Madison, spring 1963 – the mayor’s race
In 1961, Henry Reynolds was elected mayor over liberal mayor Ivan Nestingen’s top aide, his administrative assistant Bob Nuckles. In 1963, Reynolds is challenged by Nestingen’s most significant citizen appointee, — east side attorney and land developer Albert McGinnis, who has chaired the city’s urban renewal agency, the Madison Redevelopment Authority, since its creation under Nestingen in 1958.[i]
Reynolds campaigns on the progress he’s made on a new downtown library, parking ramps, and the causeway, and that he held the tax-rate at forty-two mills. And he notes he’s so frugal that he never hired even the one administrative assistant he could have. And he’s got big plans, to expand the municipal airport and for the city to buy wetlands in the Cherokee marsh for conservation and recreation.[ii]
McGinnis, making his first bid for elective office, hits Reynolds for the city’s growing debt, and his very rocky relations with the council. He says the mayor is moving too fast on the Monona Causeway and too slow on annexations. Although the civic auditorium isn’t the dominant issue it was in 1961, McGinnis favors the Monona Terrace site and calls Reynolds’s plan to put the auditorium on the waterworks site across from Conklin Park “ridiculous.”[iii][iv]
McGinnis has the strong support of the Capital Times, and like the paper opposes the April bond issues for Monona Causeway and new sewers; Reynolds emphatically favors both, as does the Wisconsin State Journal, which has long emphatically favored Reynolds.[v]
Their differences are real, but the campaign is relatively genteel – until McGinnis tops Reynolds by 731 votes in the March 5 primary. That’s when Reynolds goes on the attack.
McGinnis’ should have known urban renewal would be an issue in the campaign – especially the MRA’s failure to provide affordable replacement housing for residents whose homes the MRA started tearing down in January 1962. A week after the primary it does, as Reynolds levels a blistering attack on McGinnis which confirms the widespread public criticism of the MRA.[vi]
Reynolds rightly attacks an MRA report from 1959 which stated there was adequate and affordable replacement housing. “The report,” Reynolds says, “was so fantastically inaccurate that anyone who had done a fair job of research would know immediately that it did not reflect the Madison situation,” he says.
Although the 1959 data came from city staff, Reynolds holds citizen member McGinnis personally responsible. “A great deal of needless human suffering arose out of the hasty and ill-planned removal of people from the Triangle Renewal project and reflects the bungling of my opponent,” Reynolds asserts. “Due to the speed with which the authority went ahead, the problem grew worse.”[vii]
MRA member Ald. Harold Rohr, who was vital to Reynolds’s 1961 election but is now backing McGinnis, blasts the comments as “uncalled-for and irresponsible. If he’s got something to say, he should come here and say it.”
State Rep. Norman C. Anderson, another citizen member of the MRA, and future speaker of the Wisconsin state assembly, says Reynolds attacked McGinnis for “purely political reasons.”[viii] “I resent any implication that we have bungled the renewal program [or] caused a great deal of human suffering,” he says.
The MRA considers Rohr’s proposal to invite Reynolds, but concludes “that nothing would be served in having the Mayor appear before the Authority and read the statement that he had already released to the press.”
On election day Reynolds carries the west side, his challenger the east; Rohr helps McGinnis carry the south side, but Reynolds’s support in the Vilas, University Heights, and Nakoma neighborhoods provide the 1300 vote victory, less than half his 1961 margin.[ix]
The election night bond news is uniformly good for Reynolds, as voters approve all five referenda. Four issues worth $7 million—for the University Avenue expansion, storm sewers, airport improvements, and a two-floor addition for the vocational school—pass overwhelmingly; the $1 million bond to start construction of the Monona Causeway carries by a much closer margin.[x]
Days later, McGinnis resigns from the MRA—just one week before his five-year term expires. He does not go quietly. “As a result of your own failure to make yourself aware of and be informed” of the MRA’s activities, he writes Reynolds, “you have placed the redevelopment authority in an apparent emergency situation.” McGinnis suggests that Reynolds start reading the MRA reports and “avoid pushing the panic button or otherwise smear a project carried on as a mandate of the people, with council approval, by non-paid citizen members.”[xi]
Rohr, whom the NAACP and Unitarians had tried to have removed from the MRA in 1961 due to his racial attitudes, also resigns, blasting Reynolds for playing “campaign politics” with the authority.[xii]
Reynolds blunts any political damage, however, with his appointment of the widely respected, just retired school superintendent Philip Falk, who is quickly elected chair.[xiii]
But although Reynolds’ attack on the MRA ends with the campaign, its impact lingers, and helps validate opposition to urban renewal. That opposition grows big enough it gets a referendum on the ballot to abolish the MRA and end urban renewal – and refuse all the federal money that would support it. So exactly one year after attacking the MRA to win re-election, Reynolds has to campaign extensively to save it.
His rescue effort is successful – barely. With 36,665 votes cast in April, 1964, the MRA and urban renewal survive by 367 votes.
And that’s this week’s Madison in the sixties. For the award-wining WORT news team, I’m Stu Levitan.
[i] “Ald. McCormick Pressed to Run in Mayor Race,” CT, September 28, 1962; “Atty. Albert J. McGinnis Is Candidate for Mayor,” CT, November 10, 1962; “McGinnis Announces Candidacy for Mayor,” WSJ, November 11, 1962; “City Ring Has 2, Awaits More Hats,” WSJ, December 10, 1962; “Ex-Ald. Hutchison Weighs Entry in Race for Mayor,” WSJ, December 19, 1962; “Bert Hutchison Takes out Papers for Mayor’s Race,” CT, December 19, 1962; “Otto Festge Is Seriously Considering Mayor’s Race,” December 28, 1962; Gordon, “With Carley Out, Festge Seen Entering Mayor Race,” WSJ, December 29, 1962; Irvin Kreisman, “Festge Will Not Seek Mayor Post in April,” CT, January 14, 1963.
[ii] “Mayor Says City Finances Are in Sound Condition,” CT, February 28, 1963; “Mayor Criticizes McGinnis on Three Issues in Campaign,” WSJ, March 19, 1963; “Mayor Hits McGinnis on City School Issue,” WSJ, March 28, 1963; “Mayor Deplores McGinnis’ Use of Word ‘Smear,’” WSJ, March 29, 1963.
[iii] “McGinnis Says Mayor Has Fiscally ‘Mismanaged’ City,” CT, January 29, 1963; “McGinnis Still Pounds at City Finance Issue,” CT, January 31, 1963; Marcus, “McGinnis Says Mayor Ignored Water Survey,” CT, February 1, 1963; editorial, “McGinnis Wants ‘Instant’ Spending,” WSJ, February 1, 1963; “McGinnis Says Conklin Park Site Unsuitable for City’s Auditorium,” WSJ, February 4, 1963; Marcus, “McGinnis Raps ‘Lump’ Street Bond Vote Plan,” CT, February 6, 1963; Maraniss, “McGinnis Backs Monona Terrace as ‘Good’ Location,” CT, February 8, 1963; Marcus, “Put Madison’s Interests Above Surburbs: McGinnis,” CT, February 11, 1963; editorial, “Wrong Step on Referendum,” WSJ, February 12, 1963; “McGinnis Cites Boost in City Property Taxes,” CT, February 21, 1963; Marcus, “McGinnis Backs Study of U.W. Area Renewal,” CT, February 22, 1963; Marcus, “McGinnis Attacks ‘Packing’ of Bond Issues on Ballot,” CT, March 8, 1963; “McGinnis Hits Mayor on Tax ‘Half-Truths,’” CT, March 16, 1963; “McGinnis Refutes Mayor’s Claim of Curb on Mill Rate,” CT, March 28, 1963.
[iv] Ron McCrea email[to author?], January 3, 2017.
[v] Editorial, “Some Things to Consider about Voting Bonds for Causeway,” CT, February 26, 1963; editorial, “Monona Bay Causeway Is Now within Grasp,” WSJ, March 1, 1963; “Reynolds Defends Causeway,” CT, March 9, 1963; editorial, “Causeway: Reynolds vs. McGinnis,” WSJ, March 12, 1963; editorial, “McGinnis Weak on Causeway,” WSJ, March 19, 1963; editorial, “A Mayor from Madison for Madison—Albert J. McGinnis,” CT, March 19, 1963.
[vi] Marcus, “Mayor Says McGinnis ‘Bungled’ on Renewal,” CT, March 12, 1963; “Mayor Hits McGinnis for Renewal Problem,” WSJ, March 13, 1963; editorial, “McGinnis Bungles Public Housing,” WSJ, March 13, 1963; Marcus, “Reynolds Smears McGinnis in Letter to City Teachers,” CT, March 25, 1963; Gordon, “Reynolds, McGinnis Vie to End,” WSJ, March 31, 1963.
[vii] “Mayor Hits McGinnis for Renewal Problem,” WSJ, March 13, 1963; Herbert Marcus, “Mayor Says McGinnis ‘Bungled’ on Renewal,” CT, March 13, 1963.
[viii] MRA minutes, March 14, 1963; “MRA Members Assail Mayor,” WSJ, March 15, 1963; “MRA Members Lash Mayor; See Criticism as ‘Political,’” CT, March 15, 1963.]
[ix] Gordon, “Mayor Reynolds Wins,” WSJ, April 3, 1963; “Mayor in Close Victory,” CT, April 3, 1963.
[x] “All Five Bond Issues Given City Support,” WSJ, April 3, 1963; “Vote $8 Million City Debt,” CT, April 3, 1963.
[xi] Marcus, “McGinnis Quits MRA Job,” CT, April 8, 1963; Gordon, “McGinnis Leaves MRA with a Blast at Mayor,” WSJ, April 9, 1963; editorial, “McGinnis’ Resignation from MRA Provides an Opportunity,” CT, April 10, 1963.
[xii] Marcus, “Rohr Follows McGinnis out of Post with MRA,” CT, April 9, 1963; “Ald. Rohr Also Leaves MRA; Urges End to Renewal Study,” WSJ, April 10, 1963.
[xiii] “Falk Named to MRA; Forster on Police Unit,” WSJ, April 17, 1963; MRA minutes, April 18, 1963; Gordon, “Falk Elected New Chairman of MRA,” WSJ, April 19, 1963; “Falk Elected Chairman of Redevelopment Authority,” CT, April 19, 1963.