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Racine’s mayoral candidates offer differing views on how to address crime, public safety

Racine has seen an increase in gun violence in recent years

Racine waterfront
The Racine waterfront. Racine2020 (CC-BY-SA)

A mayoral candidate with a focus on crime is trying to shift the balance of power in a Democratic stronghold within a Republican county.

Racine Mayor Cory Mason is facing off against Alderman Henry Perez in the April 4 election. Perez is a conservative and has received the endorsement of the Racine County Republican Party. Mason, the incumbent, is a Democrat and former member of the Wisconsin State Assembly.

While the mayor’s race is official non-partisan, the city has remained a Democratic stronghold in recent years while Racine County is largely Republican. Mason has followed in the footsteps of recent progressive mayors for the city. Perez hopes to put an end to that trend.

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State Rep. Cory Mason
Democratic state Rep. Cory Mason said the bill is a boon to special interests. Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin State Legislature

“I think this campaign is really about: Are we going to continue to have a progressive approach to Racine, or is it going to take a different turn and have a very conservative MAGA Republican be the mayor for the first time?” Mason said.

Perez, who has been an alderman for 10 years, said he believes the city has gone downhill under Mason’s leadership. He’s focusing his campaign on public safety and increasing transparency within city government.

“Crime is up. The people are not being well served by city hall and as an alderman, people know that if they have an issue with city hall, they need to come get me and I will walk them through the process,” Perez said.

The Racine Police Department is down over 20 officers, according to a recent WISN-12 report. Gun violence is also on the rise, as the number of gun related cases in the city has increased by 71 percent between 2018 and 2021, according to the Racine County Eye.

Perez, who worked for several years as a police officer in Florida, said he believes the city has “neglected the police,” and he believes adding officers is the key to addressing crime. If elected mayor, he said he would improve the insurance plan for the police department to make it a more attractive place to work, saying he believes plans focused on eliminating retiree health insurance have led to increased retirements. He also wants the police to be more active and visible within the community.

“Being a cop is also being a social worker,” he said. “You have to be able to help people, you have to know resources.”

Henry Perez
Henry Perez. Henry Perez

Mason blamed the staffing shortages on recent retirements. He said the city has negotiated a new contract with the department, increasing the base pay for its officers. But Mason has also been a vocal proponent of increasing shared revenue in the state and believes Wisconsin communities need additional state revenue to address public safety.

“The city of Racine — with the issues we have — needs a partner in Madison that’ll help fund police that we can keep our communities safe and healthy,” Mason said.

Mason also said reducing gun violence and investing in crime prevention initiatives is an important priority for his administration. Mason helped implement the Violent Crime Reduction Initiative, which includes using mentorship programs and community partnerships to address the rise in violence.

As an alderman, Perez said he hasn’t supported many of the moves made by Mason, including his most recent budget.

“What I do think the issue has been here is the inappropriate use of the funding that we have received from the taxpayers and from the state,” Perez said.

Perez said he wants more money to go toward improving roads in the city and helping out more small businesses.

“Roads are critical because if people don’t want to come downtown because their roads are so bad, we have to make it so they want to come downtown,” he said.

But Mason said the city has invested in business start-ups and has handed out millions in small business grants.

“As people are looking for a place to grow or expand their business, people should take a look at Racine,” Mason said.

The county has been a focus of election-related activism. In 2021, Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling claimed the Wisconsin Elections Commission improperly decided special voting deputies couldn’t enter nursing homes to administer absentee votes, alleging that opened the door for the improper use of absentee ballots. Last year, a Racine County man also admitted to fraudulently requesting absentee ballots in the name of prominent public officials, saying he did so to uncover a flaw with the MyVote Wisconsin website.

Mason also said he’s done his best to ensure that elections remain fair and safe.

“We’re very committed to making sure that everyone gets a chance to vote, without harassment or delay,” Mason said.

Mason received 42 percent of the votes during the primary election. Perez earned 30 percent of the total votes cast.

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