The mayor’s race is on

(First published in the September 12, 2019 issue of City Pages)

Mayor Robert Mielke announces re-election bid, aims to tamp down debt


Robert Mielke announces his re-election campaign on the steps of City Hall Monday.

Robert Mielke announced Monday, on the steps of city hall, that he is running for re-election next spring. Mielke says in his second term he is focused on reducing the city’s debt.

But his announcement is already drawing criticism from those who say that Mielke used staff time and equipment in his announcement, and that a photo and caption about the announcement was posted to the city’s official Facebook page. Some have told City Pages they are filing an ethics complaint with the state.

Mielke was first elected in 2016, after serving on the city council and as its president.  He defeated challenger Jay Kronenwetter by a narrow margin following a four-way primary battle.

In the April election (or February primary), he will face Marathon County Board Supervisor Katie Rosenberg, who announced her intention to run for mayor in May of this year. Local activist Chris Norfleet shortly thereafter announced his candidacy. If all three announced candidates—or any other candidate—officially make it on the ballot, there will be a run-off primary in February to winnow the field down to two candidates in the April vote.

In his announcement, Mielke touted strong economic development in the city, with 300 units of new housing added, most of it in the city’s core. He says he has changed a contentious culture at city hall, has taken on failing infrastructure projects, and saw the RiverLife Park’s two phases completed under his watch.

Mielke said he was the first mayor to start an annual state of the city address, as well as a monthly coffee with the mayor event where residents can join the mayor at various venues in the city. He lauded support for the Greater Wausau Strategic Plan, presented by the Wausau Area Region Chamber of Commerce earlier this year. 

But critics point out the ongoing saga of the Riverlife developments, which is now on its third developer and has included a financier accused of fraud in Colorado and a lead developer who later filed for bankruptcy. And the amount of debt is adding up, they contend.

Mielke told City Pages the city’s Facebook post was made without his knowledge and quickly taken down, and he did confirm that the city’s podium and PA equipment were used in the announcement, and staff set it up. “It’s something that was done for previous mayors for years, with no known complaints before,” Mielke says. “If it’s determined there was a charge to use it, I will pay for it. No city staff were forced or coerced to be there. They came on their own as private citizens to show support.”

Katie Rosenberg, in a statement to City Pages and other media outlets following Mielke’s announcement, says the city’s debt is projected to increase 300% from only five years ago. In her statement, Rosenberg calls for more strategic stewardship of city tax dollars and more attention paid to remediation of environmental sites, which she says have been poorly defined by the city.

Any complaints about ethics violations would go to the city’s ethics board, whose members’ terms all expired in April 2018, and has not met since, according to city attorney Anne Jacobson. Members of the ethics board are appointed by the mayor, and confirmed by the city council, Jacobson told City Pages.  The Wisconsin Ethics Commission also fields complaints from local government.