Mequon — The future starts now.
That is among the main reasons why Mequon Alderwoman Connie Pukaite said she has decided against running for re-election in April.
Pukaite, who won her district two seat with 58 percent of the vote in an unprecedented write-in campaign in 2014, has had an active political career in Mequon. She served as an alderwoman from 1981 to 1986 before serving two more terms as mayor from 1986-92.
She was admittedly stunned when she was contacted three years ago by a group of citizens who pleaded with her to serve once more.
“I was definitely flattered, as well as incredibly humbled, when I got the call three weeks before the spring election asking if I would serve if I were to be elected,” said Pukaite. “I, of course, knew at the time that write-in campaigns rarely work, but they said that was their problem and again asked whether I would serve. I never turn down an opportunity to serve so I agreed and here I am.”
An attitude of servant leadership prompted her political involvement as well as motivated her throughout 26 years of employment for the Association for Retarded Citizens.
Ozaukee Now’s Ty Schmidt recently had a chance to sit down with her to reflect on her time of service to the community.
Now: I understand you’ve been active in local government for some time. How would you explain what prompted your decision to step aside?
Pukaite: I’ve been concerned for some time that in our local elections as well as state and federal elections, once a person is elected that incumbent can continue to be elected time after time with very little effort; there’s not the competition that generates good, lively debate and discussion and I think that’s a shame for our democracy. That isn’t to denigrate or criticize the people who are serving at all. It’s just that I think we need to be encouraging new people to step up their game and get involved with their local government, in their community.
Now: What would you say is keeping the younger generation from being more involved?
CP: It’s really easy to go to work and come home and have dinner and take the kids to soccer practice, but what I think about is when I was first serving as alderwoman, we didn’t have soccer fields. Maybe they’re too busy or they think they don’t want to be a politician, but it’s important for them to get to know the decision-making process and the only real way to do that is to get involved.
Now: How would you summarize your approach to local government through the years?
CP: My whole life’s passion and kind of guiding principle has been to seek ways to serve people and do it for the common good. With an eye toward meeting immediate needs but always kind of keeping that eye on big picture. What needs to change to improve life for people moving forward, for our community going forward?
Now: So how would you say that has helped guide your decision-making process while acting as an alderwoman and mayor for Mequon?
CP: It seems to me wise, particularly if you’re talking to a city and its service to its citizens, that you look to the future and really work toward that future for that community as a whole, so you approach decision making in terms of how will this affect us today, but more importantly how will this affect our community in five years, 10 years, 15 years or longer?
Now: What is your proudest accomplishment as a servant leader in Mequon?
CP: One of the things that I was influential in in my career was developing the first tax-incremental financing district to create a business park that is now feeding quite a lot of tax dollars back into the city of Mequon, school system and all of the taxing bodies that are served by local taxes. That’s the business park that Rockwell is the anchor/owner in now, so I’m pleased with that because it serves the public purposes very well.
Now: Anything else in particular you are particularly proud of being a part of during your time in local office?
CP: I had the pleasure of working on the council to develop the first comprehensive land-use plan the basics of which are still in place. Seeing the city develop in a measured and careful way, making sure we didn’t just willy nilly allow developers to develop anything wherever they wanted. We decided what we wanted well in advance of development heading our way. Most people don’t like to see change, yet when it occurs, people are generally very happy with it.
Now: So what’s next for you?
CP: I certainly won’t be bored. Joking aside, I am very involved with the Mequon-Thiensville Sunrise Rotary as an officer and will continue my work with the Mequon United Methodist Church and continue my service on the board of directors for Family Promise of Ozaukee County and on the board and grant committee for Wisconsin United Methodist.