Challenger says Ald. Rummel has failed to lead and communicate with residents
Scott B. Thornton, 49, has lived in District 6 since 2000 and Madison since the late 1980s. One of his first jobs in Madison was working for the United Neighborhood Centers of Dane County which had its offices in the Atwood Neighborhood Center and he has been tied to the near East Side neighborhoods ever since.
However Scott has made his strongest impacts as President of the Marquette Neighborhood Association (MNA) for the past four years, nearly quadrupling the membership during his tenure. He also secured tax exempt status and aggressively developed a public art program in conjunction with the Madison Arts Commission that has flowered in public and private spaces around the Marquette neighborhood.
The northern Wisconsin native earned a B.A. in Accounting from the University of Wisconsin and has worked for the State, mostly in Accounting and Information Technology areas. Thornton has a strong interest in historic preservation and has had past experience in this endeavor with the Mansion Hill Neighborhood Association; and he currently owns a home in the Third Lake Ridge District.
We asked both candidates a series of questions about some of the events and issues that are important to District 6 residents. To provide a longer look at how the candidates feel about the issues, their answers are unedited save for minor syntax and redundancy. We should also note that Thornton’s opponent Marsha Rummel was asked the same or very similar questions. Her responses can be seen here.
Why are you running for Alder in Sixth District?
I’m running for Alder of the Sixth District because I really think that we need more effective leadership representing us on the city council from our district. It’s something that people have approached me for the last several years to run. Two years ago I wasn’t quite ready. But this time around I decided that the district needed me and I was gonna step up and run. I think my opponent is a nice person. I just don’t find her to be an effective Alder.
Both you and your opponent are wired-in pretty tightly to the area and appear to have similar viewpoints on many of the issues or the direction our neighborhoods should take. You both have received endorsements from organizations, community leaders and office holders that generally align with the priorities of District 6 residents. What are a few reasons that the voters should have a clear choice in this district?
Again I think it comes back down to leadership. What I find and I hear over and over when I’m knocking on doors and meeting with residents of the district is that either they’re are not familiar with who their Alder is or they have been to meetings where the Alder is just not willing to take a position. And they really want to know what the opinion is of the Alder, that the Alder has an opinion.
And when something is going to go to the City Council for a vote that the Alder is going to stand up and fight for the neighborhood. And they don’t see that happening with the current Alder. That’s the biggest difference. Our Politics are not different. It’s the ability to get things done.
What are some things you feel your opponent hasn’t gotten done?
I think that the development along East Washington has been lagging, and you see it’s happening on the other side of the street. It’s not happening in our district. But a lot of it comes down to communication. I can’t tell you how many people in the district that live around Union Corners want to know what’s going on. They are not getting any communication from the Alder. Marsha does not communicate well. It strikes me in the last several months she’s made this somewhat lukewarm effort to increase her communication to the District. But that shouldn’t be something that you wait every two years, it’s gotta be an on-going thing.
I went to a meeting over in the SASYNA (Schenk Atwood Starkweather Yahara Neighborhood Association) neighborhood about a small-batch brewery that wants to move on to Atwood Avenue. It was clear that if Marsha had talked to the proprietor of this proposed business in advance a lot of the concerns of the neighbors had been addressed up front and it would have been a much more productive meeting.
When I was President of MNA (Marqette Neighborhood Association), I often got calls from businesses that wanted to do something in the neighborhood that were frustrated because they were trying to contact the Alder and not getting a response, so there were calling me.
In your time living in the District and for a time head of the Marquette Neighborhood Association what do feel your impact has been?
For the Marquette neighborhood, the impact one, when I came in the membership was really low, it was about 80 people with active membership in the neighborhood association. And one of the first things I did was help bring that back up, working with our membership committee getting our numbers back up. And I think they are up around 300 now so I mean we were successful in that.
We expanded our grant program to parks and gardens because there are lot of people that were doing things in Yahara Place Park, Yahara Parkway, Orton Park and needed help with funding so we expanded that.
The Public Art Program and getting the Poetry in the Sidewalks on Willy Street. I took a day off of work and drove up to Minneapolis to pick up the stamps and bring them back so they would be here in time to be stamped into the concrete. A lot of dedication, and now you see an imprint of what I did in our neighborhood even in the sidewalks.
District 6 gained the Worthington-Darbo neighborhood through redistricting. What have you learned about this area and what are its needs?
I have friends in that part of the neighborhood so I’m not unfamiliar with it. There are a lot of drug and violence and gang issues in that neighborhood. Also just simple needs of the residents. They need jobs for kids, they need a grocery store. I was talking to a friend of mine who lives over there and she said, ‘You know some people if they don’t drive their primary grocery store is Walgreens’.
That area around the corrections building, where McDonald’s used to be, you know maybe getting a small grocery store there or promoting something. At one time there was an Aldi grocery in the mall there but now that’s the Hawthorne library and they relocated that out and I think the loss of that grocery store was a big hit to that neighborhood.
What are its strengths?
I think really dedicated people who are living there and trying to make it the best neighborhood they can make it. A lot of teachers live over there, a lot of public employees live over there. It’s a very diverse part of the neighborhood probably the most diverse racially in our district in Worthington Park; and those are all very positive things.
So the challenge is gonna be, with such a long, we have a long narrow district; is connecting Worthington Park with SASYNA, with MNA, with First Settlement.
First Settlement is just a little bit of a sliver of the District. What are some of the needs and strengths of that area?
One of the big strengths in that area is the historic district and if somebody hasn’t been just walking around up there to see some really cool old original homes that are up there, that’s definitely a strength of that neighborhood.
The challenges there are the Essen Haus property, that big block will ultimately be developed into something. And I think that will be a big challenge for that neighborhood. I think it’s one of the coolest neighborhoods in the city quite honestly, and one that most people probably don’t go through.
Is there sort of an identity crisis for the people that live there, because they are kind of squashed between the Capitol Square and sort of loosely tied-in geographically with Willy Street?
Right and they are part of Capitol Neighborhoods, and one person I talked to quite extensively when I was knocking on doors said, ‘You know we really want to be in Mike Verveer’s District.’ I think they feel disconnected from our neighborhood. But if you look at where the historic districts are: First Settlement, Third Lake Ridge, Marquette Bungalos; there is a connection and building that connection is something that the Alder should work on.
The police-involved shooting of Paul Heenan is still being processed by the neighborhood and maybe even the Madison Police Department. What do you think neighborhood residents have reacted most strongly to; the details of the incident or the police response or something else?
I think the biggest reaction is the Police response and then the lack of information from the Police regarding what actually happened. You know it’s something that frustrated me immediately; I was not the MNA president at the time but some of the neighbors thought I was and I was getting emails at 5 a.m. in the morning telling me what was going on. I was kind of going back and forth learning things as the neighbors learned what happened; initially they thought it was a burglar they didn’t know it was one of their neighbors, and then ultimately discovered the tragedy that is was.
I emailed the Mayor, I emailed the Police Chief and then was very frustrated and let them know that what I was seeing in press releases from Police were completely different from what the neighbors knew. And I think that set up a lot of friction right off the bat because they weren’t being up front with us.
Do you think there was mistrust between the neighborhood and the Police Deportment before this?
Not to this extent. I don’t believe that there was mistrust of the Police before this incident.
Do you think that increased the strong reaction because of that? That people were surprised?
Absolutely. The incident is shocking, it’s still is shocking to think about it. It’s something that the neighborhood is not going to forget. How it’s dealt with at the City and with the Police department is very important. Because it did come as a shock. That’s not what we expect from our Police Department.
We have already had the steps: There has been an investigation, the local District Attorney has investigated, the US Attorney is investigating; are there any additional steps you would like to see?
I would really like, and I’ve advocated for a panel of citizens and professionals; and I don’t mean the Police and Fire Commission, I mean actual citizens, police or safety professionals whether that is from our department, other police departments, Sheriff’s Department to get together and talk about what happened and how to make sure it never happens again. If they can go through an investigation and come at the end of the investigation and said it met all of their protocols so…there was no violation of any of the procedures then there is something wrong with the procedures. And I think that an independent group should look at those procedures and make adjustments.
Just for this incident or every time something like this happens?
For this incident we have to really look at the procedures. Anytime [sic] this happens, again my goal is ‘never have this happen again. I do agree with having a citizen group or independent panel that Paulie’s friends have been advocating for as they do in other cities. I do think that is important.
It would be like the IRS decides you did something wrong on your taxes and you’re gonna look at them yourself or have your mom look at them and tell us that you did it right. You need a third party.
The most glaring example of environmental issues in the District is Madison-Kipp; do you feel the company has been up front and in compliance with DNR directives regarding the contamination?
Yes and no. I think they have been responding. I don’t think they have been completely compliant with the DNR directives, which makes it this on-going problem. I have gone to meetings; I’ve seen the information that DNR is presenting. [I] talked to somebody from DNR at length about a month ago. It looks like to me they are addressing it, but they are not addressing it very quickly. It doesn’t seem like they’re doing a lot more than providing information; and I think they need to step it up.
What is another pressing environmental need in the neighborhood that people maybe don’t think about?
The lakes obviously and the water quality. And when we reconstructed Willy Street and put in the bio-vaults and did some things there. I think we still have to address run-off, a lot of the road salt and you have a winter like this it’s a lot of salt going into the lake and into the watershed. To me those are the biggest environmental issues, water and then the tree canopy.
We need a better tree canopy to lower the temperature in the summer, provide the shade, and our City Forrester is planting what I call “Q-tips”, just little tiny trees because of the overhead wires. We have to address the overhead wires. Willy Street when it was reconstructed the conduit was put in there. The Mayor earmarked a million dollars to start putting those wires underground and our Alder gave it away on the floor of the council. That’s not something I’m gonna do.
What is one fun thing that you like to do that people may not know about you?
I do a lot of fun things. One thing that I really like to do that is fun is drive down to Florida with my dog to vist my parents in the winter. Most people don’t think driving that much is fun but I take a lot of little side trips and I enjoy seeing things when I’m driving.
Parks in Madison seemed a bit under the gun during the budget process last year. How would you have approached the budget shortfall that in this case hit the parks pretty hard?
To me the budgeting has to be done differently than just okay we are going to cut 10 percent or we’re gonna gonna do this across the board cut. I think it’s really looking at individual programs and find savings. What can we do electronically now instead of paper. I wonder how much they print for these City Council meetings. All the Alders get laptops and now they get pads and you still see them walking in with these gigantic stacks of paper.
To me it’s really looking at efficiencies. What can we do better in City government. I’m an accountant, I work on a lot of IT projects that are surrounding efficiencies and you know writing a check in the Clerk’s Office and the Treasurer has to reenter that check into another system. There are a lot of things that can be done in the city without making cuts. As Alder what I will be looking at is how to find the efficiencies that avoid having to make those cuts.
Are parks and other recreational services that lead to quality of life important in Madison?
It’s hugely important and that’s why Central Park to me is so important. Hugely important to the quality of life and Central Park needs to start moving. It’s been kind of languishing, nothing is happening, it needs to move. I think not only for the quality of life in the neighborhood but also for economic development on East Washington Avenue.
I mean who’s not going to not want to have an office building close to Central Park? I mean it’s an ideal location. Orton Park, Yahara Place, B.B. Clarke, all very very important to the quality of our neighborhood.
How should Parks rank in comparison to other budget priorities like crime, homelessness, and schools because there are other areas in the city that are hurting?
I mean it is a lower priority, but then you look at public-private partnerships. There is a Friends of Orton Park promoting that. We’re going to need a Friends of Central Park if that park is going to be what it can be and be maintained. As far as ranking things, public safety is going to be a higher priority that the parks. But that doesn’t mean you can’t figure out how to make it work.
We have it pretty good on this side of town. What are some of your solutions for other areas of the City that are trying to build up their neighborhoods?
One thing that you see in our neighborhoods are very strong neighborhood centers. I think it’s encouraging that they’re expanding the Meadowood neighborhood on the Southwest side and really building those people connections you have in the neighborhood…you know it’s a neighborhood center but I mean it centers the neighborhood and people gather around it.
When I first moved to Madison…was to work for United Neighborhood Centers of Dane County. I worked with all of the neighborhood centers, Wil-Mar and Atwood. You really see the stronger neighborhoods have strong neighborhood centers and they have strong schools and I think those are the two things that will help bring other neighborhoods together.
There has been a fair amount of discussion amongst District 6 residents regarding petty crime in the neighborhood including break-ins, muggings, and the occasional assault. You have lived in other neighborhoods in the city. I there a problem or do we really need to just remember to lock-up our doors?
I think we need to remember to lock our doors and I forget to lock my door too and I had my bike stolen off my front porch because I thought it was safe, it was before I opened it up, it was an enclosed porch and I thought my bike was safe and somebody came and took my bike.
We have to be aware. I think the increase in these petty crimes is driven somewhat by the downturn in the economy. Fortunately we are not seeing a lot of violent crimes. There have been some muggings on the bike path and that is concerning. I think that the Police are doing a pretty good job addressing some of those issues, it’s an awareness.
The Willy street area and Atwood Avenue are thriving and continue to grow in statue and verve. How should these neighborhoods evolve in the future economically and culturally?
I think neighborhoods evolve very naturally and they evolve slowly and then you have little upticks and then slowly and then you have little upticks. I have friends that have lived here for a very very long time and they tell me over and over that Willy Street is the best it’s ever been, that they remember living over here on Willy Street and being embarrassed to tell people where they lived, I mean it was a rough neighborhood.
I think what we’re seeing, and it may seem like it’s happening really fast and its happening too fast. It’s happened very slowly, the changes on willy street, and you’re starting to see now the changes on Atwood Avenue as well. Willy Street is a little bit ahead and I think that’s because of our location, being closer to the Capitol Square, closer to downtown you know brings more people over here.
I know somebody that lives in Metropolitan Place that every weekend walks with her husband to go to Madison Sourdough. You’re going to see that continuing to grow and then move out Atwood Avenue as well and Schenk’s Corners but I think it’s healthy it’s not happening too fast. For some people it seems like it’s happening too fast. But they’re also remembering or have gotten used to long periods of time where nothing has happened.
I think you are starting to see that in the Atwood neighborhood now where there are so many empty store fronts you get used to an empty building, there’s no activity, there’s no noise, there’s no cars, there’s no people. And now somethings going to go in there so it’s a change but it’s a change that’s taken a long time to come.
Darbo-Worthington doesn’t really have an accessible centralized commercial throughway like the Marquette and Atwood neighborhoods have. How do you create a similar vibe there? Do they need that?
Like I said earlier, they need a grocery store or something. They need something developed where McDonalds and the other two vacant buildings, they tore one down so now there’s two instead of three. It needs to be redeveloped into something that has some commercial space. Preferably something like a small grocery store but you know something that provides services to the immediate neighborhood and jobs. That’s what they need over there and that’s what they’re lacking.
I think eventually and things seem to happen from the center-out in Madison. To a certain extent, we’ll see more development go down because Pay Day stores are not the best land use and I think that will change around but will take a little time.
The City is still fighting the closure of rail crossings at Livingston and Brearly Streets. In District 6 where cars are just part of the transportation fabric, what approach should be taken for future transportation projects through the District?
I think promoting more bikes, I’d really see a real bike boulevard somewhere in the neighborhood not just a sign on the street saying it’s a bike boulevard. To do some really innovative, creative things for alternative transportation. Quite honestly the railroad crossings; closing a couple of those for some people in the neighborhood that are avid bikers they don’t see that as a bad thing because it helps with the bike path if they are not having to look for cars or stopping at every intersection along the rail corridor.
Biking is going to be very important. Improving the bus service is very important. We have a really good commuter service. We don’t have a real good bus service as far as an option if you want to go somewhere else in town on the weekend. If you have a few hours to kill where you are going to be waiting for a bus or being routed around on a bus it’s okay. It’s more of a commuter system and working to make Metro more of a transportation option is something we have to work on.
With the constellation project that is going in the 700 block of East Washington and now the three proposals for Block 800, do you feel that the developers are responding properly to the City’s Capitol East Corridor Plan?
Yes. They are looking at the plans and taking direction from the plans and presenting three very very different models. I don’t think any of them is exactly what the plan would say. But to me the plan is a very good guide to help developers understand what is going to best fit along the corridor.
Constellation is taller than the recommendation. The three for the 800 block, some are much smaller you know shorter than the recommendation. I think that the plan really provides a good guideline. To me a development like that is a creative process that the developer and the architect is undertaking to try to both match what’s in that plan and deliver something that’s gonna be a successful development.
I’m glad there are three proposals that actually have things. What I didn’t like about the ULI (Urban Land Interests) plan when they were first rewarded to go forward they didn’t really have a plan, I mean it was a concept it was going to be high-tech job or it was going to be something, but it was not really a plan, it was a concept.
I think the three developers did a good job in bringing their vision to what will work well on East Washington the 800 block.
What else would you like to add?
I think what’s really important is protecting the quality of life in the neighborhood, in all of the neighborhoods. The neighborhoods are challenged, such as Darbo-Worthington, really working to improve the quality of life in the neighborhoods as well. We have the most creative residents I think in the City. When I was chair of the Arts Commission we did a survey of artists and arts spacers, they are all here in the Sixth District.
When I’m knocking on doors, I’m spending a lot of time, probably spending too much time just checking out what people have on their porch and in their yard and stuff because we have so many artists over here. So really promoting those creative people, creative ideas because they fit well and providing leadership and really stand up and be a champion for the neighborhood as well as making sure that the dialog continues.
There are people out there that want to change the process, you know they don’t want the involvement of the neighborhoods and that involvement is hugely important and needs to be protected as well.
Related: District 6 Candidate Q & A: Marsha Rummel
Related: Audio: District 6 Candidate Forum
Forum newswrap filed for WORT-FM‘s In Our Back Yard