By Steven Jackson
Beloit College alumnus Mark Spreitzer’09 is running for Beloit City Council. His platform emphasizes his fresh perspective as a young person, his love of Beloit, and his commitment to field citizens’ concerns and represent them in local government. The Round Table sat down with Spreitzer this week to learn about his political views, his take on the Beloit community, and other sundry tidbits.
Round Table: Why did you decide to run for city council?
Mark Spreitzer: I’ve been involved in city government a bit in the past. A current council member [suggested] that I run when I was a student. We talked through that option and I decided I didn’t have time to balance that with being a student, but the idea stuck with me.
What made the decision to do it right now actually was working on the Feingold campaign. Last April through November I worked as an organizer for Russ Feingold’s senate campaign, and one of the main parts of my job was to organize people going door to door, and going door to door myself. The first question we asked at the doors was, “Are there any issues are concerns you have?” Everything we heard we’d feed up the chain and Russ would get it. But I wanted a chance to ask people those questions and then do something about it.
Now I have the ability to go door to door and ask people for votes, but also ask them what matters to them and then be able to say “Great, if I get on the council I can look into that and I can get back to you on that.” I’m excited to have the direct opportunity to work on issues that people are talking to me about.
RT: What are you most excited about working on as a council member?
MS: The first thing, whether I’m excited about it or not, is the city’s budget. We’re the largest recipient of state funds of any city [in Wisconsin], so with the cuts coming down we’re going to be very, very affected. The next council will have to decide what programs get saved and what programs get cut.
Once we get through those really difficult things, I’m excited about some of the initiatives that are going in the city, [such as] a project to put solar panels on City Hall and the fire department headquarters. I also want to do what I can at the city level to help with different neighborhood groups, and make sure there’s someone from city council to go to those groups and hear what they have to say and be actively involved. There are a couple of people on council who take an active interest in that, but I wouldn’t say that’s the majority.
RT: This is your first time running for office. What were some of your first impressions?
MS: At first it was really intimidating actually putting my own name out there…I had to get over this mental barrier…It’s easy to ask for something for someone else [but] it’s really hard sometimes to ask for something for yourself, and I had to be willing to do that.
Balancing the time between “I have to do this organizational piece,” and “I have to be out talking to voters,” is really a challenge. I’m the best asset the campaign has for getting votes…my time is best spent face to face with voters. At the same time, if I’m the campaign manager, I’m the best asset that the campaign has for strategy and organization.
RT: Why should students care about local politics?
MS: Students bring a voice that needs to be heard and can make a difference in elections, whether as voters, volunteers, or organizers. I think Beloit college students can really help shape the community that they’re a part of for four years, and I want to encourage that.
I just want encourage student to turn out for this election. I think as a recent alum, I would provide a fairly close connection with the college for issues where the city and the college need to be working together. I just hope that one of my legacies at Beloit College was increasing student election turnout, and I would love to see that continue–and I would certainly be honored to be a part of that in terms of receiving some of those votes.
RT: Did your experiences in college shape your political aspiration?
MS: I was involved in Beloit College politics in a lot of different venues. I was president of Interfaith Club for two years, I was an officer in several other clubs, including the Outdoor Environment Club. I was in BelCon for 4 years representing a couple of different clubs, I went to BelFAST for most of those four years, and I was also on Academic Senate for two years, [where] I got to see faculty politics and the college budget…this was back when we were going through a pretty big transition. I was there for one year under Burris, and then another year under Dick Niemiec, right when college budget cuts were going on. Having that experience of [working with] a budget is informative as I look at being on the City Council, where we’ll be making budget decisions. All of those experiences of being in different student and faculty government were definitely informative and helpful in preparing me for this.
RT: Are you the youngest candidate?
MS: Actually there are three of us in our 20s. One guys is either 22 or 23. He’s out of state, in the military–he’s stationed I believe in South Carolina right now, and he’s going to be back a couple of days before the election. I don’t expect him to be a factor in the race just because he’s not here to campaign. And then there’s a guy who’s two years older than I am. But to the average voter who I’ve been talking to, I’m the youngest candidate [who] they’re aware of.
RT: How has the community responded to your candidacy?
MS: It has mostly been positive. I have found a lot of people who think we do need a younger face and a fresh perspective. I’ve had people say “You’re new, we need someone new, I’ll vote for you.” A lot of people obviously want to look deeper into the issues, but are still excited that somebody young believes in Beloit enough to be putting themselves forward to run. They’re looking for people with that energy, people who think Beloit has a bright future ahead of us.
RT: How do you feel about your prospects in the election?
MS: From the beginning I’ve been running as an underdog. I started out with less name recognition than several candidates and I had some catching up to do. I think I’ve been doing that catching up, and I think things are moving in the right direction and [getting] to a point where I think I have realistic shot at winning. But whether that’s a 50-50 chance or what, that’s really hard to quantify. It’s in a position where it could go either way.
RT: If you don’t get elected, what will you do?
MS: I plan to stay here either way. I plan to continue to make Beloit home. When the election’s over, whether I win or lose, I need to be looking at getting a full time job and starting to think more about what direction I want to go with my career. I’ve thought about substitute teaching. There’s a good chance I would go that route, if not this spring then in the fall.
RT: Last question: In five words or less, why should I vote for you?
MS: [Deep in thought for a while] I share your values.
Whatever your political views, get out and vote this year. Election day is April 5. Voting take place at the First Congregational Church on Bushnell Street (across from the Poetry Garden) from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.