Madison, spring 1965 – the race for mayor
The polite but partisan mayoral election of 1965 gives the city a clear choice between continuity and change: —Businessman George Hall, who ran Henry Reynolds’s successful campaigns in 1961 and 63, and Dane County clerk Otto Festge.
Hall, sixty-four, is chairman of the Hyland Hall construction company and H & H Electric, president of the board of directors of Madison General Hospital, and a member of the Rotary Club and Zor Shrine. 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 a member of the Lions Club.[i] Festge is also a talented multi-instrumentalist who played with the Madison Symphony Orchestra when he was at the university, and was later a public school music teacher in Black Earth.
There’s a strong partisan tone to the officially nonpartisan election. Festge, elected county clerk six times as a Democrat, features a photograph of himself with US Senator Gaylord Nelson in his campaign literature; and his campaign chair is former Democratic Party chair James E. Doyle. Former Republican State Representative Carroll Metzner, along with a former Republican secretary of state and the county party chair are among the 150 at Hall’s campaign kickoff at the Loraine Hotel. Ald. Harold Babe Rohr, the powerful painter’s union leader from the south side who broke with Reynolds last election, is also supporting his chosen successor.[ii]
Following Rohr’s lead, all the construction trade unions support Hall; municipal employees go for Festge. The Federation of Labor’s Committee on Political Education endorses both.[iii]
The race is largely free of the personal invective that marked the 1963 campaign, but there are clear disagreements between the candidates.
Hall’s top priority is an expressway from Blair Street through Law Park to connect to the Monona Causeway that’s currently under construction. So he’s very much against building a civic auditorium there, the place where Frank Lloyd Wright hoped Monona Terrace would be. Hall wants a new site, somewhere within three blocks of the Capitol, to be designed by the Frank Lloyd Wright foundation. Festge favors the Law Park site, but is “not unalterably committed to it,” and 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 finishes fourth in the seven-man primary in March.[iv]
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 cover the rest, but only after more experience.[v]
Festge calls for Madison and the surrounding municipalities to subsidize expanded bus service, turning to public ownership if the subsidy system doesn’t work. He says Hall’s support for new roads rather than mass transit shows he’s “living in the past.”[vi]
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 early in Reynolds’s second term. He also proposes a comprehensive city beautification program.[vii]
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 advocates closing Central-University High School and turning the building over to his system.[viii]
Hall also continues Reynolds’ ongoing attacks on the Capital Times. Reynolds gives a televised end of term interview directly attacking the afternoon paper Times, Hall begins his campaign doing the same, accusing it of hypocrisy. He notes the paper had railed against Reynolds – a third-generation Madisonian– for his second home in Westport and had long denounced candidates who ran for one office while holding another, but was ignoring the awkward facts that Festge had only recently moved into the city and still owns a farm in Black Earth, and is the incumbent county clerk.[ix]
Both candidates say they want to buy forty-acres at Milwaukee Street and Highway 51 for a full general hospital, possibly run by a religious or charitable organization.[x] And each supports the police 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, 24,811 to 16,589.[xi] Madison will have its first Democratic mayor since the third 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, identify and acquire land for the “sorely needed” east side hospital, meet the “great need of improved public transportation,” improve relations with the university, establish a “Madison Area Planning and Policy Advisory Committee for Teamwork” to pursue greater cooperation and coordination with area municipalities, and reduce the council’s role in routine personnel reclassifications.
The liberal Festge closes with a salute to his conservative predecessor, praising former mayor Reynolds for pushing through the Equal Opportunities Ordinance, establishing the Department of Public Works, and getting the Monona Causeway under way. “All of these have been major contributions of lasting value,” he says.[xii]
[i] John T. Aehl, “George Hall Enters Race for Mayor,” WSJ, December 10, 1964; Owen Coyle, “Mayor Says ‘No,’ Will Back Hall,” CT, December 12, 1964; Coyle, “Festge Runs for Mayor,” CT, December 12, 1964; Otto Festge Oral History, interviewed by Ruth Doyle, 1989, Historic Madison, Inc.; William R. Wineke, “Former Mayor Festge Dies at 86; He Was Madison’s Mayor for Two Terms,” WSJ, November 6, 2007.
[ii] “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.
[iii] “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.
[iv] 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.
[v] 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.
[vi] “Festge Cites Lack of Land for Crosstown Expressway,” CT, March 22, 1965; “Bus Service in Madison,” WSJ, March 30, 1965.
[vii]; “Festge Pledges Himself to City Beautification Program,” CT, April 1, 1965.
[viii] “Hall Says City, County Health Agency Needed,” WSJ, March 29, 1965.
[ix] Brautigan, “Hall Maps Anti-C-T Campaign; Hits Festge ‘Machine’ and Hart,” CT, January 11, 1965; Brautigam, “Mayor Hits C-T as Council ‘Dictatort[Dictator?] yes,’” CT, March 26, 1965; editorial, “Festge Can Get Madison Moving Again,” CT, March 30, 1965; editorial, “George Hall: The Man for the Mayor’s Job,” WSJ, April 5, 1965.
[x] “Hall Stresses Planning for New City Hospital,” WSJ, March 14, 1965; “Festge Presses Action on East Side Hospital,” WSJ, March 28, 1965.
[xi] Aehl, “Festge Wins Mayor Race by 8,000 Votes,” WSJ, April 7, 1965; Coyle, “Festge in Landslide Win,” CT, April 7, 1965.
[xii] Otto Festge, “Mayor’s Annual Message,” April 20, 1965, Wisconsin Historical Society Library, WI-M 1 MAY 50.1:1965/4/20; Coyle, “Council Urged: Shun Battles over Personnel,” CT, April 20, 1965; Aehl, “Festge Asks ‘Metro’ Planning,” WSJ, April 21, 1965.