Challenger Scott Thornton says rogue mailer sunk his bid
What was termed as a competitive race by area media turned into a strong victory by a yawning margin for incumbent Marsha Rummel over challenger Scott Thornton in Madison’s Sixth Aldermanic District.
Tuesday’s vote total showed Rummel winning by 1500 votes in the hyper-aware Near East Side which was roiled by the appearance of a shadowy political mailer days before the election from a union-backed outside democratic group that normally meddles in state level issues.
“What a good night. Thank you!” Rummel posted on her personal Facebook page soon after several people reported on Twitter that she had declared victory.
Marsh Rummel and Scott Thronton, both neighborhood leaders, were not known to be rivals before the election and had worked together often in the past. The two candidate’s similarities on the issues left Thornton needing to find any angle to sow doubt about Rummel in the eyes of district residents. He attacked her communication, her votes on City Council, and her supposed lack of spine when it came to taking positions on issues.
Thornton consistently pounded home this refrain at various campaign events and forums in the weeks before the election but it seemed like a long-shot since Rummel, a three-term Alder, in the eyes of many is doing a solid job. Certainly she was not failing enough to be replaced.
If Scott Thornton had been making headway with his message, any momentum he may have found was destroyed late last week after a mysterious mailer appeared in the mailboxes of district residents.
Building a Stronger Wisconsin, a democratically aligned Political Action Committee, was pretty active in politics two years ago during the ACT 10 budget fight but had done little lately save for some advocacy for the Edgewater Hotel project.
So it was a surprise that this group would take a keen interest in a local Aldermanic race between two progressive candidates. BASW got most of its money from unions and spent the lion’s share on Republican Legislative races. Madison Teachers Incorporated (MTI) donated $18,000 in 2010 which appeared on a BASW IRS filing that was quickly found online and widely circulated by residents angered by the mailer.
The unwanted attention prompted MTI Executive Director John Matthews to disavow any involvement in the District 6 race and to send this email to BASW which he also shared with Marsha Rummel:
“In 2010, MTI made a donation to Building a Stronger Wisconsin, for use in that year’s gubernatorial election. Apparently funding received at that time was not totally expended for the purpose for which it was collected. Some of that was apparently used by Stronger in the current Aldermanic (6th District in Madison). Unfortunately, the only contributor named by the Capital Times was MTI. MTI has not taken a position in aldermanic races. It would be appreciated that, henceforth, any releases or action by Stronger which is not adjacent to the time when funds are received, contain notice that the organizations which previously provided funding are not necessarily in support of the action by Stronger.
Scott Thornton called Marsha Rummel after receiving one of the mailers himself at his home to disavow the mailer and deny any involvement. But the damage was likely done. Discussion in online neighborhood forums reached a fever-pitch, while the story was picked up by local media. Fair or not, Thornton was likely stained by the mailer which ironically was made to help him and he said as much to the Isthmus Tuesday night after his defeat.
The kerfuffle over the mailer should not divide the district long; not even 24 hours after the polls had closed, online neighborhood discussions moved on to those who don’t clean up after their dogs on walks.
Related: Dark Money Invades D6 Alder Race
Related: Audio: District 6 Alder Forum 2013
Related: District 6 Candidate Q & A: Marsha Rummel
Related: District 6 Candidate Q & A: Scott Thornton