The three candidates for the 1stDistrict seat of the Sturgeon Bay Common Council met for a civil evening of questions on Feb. 5 in a candidate forum held by the Door County League of Women Voters in advance of the Feb. 17 primary vote.
The candidates are incumbent Dan Wiegand, who has been under the microscope lately as chair of the city’s Plan Commission; Gerald Pelrine, co-founder of American Folklore Theater (now Northern Sky Theater) and, by his own admission, a member of the “working class” as a professional waiter, licensed barber and cosmetologist and certified nursing assistant; and Kelly Catarazoli, “The candidate with the most complicated last name,” and co-owner with her sister of The Foxglove Inn in Sturgeon Bay.
The format called for each candidate to give a two-minute introduction, which was followed by anonymous questions from the audience. The candidates had three minutes to answer each question.
From the introductions attendees learned that Wiegand has been serving on the council for 10 years and that he “originally ran on the fact that I wanted to give back to the community that I have lived in – well, the other day it was 64 years.”
Catarazoli grew up in Milwaukee, moved to Sturgeon Bay, and then to Portland, Ore., for five years, before returning here to be with family and to open the business with her sister.
Pelrine outlined his background in theater and as a member of the working class.
The first question asked, why do you feel qualified to take this position?
“What I can bring to this and tell you with complete confidence, I am a very hard worker. I will rise to the challenge,” said Catarazoli.
“Well, I’m full of energy and interest in this job. I want this job,” Pelrine said, adding that he would bring an artist’s thinking to the often tedious tasks the council deals with.
Wiegand mentioned that he spent 35 years in the family petroleum business, with the last 15 of those years as manager before selling the business. “Our budget in sales there was larger than the City of Sturgeon Bay budget,” he said.
The second question asked the candidates to name positives and negatives of Sturgeon Bay.
“It’s a happening city, baby,” Pelrine said, adding that the growth of the creative class that has grown up around the arrival of pat mAcdonald and the Steel Bridge Fest about 10 years ago are definite positives, while a negative is that “the only decent job in town is to work at Bay Ship,” he said. “We need great employers with higher standards of wage and benefits. I believe we need a new evolution in the council and the office of the mayor.”
For Wiegand, the big negative is that “We have a race track in the middle of the community, which irks a lot of people.” For a positive, he said Sturgeon Bay is now on the map. “Sturgeon Bay has the opportunity to be the hub of tourism in Door County. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve helped it happen. We have done a great job of building this community. Sturgeon Bay is on the map.”
Catarazoli said there is “an endless list of positives,” including being surrounded by water, having a working waterfront and a strong community. “There is momentum here. New small businesses opening. New events happening. It’s just endless.” For negatives, she pointed to the lack of well-paid jobs and low building standards. “If you’re going to build here, you need to build better.”
The candidates were also asked their opinion of the controversial hotel proposed for the Westside Waterfront Redevelopment project.
Pelrine said he is against it for many reasons, but especially because of the “old-fashioned, outdated process” that approved it, specifically, a city council of “older white men” with “old-fashioned solutions.”
Wiegand had already voted for the project in the Plan Commission and City Council, so it was no surprise that he is in favor of the hotel. He explained that allowing a private developer to build the hotel would bring money into city coffers for other projects in the waterfront plan. “We’re doing this for the future,” he said.
“I’m adamantly opposed to this hotel,” said Catarazoli. “This is a TIF district. I’m opposed to those.” She added that she didn’t understand the urgency of passing the plan and is “highly disappointed” in the common council for unanimously supporting the hotel by approving the first reading of the zoning change at its last meeting on Feb. 3.
The candidates were also asked whether the city should hire an independent attorney, rather than using the services of Attorney Randall Nesbitt of the Pinkert Law Firm, who recently filed a defamation lawsuit against Carri Andersson, Catarazoli’s sister and business partner, for a letter she distributed about the proposed waterfront hotel and members of the Pinkert firm being involved with the developer and the city.
Wiegand said the city needs an expert in municipal affairs, such as Nesbitt, who also works for several other municipalities in the county.
Catarazoli said the idea of hiring an independent attorney is worth studying and that “in lieu of current circumstances,” she could not have confidence in Nesbitt’s guidance. “He has not addressed legal questions we have,” she said.
Pelrine said he finds himself in between his opponents’ views. “In my opinion, the learning curve for bringing in someone new would be very steep,” he said.
You can view the entire candidate forum on the city’s website, .