Madison, April 1, 1969. Another pivotal election.
In April 1961, the city ended years of liberal leadership by electing a conservative mayor, businessman Henry Reynolds. In 1969, it’s poised to do so again – attorney William Dyke.
A former top aide to the Republican lieutenant governor Jack Olsen, Dyke was making his third bid for the city’s top job. In 1965, he didn’t make it through the primary; in 1967, he lost to the liberal incumbent Otto Festge by only 64 votes. But when he announces his 1969 campaign on January 4, Festge quickly announces he’s not running for a third two two-year term – a decision he says he made before Dyke’s announcement. Attorney and former west side alderman Robert “Toby” Reynolds, a leader in Senator Eugene McCarthy’s 1968 Wisconsin primary campaign, is Festge’s heir apparent.
After four years of rising property taxes, and growing crime and disorder, Dyke is happy to run against a candidate who celebrates his relationship with the incumbent. “This city deserves change, and you can’t tell one of these Bobbsey Twins from the other,” he says.
Dyke, also a former television announcer, wins the primary with more than 56 percent in the six-candidate race, beating Reynolds by better than 2-1 and carrying thirty-seven of the city’s forty-one wards. Reynolds, former head of the trust department at Security State Bank and senior warden and lay reader at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, doesn’t carry a single ward, as UW–Extension curriculum analyst Adam Schesch, twenty-six, backed in the nonpartisan race by the new leftist Wisconsin Alliance Party, carries the four student wards. Quirky attorney and clothing shop owner Edward Ben Elson finishes fourth, followed by two fringe candidates.
The clearest policy difference in the campaign is in transportation. Dyke wants “a major highway connector from the east side through the center of the city” and says mass transit systems “haven’t worked,” either financially or programmatically. Reynolds is “totally opposed to freeways” and says the city “must buy the Madison Bus Company and must do it at once” as the first stage to a comprehensive mass transit system.
Both candidates say the city is in bad fiscal shape. Dyke blames Festge for “the most expensive” administration in city history; Reynolds blames the legislature for legal limits and low state aid.
Dyke campaigns on cutting city spending and working with the private sector to generate economic development, and not on law and order or cultural issues. And he harkens back to Mayor Reynolds’s go-slow policy on annexations, calling for a “good neighbor policy of cooperation” with surrounding towns, and a “metropolitan approach toward mutual problems and interests.” Candidate Reynolds says he’ll “declare war” on the suburbs and continue the Festge/Nestingen policy of aggressive annexations.
Appointed to the Madison Housing Authority by former mayor Reynolds – no relation –Reynolds also campaigns for more scattered-site low- and moderate-income housing. And Reynolds, who championed the fair housing code in 1964, attacks the lack of diversity in city appointments. “Citizen participation is too white, too college educated, too West Side,” he says, vowing to appoint minorities and students.
Endorsements are predictably partisan. The Capital Times and Union Labor News endorse Reynolds; State Journal and the political action committee run by former mayor Reynolds support Dyke.
As the campaign winds down, Reynolds narrows the gap—until a chaotic city council meeting four nights before the election results in an illegal 52-hour strike by the fire-fighters union that breaks his momentum.
On April 1, about 57% of the city’s 75,000 registered voters go to the polls. Reynolds carries the isthmus and near east side, but Dyke rides big margins in three west side wards and the far east side to a four point, 2,000-vote victory.
Dyke won’t be the only newcomer to city government. In the 11 aldermanic wards up for election this year, eight incumbents either stepped down or were defeated; in 1968, only two incumbents were re-elected.
The election also makes history as Eugene Parks, 21, 525 Mendota Ct., cruises to an overwhelming victory over incumbent George Jacobs Jr. – a partner in mayor-elect Dyke’s law firm to become Madison’s first black alder. Parks, associate editor of the Madison Sun weekly newspaper, carries 79% of the vote in the student-dominated Fifth Ward, running ahead of Reynolds. Dyke does not look favorably on Parks embarrassing his partner – he gives him only one committee appointment, to a committee he didn’t request – the Family Services Agency. And he also limits the other student-area alder, Paul Soglin, to a single appointment that he didn’t request, the Board of Health.
And he gives no respect to his vanquished foe, declining to reappoint Reynolds to the Madison Housing Authority. But he shows good political instinct by naming Richard Harris, the African American director of the South Madison Neighborhood Center, to replace him.
Dyke also engages in There’s wholesale housecleaning at the Equal Opportunities Commission, removing liberal chairwoman Mary Louise Symon the liberal chairwoman and four other members appointed by Festge. He gives a law and order cast to the Police and Fire Commission, reappointing former republican country chairman Stuart Becker and naming Ellsworth Swenson, the alder Soglin unseated in 1968. And he puts Republican feminist Betty Smith, chair of the Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women, and wife of former alderman William Bradford Smith, on the Madison Redevelopment Authority
Dyke focuses in his inaugural address on city finances, vowing to “halt the march up the tax mountain” and bring economic development to the abandoned Truax Air Field. He decries “the harm we do daily to our air, water and land” and calls for adoption and enforcement of a “code of environmental control.” And while his campaign largely steered clear of hot-button social issues, he declares he will “not reward public tantrums with participation in government.”
Festge’s disappointing spring continues when the Alliance of Cities, which he founded and served as president, rejects his bid to become its full-time executive director. He takes a job selling insurance instead, later serving sixteen years as home secretary to US Representative Robert W. Kastenmeier (D-Watertown).
And that’s this week’s Madison in the Sixties. For your award-winning, vaccine-taking, mask-wearing, hand-washing, socially distant WORT news team, I’m Stu Levitan