The hotly contested Watertown mayoral race comes to an end with voting on Tuesday, June 20… maybe. Touting the historical accuracy of its unscientific straw poll, the Watertown Public Opinion reported its respondents leaning toward challenger Sarah Caron over incumbent mayor Steve Thorson but only by five percentage points. With that narrow margin and third man Mike Davis to split the vote, Watertown may need a runoff to pick its mayor.
In Q&A with the WPO, Caron strikes three fiscally conservative notes over Mayor Thorson. Caron calls the new city hall Thorson wants to build a “luxury”. She advocates replacing the stoplights on Kemp Avenue downtown with cheaper four-way stop signs, while the mayor says the question “stumps me and warrants further research.” And not surprisingly, given that she brought to light the Mayor’s unauthorized use of a city vehicle, Caron says the city should not provide the mayor with a car on top of the mayor’s $80K+ salary and travel reimbursements.
Perhaps the loss of his misappropriated car has led Thorson to cut down his travel around town. After appearing at one city ballot forum with Caron and Davis on June 7, Thorson declined Caron’s invitation to a public debate dedicated to the mayoral race this week:
In an email to media outlets Monday afternoon, Thorson declined the invitation, saying any such debate would put him at an inherent disadvantage.
“As I stated earlier this month, I have no plan to participate in any further debates or forums with Sarah. She is fully aware I have a huge disadvantage in those settings, because Sarah can attack anything about me, or my record,” Thorson wrote. “The Chamber held their forum and there has been extensive coverage by all the media concerning the issue surrounding this election” [Dan Crisler, “No Takers in Caron’s Mayoral Debate Challenge,” Watertown Public Opinion, 2017.06.13].
Actually, Mayor Thorson, I’d say the real disadvantage comes from letting your opponent have the mic to herself for 70 minutes with the press and 44 interested voters. 44 may not seem like a big crowd, but given that a May candidate forum in Aberdeen, a town with 25% more people, drew only half as many viewers, I’d suggest Caron has provoked significant interest…
…including the interest of Dan Lederman, whose Rushmore PAC is sending out two postcards, one claiming Caron is running for revenge against the city, which fired her for insubordination this year before she declared her bid for mayor, the other boosting Thorson:
Dan Lederman, chairman of the attack-loving South Dakota Republican Party, patron of SDGOP attack blog Dakota War College, sends a card telling others to keep “desperate attack politics in the gutter where they belong.” Oh, how rich.
And Caron has said why she was fired:
“I have no limitations on discussing my termination and would like the public to know that, as my letter of termination states, I was fired for an act of insubordination in which I questioned my superior’s integrity,” she wrote. “This is true. I refused to look the other way while corners were cut on drainage requirements on a new development. There are many other issues that should be discussed and I will do so with or without the others on Wednesday evening” [Crisler, 2017.06.13].
Lederman’s anti-Caron/pro-Thorson cards aren’t the first time Rushmore PAC has interjected itself into a local, nonpartisan election. Caron wonders why a national partisan PAC would care about a local mayor’s race; Thorson says the funding actually came from locals trying to hide their identity:
There was a group of local contractors and developers that are afraid to put their name out there if she were ever to win this election, which I don’t believe she will, but if she were ever to win, the retaliation, the vindictive behavior that she puts out there, is just horrible, and they would be really concerned about their businesses and their livelihoods [Steve Thorson, audio in Mike Tanner, “Watertown Mayoral Candidates Make Late Pitch for Votes During Appearances on KWAT,” KWAT Radio, 2017.06.16].
I would think a candidate like Caron sounding fiscally conservative notes would be right up Dan Lederman’s ally. Instead, he launders money for local wheeler-dealers who want to launch anonymous attacks on behalf of a mayor who avoids public forums.
We’ll find out Tuesday whether these Rushmore PAC cards, funded by anonymous locals, can chip away Caron’s tenuous five-point straw poll lead.