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Concerned Calhoun Community group grills mayoral candidates

Moderator Barbara Roncke poses a question during a mayoral debate at Swanson Elementary School on March 18.

Moderator Barbara Roncke poses a question during a mayoral debate at Swanson Elementary School on March 18. Photo By Peter Zuzga

March 21, 2014

Mayoral candidates Steve Ponto and Jeff Speaker repeated many of the familiar lines about maintaining services and holding down taxes during a forum hosted by the Concerned Calhoun Community group Wednesday at Swanson Elementary School.

But by narrowing in on local issues, moderator and former president of the community group Barbara Roncke illuminated a few differences between Mayor Ponto and former mayor Speaker.

Cell towers

Asked to address a state law that limits municipal control over the placement of cell towers, Ponto said he opposed it, like several other laws he said have eliminated local control. But he said the city is working with Elmbrook Memorial Hospital to locate a tower on its property, which he thinks is a positive solution.

"Verizon specifically needs to improve coverage in the area of Elmbrook Hospital," Ponto said. "It's important to realize 85 percent of the calls that go to 911 in Waukesha County come from cellphones. We have to have first-rate coverage."

But Speaker said he thinks the city should be more aggressive in pushing for a shorter tower, or one located less conspicuously, such as by the city's recycling center.

"To have it located at the hospital, it's still going to be a visual eyesore for a lot of properties," Speaker said. "Do I support a cell tower? I like the convenience. Do I believe we need one that tall? I'm not an expert, but I'd have a lot of questions."

I-94 interchange

Roncke brought up a past vote by aldermen to fund a study on a potential Interstate 94 interchange at Calhoun Road. She asked whether the candidates would vote for this again, if it resurfaced.

Speaker said that although he opposed an interchange at that location during his first run for mayor in 2002, he did vote to do the study.

"I voted the way I voted so I could give property owners an answer," he said. "It's been looming over your heads in this area for longer than I can remember. ... And now, I don't think that's there anymore."

Speaker and Ponto agreed it was a moot point now, saying there is no need for an interchange.

But Ponto said he never voted to fund the study, and when asked what he would do if it came up again, said, "It won't, not as long as I'm here."

Support from alderman

In his opening and closing remarks, Ponto said he has the public support of 12 of the 14 current aldermen, many of whom served with both him and Speaker as mayor, and has an endorsement from former mayor Kate Bloomberg.

"Aldermen are elected by their constituents to make decisions about the city government," Ponto said. "The fact that 12 are supporting my candidacy, and none are supporting my opponent, is of fundamental importance."

Speaker brushed off the comment, saying he didn't have these endorsements when he ran successfully in 2002, and they "really don't matter to the citizens."

"When I ran I never asked for the endorsements," Speaker said. "I believe a true leader stands on his feet and doesn't need people standing behind him to make his case for him."

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