Voters in the City of Fitchburg’s 2nd Aldermanic District will have a choice to make between an incumbent running for his third term and a newcomer in April.
Incumbent Dan Bahr will vie with Gabriella Gerhardt for the Seat 4 spot April 7. This will be Bahr’s first time running opposed, as the opposing candidate dropped out soon after filing for the ballot when he first ran for council in 2017.
Gerhardt and Bahr both told the Star they differ on priorities for the district and the city. Bahr said one of his main concerns is property taxes and being responsible with spending, while Gerhardt wants the city to take a more proactive stance on climate change.
Both candidates said they have a strong desire to listen to the concerns of their constituents, and they both noted that Fish Hatchery Road’s construction will have a significant impact on their district.
The Fitchburg Star interviewed both candidates, listed below in alphabetical order, for the seat this month and had them fill out questionnaires regarding their thoughts on the city.
This will be Fitchburg’s first election in which only half of the Common Council seats are up for re-election at a time. The seats up for re-election this year all were 1-year terms granted in 2019. Winners all will have two-year terms beginning in April.
District 2 covers the city north of McKee Road between Seminole Highway and Fish Hatchery Road, with it cutting off in the northeast corner at Leopold Way and High Ridge Trail. The district also runs to the south of McKee just to the east of Osmundson Road and Fish Hatchery down to Lacy Road.
Bahr is a government affairs associate for the Wisconsin Counties Association and volunteers with the Fitchburg Lions Club. He serves as the council president and chair of the Board of Public Works, in addition to being on the finance, personnel and transportation and transit committees.
He said he is running for his third term because he wants to represent the views of his constituents.
“I really believe in listening,” he said. “I think that’s the most important thing an elected official can do – it doesn’t happen enough, and people get caught up in … what the experts have to say. I think the experts are in my district.”
One of his main focuses is taxpayer spending, Bahr said, as he would want to keep taxes from increasing while resolving budget issues within city departments.
“I think my residents in District 2 and across the city pay enough taxes,” he said. “There are limitations to what we can do … I don’t think we should place burdens on people who are on fixed incomes, and I don’t think people should get tax bills where they’re seeing massive increases in taxes.”
Bahr also said growth within the city, and where and how it’s done, is important to residents. He’s not against apartment buildings, he said, but would like to see growth be sustainable across the city and have more people be able to afford to own their own homes.
“I’d like new homeownership opportunities for people of all backgrounds,” he said. “We also need to have that balance … sometimes in the past, there have been some, in my view, who have an ‘anything goes’ approach to development, and there are others who had the philosophical view that we have to push as much high density as possible.”
Gerhardt moved to the city with her husband in 2015 and works as an engagement programs manager at the Morgridge Institute for Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
She is also a Girl Scout Troop leader and belongs to the Union of Concerned Scientists.
She said she is running for alder because there are areas where the city can do better with affordable housing, public transportation and climate change.
“I think there are some citizens that are not being served by the city right now,” she said.
Gerhardt said she would like to see the city put together a climate action plan to add to its existing environmentally responsible policies as a first line of defense against climate change.
The comprehensive plan, which alders will consider for approval April 14, doesn’t include the phrase “climate change,” and Gerhardt said being specific is vital to being prepared to combat its effects.
“I think that local governments really have a unique opportunity to protect their citizens from the impacts of climate change through good policy,” she said. “I think that being deliberate about taking a stand on that could make us a leader in Dane County.”
Gerhardt said she believes the role of an alder is to represent residents and have open lines of communication with citizens about what’s happening in the city.
She said she wants to increase that dialogue through email lists, social media and an updated website with residents to make local government easier to understand and engage with.
“It’s hard – I don’t think that we can expect citizens to constantly watch (meetings),” she said. “That’s the alders, to communicate to the residents.”