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As La Crosse gets set to elect new leader Tuesday, maybe 2020 did in Mayor Tim Kabat



FILE - La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat testifies on climate change and how La Crosse had to deal with flooding at a Senate hearing in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 10, 2019.

Maybe 2020 was enough for La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat.

He wasn’t asked — this time — about not running for a third term but he did talk Monday on La Crosse Talk PM about all the things that happened last year.

Maybe it all took its toll, and that’s why the two-term mayor stopped there, as the city prepares to learn Tuesday night whether Vicki Markussen or Mitch Reynolds will take the baton.

From the removal of the Hiawatha statue to fallout from a global pandemic or questions about masks to the George Floyd murder, then the police shooting of Jacob Blake that led to multiple protests in the city as well as an SRO dilemma within the school district, to telling Donald Trump not to come to La Crosse, and capped off by an escalating PFAS disaster on French Island, perhaps now was the best time to call it quits.

Kabat has never given a reason why he decided in December not to run for reelection, and he hasn’t said what his next venture will be. A lot of Monday’s conversation pertaining to those issues was centered around how many avenues people have to contact the mayor, how that changed so much over his time and how often he responds.

“Social media, even eight years ago, was not as all encompassing and prominent as it is today,” Kabat said. “Between Facebook and Twitter and phone calls and emails and letters, it’s on a daily basis.

“This year has more than held its own, as far as the amount of communication and really dealing with some very difficult issues,” Kabat added. “People being upset and concerned, and now the PFAS here the last five months have been nonstop every day, all day. It’s been very intense.”

It is, however, that communication with citizens that Kabat said makes city government work so well — and perhaps why it fails at the state and federal level.

“The best advice I can give the next mayor, obviously, is to listen to the citizens,” Kabat said, “and do your best, because that is the one role in the entire city and our entire city government, that is really there to represent all of the people, and not necessarily a council district and not necessarily a department, but to represent everybody.

“So, it’s a pretty awesome responsibility.”

Looking back on eight years, Kabat appears to have had to deal with just about anything you can think of from the sewage and up.

“I think it was my first Oktoberfest,” Kabat recalled, “I got a phone call from one of the pumping companies and they were asking me about the locations for all the porta-potties for the Maple Leaf Parade. And I just asked, kind of naively said, ‘Wait a minute, the mayor decides where all the porta-potties go?’

“It’s those kinds of things — everything from that level, to interacting with a presidential campaign and everything in between — the next mayor will have the joy of dealing with.”

Kabat actually had to be reminded of the fiasco when Trump was planning a trip to La Crosse at one of the worst times in dealing with COVID-19 spread.

“I had completely forgotten about that as part of our 12 months of unbelievable issues,” he said. “But, yes, having to talk to the presidential campaign and ask the president not to come to town was a pretty surreal moment.

“There were a lot of people happy about that and a lot of people not happy about that. So, that was another time where between emails, Facebook and the phone, it was nonstop for quite some time.”

That, however, doesn’t appear to be the biggest response he received from the public in the past year. That honor went to removing the Hiawatha statue.

“Some days, we lost track with just how many different contacts we would receive,” Kabat said, estimating it was, perhaps, 50 responses a day.

But, again, Kabat reiterated how important those contacts were and needs that to be passed on to Reynolds or Markussen.

“That’s why I think our form of representative democracy works so well, because the citizens of La Crosse elect a mayor to lead these issues and to be responsive,” Kabat said. “That’s my hope for whoever is the next mayor, that they will continue that because we really have tried to work hard to respond to every and any request.”

Even if that request is to cancel all someone’s parking tickets — which did happen to Kabat. There is a two-week transition.

“Well, I guess maybe I could pardon some parking tickets or some minor municipal offenses, perhaps,” he joked, adding. “I don’t have anything up my sleeve for the next two weeks.

“Quite frankly, we’re going to be working really closely with the mayor-elect to do as much as we can for a transition so that — on all these issues and our meetings with our departments — that they can hit the ground running as much as possible.”

Host of WIZM's La Crosse Talk PM | University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point graduate | Hometown: Greenville, Wis | Avid noonball basketball player and sand volleyballer in La Crosse

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