Wisconsin mayor in drinking scandal faces recall

Reuters News
Posted: Feb 21, 2012 11:08 AM

By Geoff Davidian

SHEBOYGAN, Wisconsin (Reuters) - The mayor of a Wisconsin town whose heavy drinking last summer sparked pressure to step down faces a special election on Tuesday against a Democratic former state representative.

Sheboygan Mayor Bob Ryan, 48, who faces Terry Van Akkeren in the first mayoral recall election in Sheboygan history, believes the attempt at recalling him may have served as an intervention. He has said he has not had a drink for months.

More than 4,000 Sheboygan voters had signed petitions to force the recall after Ryan was caught on tape making sordid jokes about a sister-in-law and was photographed passed out in a tavern during a drinking binge last summer.

Ryan said the election should be about who can best bring jobs to Sheboygan, a city on Lake Michigan's western shore about midway between Milwaukee and Green Bay.

"That property was almost blighted," Ryan said Monday in an interview, pointing through the window of his City Hall office at an old hotel that has been converted to senior housing.

Van Akkeren, 57, whose son and son-in-law now serve on the city council, said the election was about the mayor's character, which he said led to the city being ridiculed by Jay Leno and others.

"We have a mayor who has been a disgrace to the office," Van Akkeren said. "I heard he stopped drinking in 2009 when he said he'd never drink again but he did. I say it's time for a change."

Ryan and Van Akkeren finished first and second respectively in an eight-way election on January 17. Since Ryan did not receive a majority of votes cast, a runoff election was called. Ryan beat Van Akkeren to become mayor three years ago.

Van Akkeren said he would reinstate collective bargaining rights for public employees if he unseats Ryan, but the special election was driven by other issues.

The Republican-controlled state legislature and Republican Governor Scott Walker last year approved laws limiting collective bargaining rights for many state employees, leading to mass pro-union protests at the state Capitol in Madison and a drive to recall the governor. The petitions seeking a Walker recall election are still being verified.

(Editing by David Bailey and Daniel Trotta)