There is always a winner and a loser in every election where there are two or more contestants. I lost, and so I imagine it doesn’t surprise you to hear that I’m disappointed with the election.
But it’s not for the reason you might think.
From my point of view, this election was never about me. To be frank, my personal life will be much better than it would be if I were mayor. I love my current job, especially its benefits. I did NOT run for office in hopes of getting rich or stoking my ego — that’s not me. In fact, I made the choice to forego a pension, the most expensive benefit associated with being mayor, and had also promised to forego health care coverage, saving the city many thousands more. If I were in it for the money, I would have not made the choice to forego these expensive benefits. Those who know me will tell you that I don’t have a big ego. In fact, if anything, one of the most frequent complaints I heard from people is that because I’m so down-to-earth and non-arrogant (is that a word?), quite different than the typical politician, that some voters might think I am weak or lack confidence. I might be nice, but that doesn’t make me weak, and those who worked for me over the years know I can make tough decisions when necessary.
So why did I run? I made the choice to run for mayor with the hope that I could help Alton and benefit our citizens. Period. I felt that the current mayor was not taking Alton in the right direction — this will be the subject of a separate post in the future. Wanting to see our city finally turn around made me want to run for mayor, and I was willing to work hard to see that happen.
So, if I wasn’t in it for myself, then why am I disappointed in the election? A number of reasons:
- Voter turnout was very low. This is the biggest disappointment of the election, IMHO. Less than 25% of voters bothered to vote. If there is one thing Alton’s NOT short on, it’s people who complain about our city. In fact, I hear Altonians complain about Alton on a weekly basis, at least. I have also heard people conclude, too often to count, that there is nothing that can be done to fix Alton’s problems. While more people voted this time than 4 years ago, we still had only 1/4 of the people bother to show up at the polls, and only about one in eight people of voting age cast a vote for Brant Walker. That’s really sad, especially given the incredible amount of publicity surrounding the election, and how easy it is to vote! If you are not happy with what’s going on, then vote the leaders out, for goodness’ sake. Otherwise, stop complaining. By saying this, I’m not saying that Walker does not have the support of the people. He won. It’s just that not many people voted. I’ve often said that one of Alton’s biggest problems is pessimism, and I actually wrote a blog about it awhile back. But after seeing the lack of enthusiasm at the polls, I’m beginning to wonder if our biggest problem is that we simply have a “can’t do” mentality here. Perhaps some think it easier to sit around saying there’s nothing we can do to improve Alton…then do nothing…then say “I told you so” when nothing improves. All the while, a growing number of cities around the region have actually done something to improve their lot, and are now doing much better. I just don’t get the disconnect we have here! Why can’t we improve, too?
- The election campaign was negative. I should qualify that: mayor Walker ran a negative campaign, and he was rewarded for doing so. The three people running against him did not. People complain all the time about negative politics, but the reality is, WE have created this situation by rewarding people who run negative campaigns. We say we hate it, but then the negative campaigns get all the attention, and then we vote for them. There are two ways one can run a negative political campaign: (1) criticizing fellow candidates personally, and (2) running a campaign full of false claims, which mislead voters. Walker did both; I did neither. I objected to Walker’s policies and his record, which is precisely why people run against an incumbent. I also called him out when he publicized false info, and I’d do it again. Don’t the people deserve to know the truth? Unfortunately, the local media was, overall, not very helpful because they failed to do their job of reviewing the accuracy of the claims by the various candidates (more below). On the other hand, Walker repeatedly criticized me personally, and the things he said were not true, or at best, the facts were twisted to the point that they were unrecognizable. Ironically, what upset me the most was not what Walker said about me, but rather, the terrible thing he did to fellow candidate Danny Rauschkolb, when he shared Danny’s test scores on an internal police exam. That simply blew my mind! What kind of person does that? Especially given that he’s Danny’s boss! Walker also criticized Josh Young and launched a personal attack against him. Then Walker had the audacity to accuse ME of running a negative campaign? Unbelievable!
- The media dropped the ball. People are busy spending time with their family, their jobs, and just getting through their daily lives. They don’t have the time to investigate the claims made by the candidates. Most don’t have the time to carefully review the platforms of the candidates, either. They rely on the media to inform them. Yet the media, for the most part, did not do this. Case in point: Walker ran on his record, period. I mean, that’s it.
Not only did he run ONLY on his record, he didn’t bother to share a plan or a platform of any kind. If you go to his campaign page today and click on “platform,” there is NOTHING about a plan! Just a list of things he supposedly has done over the last four years. That’s NOT a plan, nor is it a platform. Furthermore, during every debate, which the media attended, Walker answered most questions by simply repeating a list of things he supposedly did. It is bad enough that a significant percentage of what he said was not true. What’s worse is that the media didn’t notice, and the people did not notice on their own, either. The media did not even notice he had no plan even after Walker mailed thousands of pamphlets to Altonians saying that I, Scott Dixon, did not have a plan, which is an outright lie. Ironically, if the media had bothered to review the tapes of any of the debates, they’d notice that I tried to share the three main pillars of my platform during every debate, despite the tight time limits on candidate speeches and responses, while Walker simply listed past accomplishments. If the media had bothered to go to Walker’s website, mayorbrantwalker.com, they’d quickly realize that his platform page has never had any platform on it (see image above). If the media had bothered to go to my campaign website, ScottDixonForAlton.org, which I mentioned often during the campaign, and click on “Ideas/Platform,” they’d find not one but MULTIPLE website subpages thoroughly outlining my plan. The local media also does a disservice to the public when it simply copies and pastes PR pieces sent to them by the candidates’ campaign managers and prints them, verbatim, as a news piece. One of the worst pieces was printed by an Edwardsville newspaper, and then Walker repeatedly re-posted it on his Facebook page as if it’s news. Another problematic piece was one by a young reporter, Cory Davenport, printed in Riverbender.com, where he not only inserted editorial content in the news story, calling the information I shared “deceptive,” but he sided with the mayor’s seriously flawed statistics claiming that “violent crime is down.” Fact is, violent crime in Alton is at a 5 year high, after several years of steady decline prior to Walker taking office. Mark Twain once famously said “facts are stubborn, but statistics are much more pliable.”
For the reporter to agree with these stats was a disservice to the public. For Walker to publish stats that are clearly wrong means he either doesn’t understand basic trend analysis, which is an important but very basic business skill, or he deliberately misled the public. AND THE FINAL PROBLEM I HAVE WITH THE LOCAL MEDIA: why don’t any of the local media outlets bother to ENDORSE A CANDIDATE? The people deserve to have the benefit of knowledgeable recommendations by the media. It is, after all, their job to review the claims, the platform and ideas of the candidates, along with the record of the incumbent, and make an informed recommendation. This is an important function of the media. Am I wrong?
- The people of Alton have set the bar so low. After 50 years of decline and disappointment, we’ve apparently become accustomed to expecting so little, and by doing so, we’re actually helping to ensure continued disappointment here for the foreseeable future. We’ve become so pessimistic, it seems like we just assume that the status quo is as good as it gets. This appears to have spilled over into rock bottom expectations for our leaders. We readily nod our heads when our leaders offer nothing but excuses when things turn out to be a disappointment, and when they say “there is nothing more we can do.” When things are even a tiny bit better, we eagerly gobble it up and thank our lucky stars. While this is problematic in-and-of-itself, what’s worse is that the people apparently assumed Walker’s done a good job because things are, by some measures, slightly better than they were four years ago. Well, they SHOULD BE. In fact, they should be a LOT better than they were four years ago, because Walker took office as the regional and national economic recovery was just beginning to gather steam. “A rising tide lifts all boats,” as they say. Walker took credit for new businesses that opened during his term, (and failed to mention that there are actually fewer businesses in Alton than there were when he took office), and he took credit for the fact that unemployment has dropped significantly during his watch (it has!). This sounds good, but Walker conveniently left out the fact that things just about everywhere are much better than they were four years ago. In fact, Alton has continued to fall behind because things here haven’t improved as much as they have across the region. Bottom line, a compelling case can be made that Walker’s done a poor job when one looks more closely at the facts (this will be the subject of a future blog post). Essentially, it appears that Altonians re-elected Walker simply because he was lucky enough to take office when the regional and national economic recovery was gaining steam, and because the people believed the false stats Walker presented to them.
- We re-elected Walker without him even telling us what he is going to do. Walker ran on his record. Period. He’s the incumbent, so to his credit, he’s entitled to tout his record during the campaign. But the voters deserve more than that. What about the next four years? Why didn’t he bother to share with the voters at least the most basic elements of any sort of plan he has for the next four years? And why didn’t the people (and the media) even bother to ask? Saying he’s going to “continue the progress” without giving any specifics should not be good enough for the people. Given this complete lack of any plan by Walker, did the people of Alton just blindly go in the voting booth and check the box next to the incumbent, figuring that he is a safer bet than voting for anyone else, even someone highly qualified and who shared very detailed plans with the people? I think I would have been a little more at peace with the election results had Walker at least shared a little vision and basic plans for the next four years, rather than focusing entirely on deceptive statistics, lists of past “accomplishments,” much of which was not true, and making up negative things about me. Walker ran on bringing greater transparency to city government back in 2013 when he won his first election, but it doesn’t seem like he has added anything in the way of transparency to the day-to-day operations of the city since he took office. And a big part of transparency is making sure the people know at least a basic outline of what you plan to do down the road. Walker gets an “F” grade when judged by this metric. Actually, his grade is 0%, because he’s actively avoided sharing anything. Doesn’t transparency count anymore?
- The people may have re-elected Walker based on a false record. Given that Walker shared no details of what he’s going to do for the next four years, that only leaves us with only one thing to know: what he’s done for the last four years. We can rely on our own foggy recollections about what he’s done, but people have enough to worry about just with their own lives, let alone trying to remember what has or hasn’t been done over the past four years. I bet if you asked Altonians who is responsible for the new train station, the vast majority would credit Brant Walker. In reality, former mayor Tom Hoechst won the huge grant that made it a reality. Bottom line: we probably tend to be primarily influenced by what we hear during campaign season, from the various candidates and the media reporting on them. Problem is, as I’ve said before, the media was very little help. If the people re-elected Walker because of the claims he made about his “accomplishments,” then we re-elected Walker for the wrong reason, because overall he shared an extremely inaccurate record with the voters. Virtually every claim he made was either a half-truth at best, was wildly exaggerated, or was simply false. Worse, he had the audacity to essentially call me a liar, and got police chief Jake Simmons in on the game, having him publicly question what I said, too. If I had any doubts about Jake Simmons after hearing so many negative things people from inside the police department and city hall said about him before this stunt, well, those doubts were confirmed. But to the public, it was the word of two well-known people against mine, and the false narrative won out, with the help of the media through their lack of proper fact-checking.
- I think of the Alton that could be, versus what we’re getting with the status quo. Whenever I got frustrated during the campaign, or started to wonder what I got myself into, I just sat down and reminded myself about what Alton could be, and that always re-energized me. I’d also become re-energized every single time I drove around Alton, and saw all the sub-standard properties that are allowed to remain as-is throughout the city. If you ever wonder why Alton’s struggling, just take a drive down East Broadway, or for that matter, down pretty much any major street in Alton and really look around. But on the positive side, I hear quite often, mostly from non-Altonians, about all the opportunities Alton has. I see cities like Grafton, Galena, IL, and dozens of other former “rust belt” cities across America: all of them at one time had tight budgets and problems that were often far more serious than ours. Yet they have somehow managed to turn themselves around, sometimes dramatically so. Yet, somehow we’re ok here in Alton with our leadership simply managing decline, and offering excuses for why nothing can ever change. As if those proven strategies that so many other cities like Alton successfully used to turn themselves around will somehow never work here, so we should not bother to even try. I hear people say that the city is dirty, there are problem properties, and it’s ugly, yet we let our leaders get by with failing to make difficult choices that are necessary to fix these problems. As a result, I see Alton continue to lose talented people, our children continue to move away, and see our city’s population continue to decline. I see our priceless historic buildings continue to deteriorate, then get torn down, never to return. Our leaders may not think of it this way, but by their lack of actions, they’re essentially saying that losing forever these priceless gems that could play a key role in turning our city around is preferable than implementing common sense reforms that hold bad property owners to basic standards common elsewhere, which could prevent the decay of our city. I see the city wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars every year putting a “band aid” on our problems by demolishing dozens of homes each year, creating a new, permanent problem to replace a fixable one. I see us traveling every day farther down the wrong road. And in many ways, the farther we travel down that road, the harder it will be to come back and start heading down the right path. This is true disappointment.
There are people who will accuse me of being “sour grapes,” now that the election is over, if I dare complain about our mayor or about things that I think are not right. I’ve already seen the mayor’s cronies spreading a message along those lines in the social media. They have said “move on, the election is over” when I dared point out when the mayor shared false info, as if I’ve somehow forfeited the right to have an opinion about anything simply because I ran for mayor and lost. That might be reasonable if becoming mayor was a personal goal of mine based on self-interest, and therefore the loss made me bitter.
But it wasn’t. And that’s not me.
I ran for mayor to make Alton a better place by finally taking it down the right path to get there. The fact that the election is now behind us doesn’t mean that we should stop trying to become better than we were yesterday, or that we should cease trying to hold the mayor accountable simply because he won the election, as if he somehow has an unquestioned mandate to do whatever he wants without us daring to question it. If anything, we should be keeping an even closer eye on him than before he was re-elected, because a re-elected incumbent can tend to feel less pressure to please and perform, because his incumbent advantage has just become that much stronger.
Alton is a place I’ve literally watched with my own eyes slowly fall from a proud, prosperous city of over 40,000 people to a poor, declining city of 27,000 during the course of my lifetime. Walker was first elected into office on a platform focused on breaking from the status quo, but in many ways, it seems like he’s settled in to become a new version of the same “good ol’ boy” network that’s held us back for decades.
I will give mayor Walker the benefit of the doubt as he heads into his next four years. I’m hoping that he’ll finally be transparent and open to citizen input, especially from those who are already working hard to make Alton a better place. I’m hoping that he’ll finally be open to making tough choices that are for the long term benefit of our city, rather than trying more than anything to avoid upsetting anyone who might then vote against him, especially the many problem property owners out there who are ruining our city.
If some of what I say here gets you mad, then I’ve accomplished one of my objectives. I want to stir passion in the people of Alton, get them to say, “yes, darn it, we can do better, and let’s try that much harder to make it happen!”
Continued small improvements here and there, like Walker has done over the past four years, WILL help, and I give him credit for these improvements. But, IMHO, they will NOT turn Alton around. We need our leadership to put their energy into getting things done, both small and large in scope, putting forth a real vision and a plan, while making the citizens a part of the process, avoiding the temptation to offer excuses for why this is as good as it gets, and nothing else can be done. Isn’t that what good leadership is all about? If Walker does this, I will become one of his greatest proponents. But if he doesn’t, he should be held accountable like every public servant should be. Fingers crossed!
While there are many people who are disappointed that Walker was re-elected (about 40% of the voters), we can’t lose sight of the fact that Alton remains the same city it was the day before election day: a city with great promise and wonderful opportunities, giving it the potential for a very bright future.
Walker won, the voters spoke, and he deserves our support. Let’s pray that Walker’s second term is when he really starts to shine. It’s our duty as citizens to make sure he does, supporting him and complimenting him when he does, and holding him accountable if he doesn’t, like we should to any public servant.
Let’s work together with our leaders and make Alton’s “tomorrow” a brighter day!