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Tim Kabat

La Crosse mayoral candidate Tim Kabat shakes hands with people in the crowd Saturday, March 16, 2013, during the St. Patrick's Day Parade in La Crosse.

Tim Kabat knows he sometimes comes off as a little distant, a little stiff, a little wonkish. His background in city planning makes Kabat detail-oriented, eager to explain.

He admits having to learn when stating his positions on the issues La Crosse faces, less is more.

“Making that transition to few words is kind of a challenge sometimes,” he said.

Yet he’s not too serious that he can’t don a green handlebar moustache for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, as he did last year when representing Downtown Mainstreet Inc., where he has been executive director since 2010.

He briefly considered the moustache for this year’s parade appearance, this time promoting his mayoral run.

“Mom advised me to wear it,” he told his daughter and son, ages 18 and 15 respectively, who gave him the type of look teens seem to save for their parents. “Is that not very mayoral?”

He later praised his young nieces’ parade performance by telling them, “We’re trying to win votes with candy, so you really helped.”

Kabat also was willing, in good spirits, to venture back onto the streets that Saturday with a shamrock sticker on his cheek, a gift from a happy reveler during the after-parade gathering at the Eagles Club.

“If they (the public) only knew,” Kabat said, “I think they’d recognize I’m a pretty laid-back guy.”

Making the rounds

After the parade, Kabat swings by Steve Doyle’s law office on Ferry Street — the state Assembly member is letting him use a room as campaign headquarters — to pick up his wife, Christy.

He’s called her “Red” since they met in 1990, when he was a planning intern at Champaign, Ill., and she was in the finance department.

Though not present at the parade, she earned a shout-out there from a former Whitehall High School student who spotted the banner.

She’s driving today despite her leg still not being healed enough to move far without a wheeled cart. They had to borrow his sister’s van, because their two vehicles have manual transmission.

Yet she insists on being out there, even hobbled. They are a team. And between them, he’ll knock on almost 100 doors on a good day.

A former jogger, the 46-year-old Kabat sets a fast pace in the Kane and Island streets area, breaking into a trot between targeted addresses. He has three sets of boots, he said, that he swaps out to keep his feet relatively dry as he works a neighborhood.

He’ll call back to “Red” as they make these neighborhood rounds, asking about addresses, needing more “sorry I missed you” fliers, noting places that want yard signs.

Often, she’s already written it down, listening with the window rolled down, even with the engine idling and considerable distance away.

He’s learned not to try to get away with anything when she’s in earshot. “She hears everything,” Kabat said.

Kabat is willing to chat if someone wants to vent about City Hall, but most stops are to shake hands, introduce himself, ask for support and leave a flier.

Often the first line he must cross is canine.

A friendly shih tzu. Two boisterous young, bull-type terriers, neither with an ounce of malice in them, unless the threat is to be overwhelmed by excessive begging for attention.

These days, dogs seem to have become the equivalent of kissing babies on the campaign trail.

“I’ll take dog votes,” Kabat told one woman on Kane Street.

At another home in the 800 block of Charles Street, Kabat recognizes the graying golden retriever that shambles up to greet him. “Your dog is awesome,” he tells the owner.

“Glad you made it through the primary,” the man replied.

It’s a second visit Kabat has made to many of these North Side homes, so he’s recognized by more than the dogs.

“Hey, Tim, how are you?”

“You know you have my support.”

The general reaction was not hostile but often wary, until they realized Kabat was not trying to get money from them.

Though not always.

“I have a sign that says ‘no soliciting,’” snapped one woman on Winneshiek Street, drawing an apology.

“I guess she did not care for my charismatic sales pitch for mayor,“ Kabat said back in the van.

The candidate eats little during these rounds. He had a Coke at the Eagles Club, admitting he’d have preferred a beer, and said his campaign is fueled by coffee.

“God, I couldn’t live without coffee,” he said.

Learning to run

This is Kabat’s first foray into politics. Though as DMI director he’s had to sell ideas, this time Kabat has to sell himself — one massive, extended job interview.

“They kind of hinted at, oh Tim, it’s going to be kind of intense,” Kabat told a League of Women Voters breakfast, drawing laughter.

And it likely would include, at some point, the topic of the Kabats filing for bankruptcy in 2010. The family discussed in advance being ready when the time came, just a day after he topped the field of 11 mayoral candidates in the Feb. 19 primary, Kabat said.

The reaction to his explanation — they lacked sufficient health insurance to offset medical bills after his wife needed two of what eventually became four operations — has been overwhelmingly positive, Kabat said.

But Kabat acknowledged it might have done some damage, even though DMI flourished and expanded its membership at the same time the Kabats were going through the worst of their financial troubles. It seemed to take some of the momentum away from the campaign as well, after the strong primary showing.

Kabat’s opponent, Doug Farmer, has painted him as being a fringe dweller of La Crosse, on the bluffs at 2819 Quarry Place, while Farmer lives in the heart of the city. He finds that almost humorous — almost — because the Kabats regularly walk their “spoiled rotten” Britanny past the Farmer home, only about eight or nine blocks away.

Kabat said, ultimately, he doesn’t understand why there has to be this attempt to divide up the city, rather than look at La Crosse as a whole.

He’ll stick with his positive message of collaboration, cooperation, ability to listen and build a consensus to make things happen. He’s done that in one role or another, for two decades.

“You need to get people to dream,” Kabat said.

And he can find common ground with even some of his most fervent opponents.

Former primary rival and City Hall critic Craig Nestor, who calls the prospect of Kabat as mayor “a nightmare,” does have a point that City Hall records should be more easily accessible and available online, Kabat said.

“When you’re mayor,” Kabat said, “you’ve got to be mayor for everyone.”

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(16) comments

People 4 A Better La Crosse

Tim Kabat... go back to your home on the bluff. Maybe you should actually have some experience running a city before you decide you are the best person for the job. Or is this a way to put some money in your own pocket as you drive the city bankrupt and increase the taxes on all the people who don't live in their private estate? I can't even believe this election is close.

"You need to get people to dream...". Seriously? This is a real job, Tim. Not something you can turn and run from after you have ruined the city. You can't declare a city bankrupt Tim... you can only do that with your own personal finances - at least that's something you have experience with.

Mike Hammer

OMG! I just saw the two candidates on channel 19. We were doing shots every time the Kabster said "again". Very dangerous...I feel I will soon lapse into a coma....again.

David Jarzemski

As I previously posted, I like Mr Farmer. I now also like Mr Kabat, after the very positive portrait of him and his family. I don't believe he is the best man for the job of next mayor of La Crosse, however. He comes off as uppity, while Mr Farmer is more down home, relating more to the average voter.

pheasant

I am going to post on Tribune Reporter Bloom. She does not know anything about $89 million in debt for TIFs like the rest of us, and our Councilman. She has been given a Spread Sheet that Lacrosse County has available for their TIFs individually. That have info of almost anything you would want to know about thier TIFs. The City does not have that info, In fact they hide that info, and I can cite many examples of how they do that hiding. But for some reason Bloom purposely looks by those severe shortcoming in scrutiny, accountability, and management. Kabat was our TIF man at City Hall for many years. He is a Nightmare. Bloom for some reason has joined hands as not to let Taxpayers see how far they have buried us in non performing gifts to at time repeat Recipients. This article is far from fluff, it is undefenable. This report is fully aware of what she is dong, and what she is not doing. WHY? you should ask. You will hear not other meritfilled opinion, none!

Sarah23

A vote for Kabat is a vote for even higher taxes. Kabat is another Johnsrud!

LAXTEA

How can you guarantee you won't bankrupt the city after bankrupting your family only 2 years ago? (because you moronically gave up both yours and your wife's state health insurance)

Isn't it sad that someone with such poor decision-making skills is even being considered for this job?

Talulah3

Isn't it sad that you are such a self-righteous scold?

LAXTEA

Really? Would you get a haircut from someone who recently accidentally killed a client? Or allow your kids to ride a school bus with a driver that just had a DWI? That is effectively what bankruptcy is in the business world. It is the ultimate FAILURE.

I might play golf with someone or allow them to mow my grass or something else where trust isn't as important. But I certainly wouldn't allow then to represent the city and run city hall.

Talulah3

Yes, really. You are a scold.

pheasant

I suppose when you know nothing of cold hard facts you repeat the word 'scold' quite a bit? LOL!

pheasant

“You need to get people to dream,” Kabat said.

LOL! I guess to throw aside real info, cost effectiveness, and performance. You guyz have spent the wad. Now you want to spend more,and forget the private sector. As you hide the choices of your very past. I am sorry but dreaming does not make our month shorter after the check is gone. Plus your and Kirch's 'dreaming' and vision has just not panned out. 3 Rental Buildings and a ramp will not help us on the Northside. That was a bad dream.

pheasant

Oh yeah, when you are dreaming about an Art Center downtown. The majority of us will be out for fishon Friday Night. LOL!! Get a clue.

pheasant

It is "sad" that you ignore that you know nothing of $89 million in debt?

RBendiksen

You've got my vote, Tim!

Comment deleted.
pheasant

On your neighbors backs

Comment deleted.
JustADad

I have always appreciated your insights, pheasant, but this comment deserves to be reported as abuse. Keep it clean and we will all benefit from the comments of others.

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