Photo from Katie Rosenberg Facebook campaign page
Photo from Katie Rosenberg Facebook campaign page

Katie Rosenberg wants to focus on continuing important services and have the city do more vetting before borrowing for projects

When Katie Rosenberg takes over as mayor of Wausau next week, her to-do list will include something no one could have imagined when she announced her candidacy a year ago. But now she will have to take over a community whose economy has been knocked back on its heels from a pandemic and then shift gears to the long-term plans that helped her win election last week.

“It’s going to be a lot of work, but I’m ready,” she said. “I’m ready for this.”

While a mayoral election often focuses on issues like the local economy, roads, crime, Rosenberg pointed to a more technocratic priority to make sure essential city services continue should the pandemic worsen.

“One of the things I realized right off the bat is that (Marathon) County is very prepared to offer contingency plans for continuity of service for every department, and it isn’t something I was seeing from the city. So that’s something I’m going to shore up with the city right away because it’s really important we continue the services that people need,” she said, and included exploring ways to ensure continued participation from officials and the public when conditions require them to be apart.

Even before the outbreak eases, Wausau’s business community will need assistance. Rosenberg said she wants to have discussions on how the city can provide options that include low-interest loans and technical support for connecting with other resources through the Small Business Administration and elsewhere.

Pandemic worries have not kept Rosenberg from enjoying her victory over incumbent Robert Mielke. That joy was evident from the moment she hit “refresh” one more time on the election results website and saw that she had won. Her first reaction was on Twitter.

“HOLY BALLS!” was all she tweeted. Her exclamation went viral, attracting more than 20,000 likes from friends, fellow politcos and celebrities. And yet she could not enjoy the traditional post-election party due to the coronavirus outbreak. Instead, she was on a Zoom teleconference call with her campaign manager and friends while staying at home with her husband.

“It was not what I expected, but it was kind of nice to be in my home and celebrate that way with the people I care about,” she said.

The campaign focused on the financing of economic development in Wausau and the amount of overall debt carried by the city. Rosenberg believes debt repayment is taking up a larger percentage of the city budget than necessary and affecting the city’s ability to support education, the business community, and more. She said she will be trying to improve best practices for Wausau by looking at other Wisconsin cities such as La Crosse and Eau Claire.

“I’m really excited to start on those changes almost immediately,” she said, saying past experience with economic development projects has taught her that developers in the future need to “vetted more thoroughly, like a commercial bank would if they’re giving money. Making sure they have earnest money up front so we know they’re serious.”

Rosenberg cited the Foxconn development in Racine County as an example where the Legislature developed a $4.5 billion package that didn’t follow the state’s own best practices guidelines.

“WEDC has certain standards and that specific development didn’t meet those standards,” she said, referring to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.

Rosenberg has served for four years on the Marathon County Board, but she said her age, 36, and gender played a role in her decision to announce her campaign a year in advance in order to meet as many people as possible face-to-face. She said she observed her father’s years in local politics.

“He got negative feedback but it was never about his gender or his age,” she noted. “You always think about those factors, how you’re appearing to other people. But I am who I am.”