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WIZM 2021 Review: mayor’s race, Kind retirement, Biden La Crosse visit highlight year in politics

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The election of a new mayor, a Congressman’s retirement, and a quick presidential visit were high points of politics in La Crosse during 2021.

Mayor Tim Kabat decided not to seek a third term this year, and 10 candidates entered the mayor’s race — ranging from sitting city council members to hopefuls just barely above voting age.

Mitch Reynolds (left), Vicki Markussen (right)

The top two candidates on primary night were former Chamber of Commerce director Vicki Markussen, and former WIZM reporter and La Crosse Talk PM host Mitch Reynolds.

Both were familiar to voters, having worked for years in local broadcasting. Markussen had been a reporter for WXOW-TV in the 1990s.

In the April balloting, Reynolds was elected mayor by a margin of 205 votes. He was sworn in April 20.

The makeup of the city council changed, too, with six new council members taking office.

The La Crosse council had a female majority for the first time in city history with seven women and six men in office. For most of the year, city meetings were conducted online or at the southside neighborhood center, because City Hall was undergoing remodeling.

The 3rd District Congressional race will be closely watched in next fall’s election — mainly because 13-term incumbent, Democrat Ron Kind decided to retire.

FILE – Ron Kind announcing he would not be seeking a 14th term in Congress in front of his former Roosevelt Elementary School on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021.

Kind made the announcement in August, outside the old Roosevelt School in La Crosse, saying he was “out of gas” after 25 years of regular commuting between Wisconsin and Washington.

Kind won a close race in 2020 against veteran Derrick Van Orden, who launched a second run for the seat just three months into Kind’s new term. Third District Republicans have already endorsed Van Orden for the party nomination.

Meanwhile, a number of Democrats have entered the race for Congress, including State Sen. Brad Pfaff, who served on Kind’s House staff, as well as and Army veteran Deb McGrath — the daughter of 1970s Congressman Al Baldus.

And the new 3rd District map has not been approved yet, with some proposals aimed at making the district more friendly to the GOP, including the elimination of Stevens Point from the voting area.

For the second consecutive year, La Crosse County hosted a presidential visit in 2021, and it was a different president than the last time, when Donald Trump campaigned at the West Salem speedway in October 2020.

President Joe Biden talks with Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers after ordering ice cream at The Pearl Ice Cream Parlor Tuesday, June 29, 2021, in La Crosse, Wis. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Joe Biden took a day trip to La Crosse in late June, to speak at the city bus barn about infrastructure, buses, and trains — and federal COVID-19 relief checks to families.

Supporters and protesters lined the streets leading to the MTU site.

Biden was accused of ignoring farmers with his trip, because he had originally scheduled a visit to a southern Wisconsin farm before settling on La Crosse, to promote the bipartisan infrastructure deal that had nearly collapsed days earlier.

The local visit also made news because of the president’s stop at a popular downtown ice cream shop, the Pearl, accompanied by Kind, Gov. Tony Evers and U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin.

A native of Prairie du Chien, Brad graduated from UW - La Crosse and has worked in radio news for more than 30 years, mostly in the La Crosse area. He regularly covers local courts and city and county government. Brad produces the features "Yesterday in La Crosse" and "What's Buried on Brad's Desk." He also writes the website "Triviazoids," which finds odd connections between events that happen on a certain date, and he writes and performs with the local comedy group Heart of La Crosse. Brad been featured on several national TV programs because of his memory skills.

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