You may have seen the article on Tuesday announcing that City of Manitowoc District 10 (northwest side) alderman Bruce Jacobs has submitted his resignation after a scant 4 months on the job, having defeated incumbent alderman Rhienna Gabriel this past April. The timing of this resignation, and the subsequent decision by the Common Council to fill the vacancy using a candidate of their choosing, has many wondering whether this may part of a larger ploy to get a hand-picked candidate on the Council. In Scope fashion, we will look closely at what might be really going on here, and in truer Scope fashion, we will look deeper at what we feel is the larger, rather troubling, implication.
In favor of the theory that there is something nefarious going on, recall that back in 2018, the Council worked awfully hard to get Ald. Gabriel off the Council, even going so far to take the draconian action to take away her right to vote at the Committee level. When Ald. Gabriel came up for reelection in Spring of 2019, Bruce Jacobs ran against her. After being asked several times, Mr. Jacobs finally did admit that Mayor Nickels recruited him to run. So, it is fair to conclude by earlier actions and by their recruitment of Mr. Jacobs, the mayor and several of his allies on the Council simply wanted Ald. Gabriel elected off of the Council, and were working actively toward such a result.
The attempt worked wonders. Mr. Jacobs won easily in the spring election, and was sworn onto the Council in April. But now here we are in August, and Ald. Jacobs is already resigning. And to fill the vacancy, the Council has decided to take applications from the public, from which they will chose Jacobs’ replacement. So, within a period of maybe 18 months, a subset of the Council has weakened Ald. Gabriel, successfully recruited a candidate to elect her off the Council, and will choose the alderman who will represent District 10 for the next year and a half.
Start the rotors on the black helicopter while I put on my tinfoil hat! Is it possible that this subset of the Council, wanting to get Ald. Gabriel off the Council with the highest probability of success, recruited an extremely popular retired public employee with huge name recognition to run against her? But this person wasn’t who the Subset wanted long term, so they made a nudge-nudge wink-wink deal with Jacobs to win the election, but quickly resign so that the Subset could get their person in when they get to decide the replacement? Did the Subset know that Jacobs would be moving?
This idea seems far fetched, but that it seems even slightly plausible should worry us just a bit about the trustworthiness of City government! Before you dismiss this theory as completely absurd, take a walk with me back to a simpler time—2013 and 2014. Around that time, Tyler Martell was the alderman from District 5 (Holy Family neighborhood). Ald. Martell infuriated the Subset by publicly accusing them of lying and doing things in secret. Ald. Martell was also vocally critical of the Mayor’s handling of the near-removal of the Bud Beer Murals on Washington Street. (Teaser alert—out next article will give an update on that.)
Ald. Martell—not surprisingly—found himself in the Subset’s crosshairs! Lo and behold, when Ald. Martell ran for reelection in spring of 2014, he was defeated by Keith Shaw—an extremely popular retired public employee with huge name recognition. And what did Ald. Shaw do in November of that very year?—He abruptly resigned! Huh! And the Council decided to pick his replacement to serve out the term. Tyler Martell submitted his application as did retired Holy Family executive Pat Brandel and former County Board member Don Goeke. Pat Brandel got 6 votes, Martell got 2 votes, and Goeke did not receive a vote. (I was one of the two aldermen that voted for Martell.)
The Jacobs situation is suspicious in its own right, but the eerie parallels between this situation and the Tyler Martell matter gives one pause. The aldermen who were part of the Subset were on the Council in 2013 and 2018. The parallels can be seen even more clearly when the information is laid out in a handy table:
|How vacancy was handled||Council solicited applications, chose Pat Brandel over Tyler Martell and Don Goeke to fill spot for remainder of term by a vote of 6-2.||Council soliciting applications and will choose among them to fill vacancy for remainder of term (April 2021)|
1Bruce Jacobs admitted under relentless questioning that he was recruited to run by the Mayor. The Periscope does not know why or how Keith Shaw decided to run in 2014.
To keep things balanced, it’s also quite possible that this is just a wild coincidence. Ald. Jacobs has indicated that he is moving out of Manitowoc. If you don’t live in the district, you shouldn’t be representing it on the Council. And—every time this happened when I was on Council, the Council chose to fill the seat by this exact same process rather than calling for a special election. So the fact that Council is choosing the replacement is not something that was dreamed up for this particular case. It’s fair of the black helicopter crowd to ask whether Ald. Jacobs would have known that he would be relocating back when he first ran for Council? That’s an impossible question to answer. But we all should closely watch who the Council picks to fill the seat. That might tell us quite a bit!
Regardless of what you think is really going on with this resignation, there’s an even bigger issue at play here. That being, the voters of District 10 are subject to decisions that are being made by people who don’t live in their district. They are underrepresented and disenfranchised. Consider: The Subset first decided to take away committee voting rights from the alderman that the disctrict duly elected (Rhienna Gabriel), effectively rendering her powerless. Then the district fairly elected Bruce Jacobs, but now he has resigned and the Subset will be choosing his replacement. Even if the district approves of this replacement, the replacement has not been chosen by district voters.
District 10 consistently has the highest voter turnout of any of the ten aldermanic districts. It also trends conservative. I have suggested in the past that Ald. Gabriel wasn’t overly conservative or liberal, and Ald. Jacobs had some politically contradictory positions (said he was a Republican but signed the Scott Walker recall petition), but in general, this is a conservative district. This district supported Donald Trump, Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Brett Hagedorn, Scott Walker, Ron Johnson, Leah Vukmir, etc. This district is now going to be represented by an alderman who is chosen by the Subset. The Subset isn’t exactly liberal, but they want and need to keep power consolidated within a small circle. So, it’s extremely likely that they will pick a replacement that isn’t going to ever, ever dare question them. We already know what happens to people that do that. When the Periscope did that a few months ago, we were told to move out of Manitowoc because we weren’t in favor of progress! Is that what District 10 wants?
Some have argued that a special election would be expensive or unnecessary. If District 10 had a special Council election, it would almost surely be held in April of 2020 on the exact same date as the Wisconsin Democratic Presidential primary, which will happen on the same date as the other 5 open aldermanic elections. So—There would already be an election, a printed ballot, poll workers hired, the polling place being opened—Adding a line for an aldermanic election would cost maybe, what, 29 cents? The claim that it’s too expensive to hold a special election is spurious and voters in that district would turn out, as they do in every election.
Dear readers, keep a very close eye on this.