Nancy Mistele's opening shot in her planned challenge against County Executive Kathleen Falk was unusually harsh for local elective races but not out of character for her.
"Kathleen Falk's poor judgment cost a couple of lives," the former Madison school board member today told Channel 27 News, confirming speculation that she intends to oppose Falk in next April's election.
Mistele was referring to two 911 calls that the county has admitted mishandling, one from slain UW-Madison student Brittany Zimmerman on April 2 and one reporting an escalating confrontation that culminated in a beating death at an east-side Madison park on Nov. 3.
As the county's chief executive officer, Falk does play an important role in the 911 center's budget and oversight. In both cases, Falk came forward to acknowledge that errors were made and to pledge corrective action.
But to suggest that Falk was personally responsible for two deaths is at best far-fetched and at worst an effort to play politics with the losses endured by two families.
Does Mistele have reason to believe there was enough time between Zimmermann's call and her death that a prompt dispatch would have prevented it? If so, where does this information come from?
Would Mistele, if elected, be personally responsible for the actions and inactions of every county employee? If a streets worker drives too fast for conditions and kills a pedestrian, is the county executive to blame?
Rather than a reasoned reaction, Mistele is embracing the unhinged and unfair rhetoric of right-wing radio talk show hosts. Last week, according to a reliable source, WIBA's Vicky McKenna called for Kathleen Falk's ouster specifically for "that broad" to be thrown out of office "on her ass." Such is the audience that Mistele who did not promptly respond to a message from Isthmus is playing to with her overheated remarks.
This will not surprise anyone who remembers Mistele's stint on the Madison school board from 1992 to November 1996, or her role in helping defeat a school spending referendum in early 1997.
In March 1995, Mistele pegged opposing a similar referendum as the only responsible course to take, even though she was the only member of the seven-member board to feel this way.
"As elected officials, it's our responsibility to make sure resources are distributed appropriately," she told Isthmus. If the school board was not willing to do this, "then maybe we need to start replacing more board members."
Mistele saw it as choice between doing things her way and being so reckless and irresponsible as to merit removal from office.
That referendum passed anyway, but Mistele was back in 1997, after having to resign her school board seat when she moved out of the district. She led an opposition campaign that succeeded thanks in large part to a last-minute infusion of cash from businesses including American Family, who were worried about paying more in taxes.
Afterward, Isthmus editor Marc Eisen wrote a column taking Mistele to task for winning ugly relying on money from special interests instead of building grass-roots support.
"Mistele's role in this is almost sad," Eisen wrote. "In so many ways, she's an exceptional figure: Bright, sharp, determined, telegenic, she might be the next great conservative hope … if she didn't fight like a pit bull."
To judge from what Mistele told Ch. 27, the bull is back in more ways than one.