Young mayor has vision for town and he’s not afraid to talk about it
Edgerton's young mayor says he's got a vision for the city. Kyle Geissler reports. Look for a full story in Saturday's Janesville Gazette.
EDGERTON When Erik Thompson was young, he always got up early, and his parents had to force him to go to bed, his father said.
“He’s always had 100 irons in the fire and 100 things to do and just extremely energetic,” John Thompson said.
After three years as Edgerton mayor, 27-year-old Thompson has shown that same tendency toward big plans and big energy.
“I like to think big because I believe it’s much easier to scale down from a big thought than it is to go from a very narrow thought and scale up,” Thompson said.
Friends and family say under Thompson’s gruff exterior lays a passion for the town he’s lived in for the last 15 years and a desire to make it better, despite opposition from those who disagree with his ideas or don’t like change.
“He sees (Edgerton’s) potential,” said Thompson’s best friend, Steven Quam. “He sees a Norman Rockwell painting, and he wants that.”
Thompson is a man of contradictions.
He’s a young mayor in a town that trends old.
He reveals little in his stoic, square-jawed face, but he’ll tell you in no uncertain terms what’s on his mind.
Most tellingly, he wants to preserve Edgerton’s old-fashioned, small-town feel but says the only way to do that is by moving the community forward.
“I want Edgerton to preserve its character, preserve its heritage, but at the same time it has to grow a little bit,” he said. “It’s got to grow enough to keep tax base here.
To that end, Thompson has worked on one development project after another as alderman and later mayor.
During his two terms on city council, the city solicited proposals for a downtown development that eventually became the Fulton Square project, and Edgerton Hospital and Health Services announced its intention to build a new facility. Thompson enthusiastically supports both projects.
As mayor, Thompson appointed a committee to study the possibility of a new City Hall, a project that could go to referendum in June. The city also is working on a plan to redevelop another downtown property.
“I definitely have a vision where I would like to take this town,” he said.
The toughest part of that vision has been revitalizing the downtown. The area used to be the bustling heart of the city, but lately it’s been a revolving door for many small businesses.
Thompson said he doesn’t have the complete answer for fixing the downtown, but he believes the nearly complete Fulton Square project is part of it.
Some residents have criticized the project for taking the emphasis away from existing retail space and removing parking, though Thompson is quick to point out the city will have a new parking lot behind the project.
Thompson believes some oppose the project because they don’t like change, he said.
“It’s the most idiotic thing anyone can think of,” he said of resisting change. “If you want this town to succeed, you have to accept things are going to change…
“People can give me all the grief in the world they want because they don’t believe (Fulton Square) is going to work, and that’s fine. I’ll take it. But the fact of the matter is it adds close to $6.5 million in tax value in this town that wasn’t there before.”
Thompson works closely with City Administrator Ramona Flanigan on his goals.
Flanigan said she’s formed a great working relationship with the young mayor. They communicate well, and he’s always clear about what he wants, she said.
His youth only is a problem when it prejudices people against his leadership, she said.
“His motivation isn’t political,” she said. “He is really motivated by what’s best for the city.”
One motivation is to make the city better for himself and, someday, his children, he said. He plans to run for another two terms as mayor and then perhaps pursue his dream of opening his own butcher shop. He hopes to raise a family in Edgerton, he said.
“Every time I’ve tried to leave this town, something’s pulled me back to it,” he said. “I don’t know why, but it’s just a wonderful town to be in, and I love it. I love it with all my heart.”
ERIK THOMPSON ON …
His first three years as mayor: “It’s been exactly what I expected, a roller coaster ride … It has its ups and downs. It has its moments when it pushes you to the brink of despair; it has its moments where it pushes you to utter enjoyment.”
Growth: “I don’t expect Edgerton to grow huge. I don’t want Edgerton to become a city like Verona or Waunakee or Sun Prairie—those ones that just became this population explosion and ruined the character of the towns. I want Edgerton to preserve its character, preserve its heritage, but at the same time it has to grow a little bit.”
Why he loves Edgerton: “I love the fact that I can go out and everybody that I see (I know) by name. I love the fact that people can come up to me and talk to me about anything.”
Why he wants to run for two more terms: “I think every eight years you need changeover, new fresh ideas coming in, or else they get stagnant.”
Politics: “The word ‘politics’ in and of itself scares me. I see what the Democrats and Republicans are doing in this country. I think they’re full of crap. I’ll never run for higher office because I don’t believe in having to run as a Democrat or Republican in order to get elected for higher office.”
Communication: “I want people to feel like they can come up and talk to me. I sometimes portray the image that I’m not approachable, that I don’t care sometimes, and that’s not the case. I just have a lot of things on my mind. Sometimes that translates to how my body language is.”
Communication, part 2: “People can come up and talk to me whenever they want. (Pause.) As long as they’re going to be constructive about it. I don’t deal with the people that are going to be jerks. I just don’t. Because the negativity that they show is what this world needs to get rid of. I understand times are tough right now, but you can’t fix the problem if you’re going be a negative person.”