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Meet the Candidates: Two Hopefuls Vie for Eau Claire Council Seat on April 7

Tom Giffey

Fall partisan elections – when we pick presidents, governors, senators, and the like – tend to get most of the attention, but spring elections in Wisconsin are vital, too. While these elections tend to have lower turnout than their fall counterparts – and turnout might be especially dicey this spring because of the coronavirus outbreak – the people we elect to local offices on Tuesday, April 7, will undoubtedly make decisions that impact our day-to-day lives.

In addition to Wisconsin’s presidential primary, numerous other offices are on the April 7 ballot, including a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, county board seats, a statewide referendum on victims’ rights, and Chippewa Valley Technical College funding referendum (which you can read about here).

City of Eau Claire voters will also choose between two candidates, Dale Poynter and Mai Xiong, to fill an open seat on the City Council, which was vacated when Councilwoman Laura Benjamin resigned in November. Volume One asked the two contenders their opinions on a variety of issues facing the community to help voters get to know them as both people and politicians. Check out their responses below, then remember vote on April 7!


MAI XIONG (challenger)

Age: 30
Years in Eau Claire: 15
Family: My husband and I have three beautiful children ages of 6, 10, and 12, all born in Eau Claire and attends our local neighborhood schools.
Occupation: Regional director of development, Special Olympics; Founder and president of Hmong American Leadership and Economic Development.
Education: Attended CVTC for Business Management, licensed under FINRA Series 7 and 66 investment licensed, and has over 10 years of financial and business relationship management.
Political experience: No elective experience. Treasurer, Chue Xiong for School Board.

What’s the most exciting thing to happen in Eau Claire in the past five years, and how do we expand on it?

I am most excited about the revitalization and expansion of downtown Eau Claire. I’m also excited to see increased awareness and initiatives regarding affordable housing. As we continue to seek economic growth for our city, I hope to see the city increase and invest in more equitable access to economic and community resources for families, entrepreneurs, and existing and incoming businesses.

What unique qualities or skills do you possess that set you apart from your opponent as well as other council members?

Over the last decade, I’ve worked with organizations and stakeholders on addressing disparities within our economic system. I have experience in managing state and federal grants for economic development, affordable housing, and homeless prevention, and worked in mainstream finance managing relationships. What sets me apart from my opponent is I have the unique life experience of being a first-generation Hmong refugee. Because of my background, I have experienced the disparities within our systems, I know how it feels to be excluded and undervalued, and I recognize where we could do better to make economic development more equitable.

What role should the city play in creating job opportunities and retaining young workers?

It’s important that the city continues to advocate for bringing in preferred employers that will value and invest in the community and its employees. We must attract a diverse industry that will provide quality and high-paying jobs to retain our young and current workforce. In addition, to retain young workers, we must continue to invest in a livable, lovable, and fun environment with continued support for the arts, renewable energy, and affordable cost of living.

What role should the city play be in local redevelopment efforts?

It is important that elected city officials work in partnership with city commissioners, businesses, and the general interest of the community at large to propose and approve projects that will be of benefit to our community at large. For example, when approving new housing developments or revitalization of a known low-income housing neighbor, the council will be intentional about setting guidelines to ensure that new developments will include low-income and affordable housing and prevent gentrification. Great projects like the Cannery District are made possible by the (Redevelopment Authority) aligning public and private interests to benefit our community.

What can (or should) the city do to ensure affordable, accessible housing for all residents?

When addressing affordable housing, the city should be working alongside community stakeholders like local organizations, developers, lenders, and citizens to provide resources and programs that will educate and assist families who are seeking homes. For example, expand accessibility and equitable access to resources such as homeownership education, housing counseling, renters’ assistance, and more. Most importantly, the city must address the stagnant wages that families are experiencing. Livable wages determine the affordability of a home.

XIONG’S PRIORITIES (out of 100%)

Infrastructure: 8%
Public safety: 9%
Public transportation: 8%
Maintaining/reducing taxes: 5%
Recreational and cultural opportunities: 8%
Public health: 7%
Economic development: 30%
Environmental sustainability: 10%
Affordable and available housing: 15%

Please explain why you organized your priorities as you did.

My top priority is to work toward expanding equitable economic resources that will support a strong, local, and entrepreneurship-minded economy that creates the next generation of businesses, jobs, and living wages for Eau Claire. It’s important to me that as a city creates a culture where we are intentional about bringing the voices of our neighborhoods and communities to helping us solve our biggest problems and that the resources provided are reflecting the needs of our communities. I will work to create a culture in Eau Claire where everyone’s needs matter and their voices are heard. I believe that through the partnership with the Housing Opportunity Commission and my housing background, we can create and expand on resources to address stagnant wages, housing counseling, and education opportunities to increase housing affordability. In addition, building meaningful partnerships and investing in resources to keep our community safe is crucial. Beyond these priorities, I believe it is important to listen and learn and know that our priorities in the different categories should be balanced.

WHAT DO THOSE NUMBERS MEAN? As of way quantifying the candidates’ priorities, we gave them a list of categories and 100 points. They were asked to assign more points to the categories they would emphasize and fewer points to those that would take a lower priority if they were elected. Candidates didn’t have to assign points to each category, and they were given an “other” category if they felt the options we provided didn’t cover all their priorities. We also asked the candidates to explain why they arranged the priorities the way they did. You’ll see that as the last question in the Q&A.


DALE POYNTER (challenger)

Age: 62
Years in Eau Claire: 31
Family: Wife, Jane; three sons and two daughters-in-law.
Occupation: Architect
Education: M. Arch., University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign), 1982; BS-Arch. Studies, magna cum laude, University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign), 1980; including one year of study at the École Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Versailles.
Political experience: No elective experience. Appointed for four years (vice-chair for three years) on the Eau Claire Landmarks Commission.

What’s the most exciting thing to happen in Eau Claire in the past five years, and how do we expand on it?

The renaissance of our downtown has been surprisingly invigorating, thanks to the enthusiastic foresight and hard work of many dedicated citizens. Technically, “expanding on” that development could be somewhat dangerous, I think. The North Barstow Redevelopment District (Phoenix Park, RCU, etc.) was initiated two decades ago and we still haven’t found the right fit for “Block 7.” Although it seems less exciting, I think we might benefit from slowing down a bit and working harder to complete existing projects before being distracted by the next “shiny thing.” There is too much empty retail in the city to be creating more.

What unique qualities or skills do you possess that set you apart from your opponent as well as other council members?

I know little about my opponent, but in contrast to many current council members, I am a parent of grown children, homeowner (property taxes), and business owner. I believe in the importance of fiscal responsibility and personal accountability, especially for public servants. I believe my background and life experiences have equipped me; implementing creative problem-solving and budgeting has been an essential portion of my occupation over the past 35 years. I believe the first and highest priority of government is to protect and preserve the rights and property of all of its citizens, not focusing predominantly on a limited few.

What role should the city play in creating job opportunities and retaining young workers?

In my opinion, government (at any level) can best foster economic growth and business development by placing the fewest obstacles in the way of a free market, while affording protection from theft, fraud, etc. It is not the responsibility of government to assure certain outcomes. It is the role of government to act impartially to assure equal opportunity for all. Retaining a capable, reliable workforce embodying a wide range of ages through encouraging opportunities for apprenticeships and internships makes sense, given our outstanding local educational resources. I think the city should consider giving reasonable priority to local services whenever possible.

What role should the city play be in local redevelopment efforts?

The city should prioritize supporting existing local businesses, as well as working to attract responsible, successful commercial interests by promoting our community as the outstanding city that it is. Reasonable parking regulations and an adequate police presence would help businesses and neighborhoods alike. Although I think the recent efforts of public, private, and higher education entities working together have been remarkably successful (and have served as a positive model for other communities), we must be careful about our increasing use of Tax Incremental Funding (TIF/TID) and the extent to which public resources are utilized (even indirectly) to subsidize private ventures.

What can (or should) the city do to ensure affordable, accessible housing for all residents?

Affordable housing is a persistent issue, yet Eau Claire’s housing is no less affordable or available than that in most cities in our state. Incomes, however, are lower. Attracting different commercial markets (light manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, etc.) which can offer higher wages could help to solve the larger problem. Redefining zoning requirements for single-family and other residential uses (unit size, lot size, density, etc.) could also be a helpful strategy. Making housing more affordable means either building to lower standards or decreasing the size of units. Finally, it is not the city government’s responsibility to provide or subsidize housing for anyone.

POYNTER’S PRIORITIES (out of 100%)

Infrastructure: 20%
Public safety: 25%
Public transportation: 8%
Maintaining/reducing taxes: 12%
Recreational and cultural opportunities: 12%
Public health: 5%
Economic development: 10%
Environmental sustainability: 4%
Affordable and available housing: 4%

Please explain why you organized your priorities as you did.

My prioritization above was simply an attempt to quantify what I believe to be the proper role and scope of local government. The principle functions of city government should include providing law enforcement, fire protection services, and public works; helping to develop a strong local community by promoting a robust business climate and developing healthy recreational opportunities; and providing other services promoting public health and safety. With respect to the specific categories listed, our state and county governments have been assigned the responsibility of providing community health and social services, and a considerable amount of our tax dollars already go to the county to help provide those services. Many justly important concerns (including affordable housing and environmental sustainability) ought to involve the city as a facilitator and role model, while maintaining fiscal responsibility. These efforts most appropriately involve voluntary levels of commitment on the part of private business, personal enterprise and existing (or new) community groups and non-profits (including faith-based organizations), with the support and encouragement of city government. This is markedly different from city government mandating costly and sometimes onerous requirements on itself or local businesses and manufacturers, particularly when the results are often of little long-term measurable consequence.

WHAT DO THOSE NUMBERS MEAN? As of way quantifying the candidates’ priorities, we gave them a list of categories and 100 points. They were asked to assign more points to the categories they would emphasize and fewer points to those that would take a lower priority if they were elected. Candidates didn’t have to assign points to each category, and they were given an “other” category if they felt the options we provided didn’t cover all their priorities. We also asked the candidates to explain why they arranged the priorities the way they did. You’ll see that as the last question in the Q&A.