime. If reelected, I will continue to work with neighborhood groups so that they can make the places they live in the district. As I mentioned before, I am very involved in gun violence reduction programs and will continue that passion of mine.
Jobs: We need local jobs for local people. I believe that we have exhausted our using of brownfields for high-end condominiums and that the City and its partners need to make bringing living-wage jobs to Racine a priority. More living wage jobs would sove so many other problems in Racine.
Involvement: Relatively few people are involved in the governmental process. As Chair of the City’s Neighborhood and Housing Committee, I have led the effort to do bring these meetings into the neighborhoods instead of meeting only at City Hall. I’ve also encouraged people who I believe to have the skills to be leaders in out community to seek positions on the City’s Boards and Commissions. In the district, I am always working on increasing involvement as this gives the people of the Ninth a greater voice.
Racism and other prejudices: This problem is ongoing and the solutions are not easy, here or anywhere else. As Alderperson and as a citizen, I have first, tried to set an example through my own actions. I’ve also been working on removing sexist language from our local laws and publications, something the City can do to set an example. Too often, those who are isolated from the consequences of discrimination do not see the problem and the effect that this has on them, both directly and indirectly.
What do YOU enjoy about living in Racine?
This is my home where my family and friends are. I believe Racine can once again become the thriving City it was a few decades ago and want to stay here and work on that change. I personally enjoy the diversity of people, our great natural resources like the beach, the restaurants and the growing and thriving art and culture community.
What are some things you enjoy during your spare time?
Mostly, I enjoy spending time and being involved in my kid’s lives. I am fortunate that we have a great relationship and friendship. I also enjoy spending time with friends, as most people do. I prefer a good conversation to most other things. I am a very involved issue-orientated person politically and that does enter into my social life as many of my friends in Racine and elsewhere share the same core values. Recreationally, I often bike, garden, and enjoy the outdoors.
If you could hand pick our next president who would it be and why?
Let me first say that many years ago (probably age 17) that I lost my faith in the two-party system and I have never voted for either of the “Corporate” driven party’s candidates for President, always voting for a third-party candidate. In casting these votes, I feel I am voting for the future.
That said, her are a couple of names: Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Ralph Nader, Robert Morales, Juscha Robinson, and George Martin. I highly doubt if any of these will be our next president. (If we were talking recent, but past political figures, I would think Shirley Chisolm and Eugene McCarthy would be at the top of the list.)
If you had 1 million dollars to donate to any charity, what would it be?
The Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort Educational Fund of which I am Board President, with the contingency that the money be used on programming in Racine.
Priority question: (Sorry, I deleted the wording in error)
Of course, continue to diligently serve the people of the district. Beyond that, my primary focus will be the budget (healthcare costs and administrative personnel modifications at City Hall,) which drives services and taxes in Racine. Along with that, I will continue to promote a put-people-first agenda for City Government
If you do not win, what is next for Pete Karas?
I will, as I always have, stay active in the issues I feel are important, including spending more time working on the Bright Public Power Initiative, which if approved, would bring so many benefits to the City of Racine. I may or may not run for another local office, depending on the timing and my personal situation at the time. At this time, I do not envision running for a State office anytime in the future.
Trying to put any humility aside, what three words would you use to describe yourself as leader in Racine? What three words would you use to describe yourself as a person?
Leader: Proactive, Outspoken, Populist
Person: Thoughtful, Listener, Respectful
What has been the most difficult part of being Alderman?
Primarily, the biggest challenge is to balance monetary constraints with the needs of the people. The cost-shifting from the State and the Feds to local government has been dramatic and borderline immoral. This is why I spend the time needed to communicate to these other governmental bodies.
What do you feel you have to offer that your opponent does not?
While I respect Terry as good person and thank him for a clean campaign, there are differences which are evident from the forums we have jointly attended:
The experience of knowing how to get things done for the people of the district is an immediate difference as I have already gone through the learning-curve and done it in a shorter period of time than most people since I was involved in many City issues before being first elected.
I am self-employed in Racine and have a flexible schedule. My office is two blocks from City Hall. Terry works in Illinois, and I have found him accessible on his cell phone during the day, but during the work day he is located farther from City Hall. I believe that makes constituent service more responsive.
Next, my record of taking on issues that others have not, because they are not politically safe, e.g. the Racine Rave fiasco. (I do not know that Terry would or would not do this, but I believe that I am one of the very few local elected officials that has consistently done this and Terry has stated that he would have primarily a district focus.)
My voice is broader geographically than his as I feel we need to speak to the other governmental bodies that have an effect on the people of Racine.
Recognizing the reality that in our relatively stable district, we will not have the community policing presence that some other high-crime areas in the City will have, and with this realization, using different approaches to our joint goal of crime-reduction in the district.
I believe we must and can locate employer-created jobs in the City, while Terry views us as a commuter town.
My belief is in local control, as evidenced by my support of lower-cost, more environmentally friendly municipal utilities, while Terry believes this should stay in the private sector.
I encourage the people of the Ninth to watch the CAR25 forum before the election to see other differences. (I’m pretty sure we agree on this issue.) I expect a link to the District 9 forum in the next day or so at my website: http://www.petekaras.com
What will you be doing after 8pm on April 3rd as you await the election results?
Win or lose: My son, who is my campaign manager and has been with me the entire way, and I have yet to decide this. We may be at home with a few people, or join a group or two at local election night events that evening. Win or lose, we will both be celebrating the clean campaign on both sides and the democratic process of the campaign and election.