Madison in the sixties, early April – the only liberal elected mayor.
The mayoral election of 1965 is polite but partisan and gives the city a clear choice between continuity and change: Conservative businessman George Hall, who ran the successful mayoral campaigns in 1961 and 63 for conservative businessman Henry Reynolds, and Dane County clerk Otto Festge, a Democrat from Cross Plains.
Hall, sixty-four, is chairman of the Hyland Hall construction company and H & H Electric, and president of the board of directors of Madison General Hospital. Festge, forty-four, is a former part-time farmer who began his career in public service as Cross Plains town assessor in 1946 and has been county clerk since 1953; he’s also a talented multi-instrumentalist who played with the Madison Symphony Orchestra when he was at the UW, and was later a public school music teacher in Black Earth.
The nonpartisan election has a strongly partisan tone. Festge, elected county clerk six times as a Democrat, features a photograph of himself with US Senator Gaylord Nelson in his campaign literature. Numerous Republican officials are among the 150 at Hall’s campaign kickoff at the Loraine Hotel. [i]All of the construction trade unions support Hall; municipal employees go for Festge. The Federation of Labor’s Committee on Political Education endorses both.[ii]
Hall’s top priority is an expressway from Blair Street through Law Park to connect to the Monona Causeway, finally nearing completion. So he’s very much against building a civic auditorium there, where Frank Lloyd Wright wanted Monona Terrace to be. Hall wants a new site, close to the Capitol, to be designed by the Frank Lloyd Wright foundation. Festge favors the Law Park site, but would support a different site if demanded by the public or recommended by the planners. The strongest support for a Monona Terrace auditorium comes from Republican attorney William Dyke, who finished third in the seven-man primary.[iii]
The candidates differ on open housing. Hall supports the current ordinance, which only covers forty percent of the housing units. Festge wants to eliminate the current exemptions and expand the law to all units.[iv]
Former assessor Festge focuses on financial issues, warning of the city’s increasing debt and vowing to restore Madison’s AAA bond rating, reduced to AA under Reynolds in 1963.[v]
Hall calls for a joint City-County Health Department and wants to consolidate the villages of Monona and Shorewood Hills into Madison. A member of the board of the Vocational, Technical and Adult schools, Hall wants Central High School closed and its building turned over to his system.[vi]
Both candidates support buying forty-acres at Milwaukee Street and Highway 51 for a full general hospital, and [vii] each supports the police policy of taking photographs at political demonstrations.
There’s little doubt about the outcome. Four years of Republican rule is enough for Madison. Festge carries nineteen of twenty-two wards on his way to a landslide twenty-point victory, about 25,000 to 17,000.[viii] A year into the Great Society, Madison has its first Democratic mayor since the first month of the Kennedy Administration.
Festge lays out an ambitious agenda in his inaugural message: settle the longstanding dispute with the Wright Foundation over fees and start a new auditorium process, buy land for the east side hospital, expand mass transit, improve relations with the university, and more.
But two years later, taxes and crime are both up, college students are starting to cause trouble, and the building trades are on strike. After winning by eight thousand votes in 1965, election night 1967 finds Festge ahead by only about thirty votes with just one precinct left to report.
The 46-yo- Festge almost got to run unopposed, but attorney and former broadcast personality William Dyke, who finished third in the seven-way primary in 1965, enters the race just hours before the filing deadline.[ix] A former aide to Republican lieutenant governor Jack Olson, Dyke enjoys active support of local and state GOP officials, while the Dane County Democratic Party doesn’t even endorse Festge, even though he had been elected county clerk six times as a Democrat.
Dyke, thirty-five, campaigns almost exclusively on Festge’s spending, taxes, and purported failures of leadership, and avoids culture and crime.[x] And he proposes organizing a group of experts to advise UW graduates with advanced high-tech degrees how to create, finance and market new products.[xi]
Festge cites as his primary accomplishment the recent acquisition of a site on Milwaukee Street for the long-sought east side hospital, making progress on the Monona Basin auditorium and civic center and helping form the Alliance of Cities to lobby for more state shared revenue. And he notes that most of the tax hike has been for the schools, not city services.[xii]
Festge runs moderately well throughout the city; Dyke wins fewer wards but by larger margins, especially his Nakoma neighborhood. It all comes down to a final ward in University Heights. About 10 p.m., the last numbers come in, and Festge gets his second term by just sixty-two votes out of 35,000 cast. [xiii]
Chastened by his political near-death experience and sensing the brewing tax revolt, Festge vows to keep the tax rate at forty-seven dollars per thousand dollars of assessment. “I believe we can provide for our needs through the normal increase in the city’s valuation,” he tells the council in his inaugural message. It’s a statement he will soon regret.[xiv]
Festge proposes a land bank for industrial uses, and a new transportation commission. And he wants the council to create an advisory committee on housing and social services, to plan community services for the city’s growing number of poor and elderly.
Having made more progress on the auditorium/civic center in two years than predecessor Reynolds had made in two terms, Festge also swipes at the “small obstructionist minority” doing a “grave disservice to our city” by continuing to fight the project, and says they “deserve forthright condemnation.”[xv]
Festge closes his inaugural message by calling the narrowness of his victory “a challenge to me, my administration, and to this Common Council.”[xvi]
He has no idea of the challenges to come.
And that’s this week’s Madison in the Sixties. For your award winning, hand-washing, social distancing, WORT News team, I’m Stu Levitan.
[i] “Dane GOP Chairman Is Helping Campaign of Hall for Mayor,” CT, January 14, 1965; “Doyle Cites Festge’s Work as Important Background,” CT, March 29, 1965.
[ii] “11 City Labor Leaders Support Hall for Mayor,” WSJ, January 17, 1965; Witt, “COPE Endorses Hall, Festge,” WSJ, February 19, 1965; Coyle, “Terrace Dominates COPE Candidate Forum,” CT, February 19, 1965; editorial, “How Long Will Madison Let Ald. Rohr Dictate Its Politics,” CT, February 19, 1965; Brautigam, “COPE Continues Dual OK for Festge, Hall,” CT, March 23, 1965.
[iii] Coyle, “Dyke Indicates Favor for Monona Terrace,” CT, January 21, 1965; “Hall Ends Silence, Raps Terrace Auditorium Site,” CT, February 8, 1965; editorial, “Festge’s Stuck with Terrace,” WSJ, February 23, 1965; Coyle, “Hall Favors Expressway through Site of Terrace,” CT, March 13, 1965; Brautigam, “Major Rivals Say That Terrace Site Is Principle[Principal?] yes Issue,” CT, March 17, 1965.
[iv] Witt, “Mayor Candidates Oppose Skywalks,” WSJ, March 26, 1965; Brautigam, “Metropolitan Problems Take Spotlight at Forum,” CT, March 30; Coyle, “Auditorium, Road Plan Pace Candidates’ Jabs,” CT, April 1, 1965.
[v]; “Festge Pledges Himself to City Beautification Program,” CT, April 1, 1965.
[vi] “Hall Says City, County Health Agency Needed,” WSJ, March 29, 1965.
[vii] “Hall Stresses Planning for New City Hospital,” WSJ, March 14, 1965; “Festge Presses Action on East Side Hospital,” WSJ, March 28, 1965.
[viii] Aehl, “Festge Wins Mayor Race by 8,000 Votes,” WSJ, April 7, 1965; Coyle, “Festge in Landslide Win,” CT, April 7, 1965.
[ix] “Dyke Beats Deadline, Files To Oppose Festge,” WSJ, February 1, 1967.
[x] “’Fiscal Restraint’ Proposed by Dyke,” WSJ, March 8, 1967; Aehl, “Mayoral Race Based on Leadership, Taxed,” WSJ, April 2, 1967.
[xi] “County GOP Backs Dyke for Mayor,” CT, March 31, 1967; Moucha,”Dyke Plea Fails, COPE OKs Festge,’ WSJ, February 17, 1967.
[xii] Coyle, “Festge vs. Dyke: Are There Any Issues?” CT, February 25, 1967; Aehl, “Dyke, Festge ‘Attack, Defend’,´ WSJ, March 11, 1967
[xiii] Aehl, “Festge Barely Wins by 75-Vote Margin,” WSJ, April 5, 1967; Coyle, “Festge’s Win Is Affirmed,” CT, April 15, 1967.
[xiv] Coyle, “Mayor Vows Effort To Hold Tax Line,” CT, April 18, 1967.
[xv] Coyle, “Forster, Smith Off Auditorium Group,” CT, April 18, 1967.
[xvi] Otto Festge, “Mayor’s Annual Message, April 18, 1967,” WI-M 1 MAY 50.1:1967/4/18, Wisconsin Historical Society Library [Will it be clear to readers where this source can be found?]. Yes