Madison, spring 1967 – the Race for Mayor
Mayor Otto Festge was elected to his first term in 1965 by eight thousand votes. But election night 1967, he’s ahead by only about thirty votes with just one precinct left to report. That’s what happens when taxes and crime are both up, college students are causing trouble, the building trades go on strike the day before the election, and everything feels like it’s breaking down.
Festge, forty-six, 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 January 31 deadline.[i] 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.[ii] And he pledges to help Bucky Badger succeed in the space-age business world by creating a committee of experts to advise UW graduates with advanced high-tech degrees how to create, finance and market new products. Existing Madison businesses don’t have any need for high energy physicists or electronics engineers, he says, so the city will have to help create new ones. .[iii]
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 – neither of which is ever built — and forming the Alliance of Cities to lobby for better state shared revenue. And he notes that most of the tax hike has been for the schools, not city services.[iv]
Festge runs moderately well throughout the city; Dyke wins fewer wards but by larger margins, especially his Nakoma neighborhood. It all comes down to University Heights, a precinct with a thousand votes. About 10 p.m., the last numbers come in: Festge 511, Dyke 474. Festge gets his second term by just seventy-five votes—reduced to sixty-two after a recount, 17,261 to 17,199.[v]
In other races, former council president William Bradford Smith, the republican attorney who failed to unseat U.S. Rep. Bob Kastenmeier last fall, loses to political newcomer John Morris by 14 votes out of 31 hundred cast. Smith’s wife Betty is a member of the Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women.
And Mrs Fran Remeika, who in the early sixties fought for the Greenbush families evicted by urban renewal, and for the referendum that came within a few hundred votes of abolishing the redevelopment authority, falls short by about the same margin in her campaign to become the second women ever to serve on the common council. A probate research worker living in the Crestwood cooperative community, Remeika loses to professional engineer William Dries, who lives in the high-income Highlands. Mrs. Ethel Brown, who from 1951-1964 represented the same University Heights district that saved Festge tonight, remains Madison’s only female alderman.
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 on April 18. It’s a statement he will soon regret.[vi]
Citing economic expansion as “perhaps the single most vital consideration” the city faces, Festge reiterates his call for an industrial land bank and proposes creating a transportation commission. He says there’s a “crying need” for better social services planning and delivery and asks the council to create an advisory committee on housing and social services, to help develop community services for the growing number of elderly and low-income public housing residents.
Festge, who had made more progress on the auditorium/civic center in two years than immediate predecessor Henry Reynolds had made in two terms, also takes a bold swipe at the diehard enemies of Frank Lloyd Wright and Monona Terrace: “The attempt by a small obstructionist minority to once again delay this project is a grave disservice to our city, and deserves forthright condemnation from the leaders of this community—including the morning newspaper and candidates for public office.”.[vii]
Festge closes his inaugural address by calling the narrowness of his victory “a challenge to me, my administration, and to this Common Council.”[viii]
He has no idea of the challenges to come.
[i] “Dyke Beats Deadline, Files To Oppose Festge,” WSJ, February 1, 1967.
[ii] “’Fiscal Restraint’ Proposed by Dyke,” WSJ, March 8, 1967; Aehl, “Mayoral Race Based on Leadership, Taxed,” WSJ, April 2, 1967.
[iii] “County GOP Backs Dyke for Mayor,” CT, March 31, 1967; Moucha,”Dyke Plea Fails, COPE OKs Festge,’ WSJ, February 17, 1967.
[iv] Coyle, “Festge vs. Dyke: Are There Any Issues?” CT, February 25, 1967; Aehl, “Dyke, Festge ‘Attack, Defend’,´ WSJ, March 11, 1967
[v] Aehl, “Festge Barely Wins by 75-Vote Margin,” WSJ, April 5, 1967; Coyle, “Festge’s Win Is Affirmed,” CT, April 15, 1967.
[vi] Coyle, “Mayor Vows Effort To Hold Tax Line,” CT, April 18, 1967.
[vii] Coyle, “Forster, Smith Off Auditorium Group,” CT, April 18, 1967.
[viii] 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