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Weld won with newer neighborhoods over Werthmann's downtown-centered support

Terry Weld’s gains in outlying Eau Claire neighborhoods gave him the edge to win the City Council presidency Tuesday, overcoming support for Andrew Werthmann that was centered in downtown and nearby housing.

With census data considered, Weld did better in parts of Eau Claire where voters tend to be older and own their homes, whereas Werthmann took areas where the population is generally younger and often lives in rental properties.

Weld won election Tuesday to a one-year term as council president, earning 6,790 votes to Werthmann’s 6,087, according to unofficial results.

Werthmann has the longer record in city politics, having served in a district seat on the council for a decade and with two more years left in his current term representing District 5.

While Weld had only been on the council for two years, he did have name recognition from the 12 years he owned and operated downtown hotspot Houligan’s and more recently as a local real estate agent for the last 18 years.

That could’ve played in his favor as he got the majority vote in neighborhoods on Eau Claire’s north, south and west sides.

Werthmann is the younger of the two candidates, having moved here in 2001 to attend UW-Eau Claire, followed by his career as a consultant for the Pew Charitable Trusts, and establishing his home here.

Campaign finance reports showed Weld had the advantage for both fundraising and spending two weeks before the election. Weld had raised $25,785 by March 18 compared to the Werthmann campaign’s $19,620. Weld had spent $17,000 compared to about $9,900 the Werthmann campaign had used.

A look at voting wards each candidate won and demographic data available for those areas shows some differences in areas that leaned toward Weld and others that tended toward Werthmann.

Age, homeownership

Citywide, the median age of Eau Claire residents is about 31 years old, but it varies by neighborhood.

Areas where Werthmann did best have median ages ranging from the early 20s to mid-30s. Meanwhile, Weld captured census tracts where the median age goes from low-30s up to mid-40s.

There are also differences in the rate of homeownership between areas the different candidates found support.

While on the campaign trail, the two candidates had slightly different perspectives on how to deal with the area’s housing shortage.

Werthmann put affordable housing as a top issue for his campaign while also often discussing the need to address poverty in the community.

Weld also spoke of the need for more homes across all price categories including — but not limited to — “affordable housing.”

Census demographics showed areas with the lowest percentages of home ownership tilted toward Werthmann while areas with more owner-occupied houses leaned toward Weld.

Neighborhoods near North High School helped Weld win Tuesday. A census tract there has an average age of 43.5 years old and 86 percent of homes there are owner-occupied.

Near his own home, Weld did well in the Putnam Heights neighborhood on the city’s south side. A census tract that includes much of Putnam Heights and the South Middle School area has a median age of 45 and 84 percent of homes there are owner-occupied.

An exception to Weld’s support coming from areas with predominately owner-occupied homes was his victory in wards on the city’s southeast corner near Oakwood Mall. Residents in that census tract have a median age of 36 and 65 percent of homes there are rentals.

Weld held the advantage in all voting wards south of Clairemont Avenue, except for one. Werthmann got a slight gain from ward 48, which consists of rental housing south of Golf Road between Fairfax Street and Highway 93.

While Weld carried Eau Claire’s newer subdivisions outside the heart of the city, Werthmann won downtown and surrounding older neighborhoods, including all of District 5.

Werthmann got a boost from a census tract that includes the 3rd Ward and UW-Eau Claire campus where the median age is just 20 years old and 57 percent of housing there is owned by a landlord.

The Randall Park neighborhood, where many university students live, also went for Werthmann. That neighborhood is in a census tract with a median age of 22 years old and only 20 percent of homes there are owner-occupied.

Downtown, where only 9 percent of residents own their homes, also went for Werthmann. The census tract including downtown shows residents there have a median age of 27.5.

Werthmann also took the neighborhood in which he lives, the East Side Hill. That enclave is in a census tract with a median age of 34.7 years old and 65 percent of homes there are owner-occupied.

At-large race

In a 10-person race for five at-large council seats that was also on the ballot Tuesday, a newcomer garnered the most votes.

Landlord and real estate agent John Lor received 7,622 votes in the election — about 1,400 votes ahead of second-place finisher and incumbent Councilwoman Kate Beaton.

Lor’s first-place finish mirrors the past performance of Councilman Michael Xiong, who was the top vote-getter in the 2013 and 2016 council elections. Xiong opted not to seek re-election this year.

Lor also ran the largest campaign in the spring election, receiving $33,421 in contributions by March 18 — one of the most expensive campaigns for a candidate in city history.

Lor got the most votes in the majority of voting wards throughout the city, except for a handful that went to each of the two next finishers.

Beaton, who was first elected to the council in April 2016, won a sophomore term. She won the most votes in wards in the Randall Park area and UW-Eau Claire’s upper campus. Beaton had the second-largest campaign this spring. She rose from a fourth-place finish three years ago to come in second on Tuesday.

David Klinkhammer, who lost his district seat a year ago, will return to the council thanks to a third-place finish. His campaign was the third-largest among the at-large candidates. He won a few wards near his home on Eau Claire’s southeast corner near the Oakwood Mall area.

Coming in fourth in the election was newcomer and business owner Laura Benjamin. She had the fifth-largest campaign, behind Dale Poynter, who missed the cut with a sixth-place finish.

The last person to secure a seat on the council is incumbent Councilwoman Catherine Emmanuelle. She opted to run a less expensive campaign this year, but has the benefit of name recognition from being in office since 2012. The fifth-place finish is lower than the 2013 and 2016 elections when she came in second to Xiong.

Results of Tuesday’s at-large election were similar to the Feb. 19 primary, except Emmanuelle finished fourth and Benjamin fifth in that election.

The current City Council will preside over next week’s meetings on Monday and Tuesday. Those elected Tuesday will be sworn in and begin serving later this month.


GETTING READY FOR THE PITCH

Trigg Zickefoose of American Fence in Chippewa Falls works on the fence around the new UW-Eau Claire softball field dugouts at Bollinger Fields on Wednesday. The Blugold softball team has their home opener next Wednesday against River Falls. View more photos at LeaderTelegramPhotos.com.


AP
GOP sees positive 2020 sign in Wisconsin Supreme Court race

MADISON — Conservative Brian Hagedorn’s strong showing in Wisconsin’s Supreme Court race cheered state Republicans Wednesday, with their first positive result in a statewide election since 2016 suggesting reasons for optimism next year in a critical presidential battleground.

Hagedorn led liberal-backed Lisa Neubauer by 5,962 votes — less than half a percentage point — in a race that could still go to a recount. But it came after a string of losses by Republicans in special and statewide elections since Donald Trump carried the state.

While Republicans were excited, they were also cautious about what Hagedorn’s showing means for President Donald Trump’s re-election.

“Nobody should assume because Republicans won this race that they will continue to win everything else,” Republican strategist and former state GOP leader Brandon Scholz said. “This is one election where all the pieces came together at the end. 2020 is an entirely different, politically charged animal with the presidential race.”

Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, who has been leading GOP efforts to rebound following the 2018 election, credited Hagedorn’s showing with a ground-up engagement with conservatives who were angry with attacks in the race and national Democratic priorities.

“This is the recipe for success,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been preaching since the day after the November 2018 election. We have to energize, rely on the grassroots.”

Hagedorn benefited from a late infusion of $1.2 million from the Republican State Leadership Committee. Conservative talk radio, including former Republican Gov. Scott Walker for three hours the day before the election, also worked to drive up turnout.

Republicans compared attacks on Hagedorn to those on U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. National political fights over the release of Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump and ongoing court battles over a lame-duck legislative session in Wisconsin also fueled interest in the race, GOP strategists said.

Hagedorn said attacks against him over long-ago blog writings, including calling Planned Parenthood a “wicked organization” and denouncing court rulings that favored gay rights, motivated his supporters.

Democrats took the result as a sign that despite a string of wins, including ousting Walker in November, nothing can be taken for granted.

“Not that Democrats needed it, but it’s another wakeup call that every single election here is going to be highly competitive,” said Democratic strategist Joe Zepecki.

“This is not a red state. This is not a blue state. This is the deepest shade of purple there is on the spectrum.”

Neubauer didn’t immediately say whether she would request a recount, which would face a tough challenge in overturning such a large margin and which would come at her expense. She immediately appealed to supporters for money in case she pursues the recount. Counties have until April 12 to report final vote totals, and Neubauer has three days after that to request a recount.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has been the deciding force in several partisan battles over policy in recent years, and is itself clearly partisan — conservatives hold a 4-3 edge. Democrats had hoped Neubauer would capture a seat currently held by a liberal justice, maintaining that spread but positioning them to win the majority in another election next year.

Unless Hagedorn’s apparent victory is undone by recount, conservatives instead will enjoy a 5-2 majority and won’t be at risk of losing it until at least 2023. The high court already looks likely to decide early disputes between new Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and majority Republicans in the Legislature.

Turnout was nearly 27%, well above the 22% of last year’s state Supreme Court race. Hagedorn overcame Neubauer’s huge margins in the liberal strongholds of Madison and Milwaukee by running up the vote in Green Bay and more rural parts of northeastern and north central Wisconsin. Those are both parts of the state that helped fuel Trump’s win in 2016.

Wisconsin recounted its presidential vote in 2016 at Green Party candidate Jill Stein’s expense. In that recount of nearly 3 million ballots, only 131 votes were changed — in favor of Trump. Neubauer, in a recount of just 1.2 million ballots, would have to pick up 45 times as many votes.

The 2016 presidential recount cost local election clerks $2 million — more than the $1.7 million Neubauer raised during the entire campaign through March 18. However, those costs included overtime for clerks who had to count nearly 2.9 million votes under a tight deadline due to the Electoral College.

Given the recent tight elections, Republicans are taking nothing for granted going into 2020, Johnson said.

“We have to run almost perfect elections going forward,” he said “If (Democrats) are energized, we’re going to have issues. Nobody will be overconfident. We know what’s at stake.”


Front-page
Menomonie school board race corrected

Clint Moses, Chris Freeman and incumbent David Styer won the three open Menomonie school board seats up for grabs in Tuesday’s election, according to unofficial results.

Initial returns from Dunn County on Tuesday night indicated candidate Nell Heifner-Johnson came out ahead of Freeman by 23 votes. However, those reported numbers did not include ballots from one piece of voting equipment in the city of Menomonie, county clerk Julie Wathke said Wednesday morning.

With the missing votes from Wards 3 and 4 in the city of Menomonie added, the unofficial total has Freeman winning the third seat with 1,914 votes to Heifner-Johnson’s 1,897, Wathke said.

In total, six candidates were vying for the three open seats.

According to unofficial results, Moses received 2,103 votes, Styer won 2,090, Freeman received 1,914, Heifner-Johnson received 1,897, Bayard Godsave got 1,208 and Urs Haltinner received 923.

Moses is a chiropractor in Menomonie and graduated from the Menomonie school district. Styer owns a Dunn County farm and has been on the board for six years. Freeman is a UW-Stout professor who teaches in the College of Arts, Communication, Humanities and Social Sciences.

Two board members, Tanya Husby and John Sobota, chose not to run for their seats again in 2019.

Members of the school board are elected in the spring and serve three-year terms.

A board meeting is scheduled for Monday.