The race for mayor in 1967

Festge's narrow victory
The race for mayor in 1967
Photo by Ed Stein, Wisconsin State Journal

Mayor Otto Festge was elected to his first term in 1965 by 8,000 votes. But on Election Night 1967, he was only ahead by about 30 votes with just one precinct left to report.

That’s what happens when you raise the tax rate 5 mills, and crime is up, and college students are causing trouble, and the building trades go on strike the day before the election, and everything’s starting to break down.

Festge almost got to run un-opposed, but attorney William Dyke, who finished third in the 7-way primary in 1965, entered the race just before the deadline. Dyke campaigned almost exclusively on Festge’s spending and taxes and purported failures of leadership, and avoided culture or crime. A former aide to GOP Lt. Gov. Olson, Dyke enjoyed active support of local and state Republican officials, while the Dane County Democratic Party wouldn’t even endorse Festge, even though he had been elected County Clerk six times as a Democrat. Festge ads cited as his primary accomplishment the recent acquisition of a site on Milwaukee St. for the long-sought East Side Hospital, making progress on the Monona Basin auditorium and civic center, and forming the Alliance of Cities to lobby for better state shared revenue.

Festge ran moderately well throughout the city; Dyke won wards by larger margins, especially his Nakoma neighborhood. It all came down to University Heights, a precinct with a thousand votes. About 10 o’clock, the last numbers came in: Festge 511, Dyke 474. Festge got his second term by 75 votes (reduced after recount to 62).

Chastened by his political near-death experience, and understanding the brewing tax revolt, Festge vowed to keep the tax rate at 47 mills. “I believe we can provide for our needs through the normal increase in the city’s valuation,” he told the council in his inaugural message on April 18. It was a marker he would soon regret.
Citing economic expansion as “perhaps the single most vital consideration” the city faced, Festge reiterated his call for an industrial land bank and proposed creating a Transportation Commission. He said there was a “crying need’ for better social services planning and delivery, and asked the council to create an Advisory Committee on Housing and Social Services, to help develop community services for the growing number of elderly and low-income public housing residents.

And the mayor, who had made more progress on the auditorium/civic center in two years than immediate predecessor Henry Reynolds had made in two terms, took a bold swipe at the diehard anti-Wrightians; ‘The attempt by a small obstructionist minority to once again delay this project is a grave disservice to our city, and deserves forthright condemnation from the leaders of this community–including the morning newspaper and candidates for public office.”

Festge closed his comments by calling the narrowness of his victory “a challenge to me, my administration, and to this Common Council.”

He had no idea of the challenges to come.

Otto Festge
Age: 50
Address: 4610 Herrick Lane
Married (Evelyn), three adult children
Slogans: “Keep Progressive Growth for Madison!” “Keep Madison Moving Forward”
Mayor, 1965-1967
Dane County Clerk, 1953-1965
Town Assessor, Cross Plains, 1946-49
Teacher, Black Earth, 1941-46
$9,561 Campaign expenses
17,261 votes

William Dyke
Age: 36
Address: 3626 Council Crest
Married (Joan), three children
Slogans: “Time for Responsible Government” “Live Within Our Means”
Attorney (UW Law ’56)
Staff, Lt. Gov. Jack Olson 1963-1964
City Attorney, Jefferson, 1961-1963
Former radio and television announcer
$3,618 campaign expenses
17,199 votes

Return to 15 web extras about the summer of 1967 here.