I'm not going to tell you how to vote in the race for Dane County executive, or any other electoral contest. I don't think that's my role. I'm glad that Isthmus does not endorse candidates. I'm comfortable with the credo Vince O'Hern imparted my first week on the job, 23 years ago: "Our mission is to inform and not persuade."
Perhaps that's why I feel such profound discomfort with how Dane County executive candidate Nancy Mistele is using my words to persuade voters that the incumbent, Kathleen Falk, is unfit for office.
Mistele, in a campaign flyer and nearly identical Robo-call to voters, quotes from my Isthmus column of May 8, 2008, published one week to the day after Jason Shepard broke the story in our pages that slain UW student Brittany Zimmermann had called 911, but no help was sent. The section used notes that Falk "initially wouldn't apologize, said no mistakes were made, criticized Isthmus and Noble Wray and blamed the Legislature. Only after a public uproar, national media attention and political pressure did she switch gears."
All of these things are true, and none of them reflect well on Falk. But honestly, I think most politicians, confronted with a similar situation, would behave similarly, seeking to deflect and minimize blame.
This, in itself, doesn't make them evil. It makes them human. And in Falk's case, it's not the whole story.
Yes, she did engage in some ultimately futile attempts at damage control. Yes, she did stand by Joe Norwick, her choice for 911 Center director, even after he misled the press and made manifest his lack of knowledge about the center's operations. Yes, she did back county officials as they threw up a wall of official secrecy around the Zimmermann case, spurring a mostly successful open records lawsuit by media organizations. (See also Watchdog, "Whirled Records, 8/21/08.)
But Falk ultimately did take appropriate steps to restore public confidence, without unleashing a tsunami of spending on the 911 Center, as Mistele seems to be promising to do. She instituted new policies, beefed up staffing, accepted Norwick's resignation and oversaw a professional process for picking a new director.
Kathleen Falk is not a monster or a reckless incompetent. (Note to Falk campaign: Don't say I never gave you a line you could use in your campaign lit.) And there's no reason to believe that Nancy Mistele, had she been in office at the time, would have handled the situation any better.
I am not excusing Falk's oversights and missteps. I'm just pointing out that Nancy Mistele has also shown something negative about herself in how she's sought to exploit this issue, trying to turn a young girl's tragic death to her own personal political advantage.