Oak Creek Mayor Steve Scaffidi, who has seen his community through tragedy and great economic boom, will not seek re-election for a third term.
Scaffidi, 57, said after spending 10 years as an elected official it’s time for a break, although he is not ruling out politics in the future. His term as mayor ends in April 2018.
“I don’t want people to think that I’m not up for the challenge. I said I would run for two terms, and I’ve enjoyed the hell out of it,” Scaffidi said. “I think we’ve got a lot done, but there are other challenges for me and I’m young enough to want to be able to see what those are.”
During his tenure as mayor, Oak Creek, a city of about 36,000 people just south of downtown Milwaukee, has scored what many consider the biggest retail get in the region’s history. IKEA – the popular Sweetish retailer rumored for a decade to be coming to the Milwaukee area, chose Oak Creek as its first Wisconsin location in May.
Also under Scaffidi’s watch, the old Delphi manufacturing plant is now unrecognizable. The site, located at the southwest corner of Drexel and Howell avenues is now Drexel Town Square, an 85-acre mixed-use project that has received accolades from communities across the country.
Once complete, the project will include a Meijer store, several restaurants, 600 upscale apartments, a mixed-use Main Street, upscale senior living center, health care complex and a new city hall and library.
Scaffidi has done all of this since April 2012, while being paid $16,000 a year and working about 25 hours a week.
“What always bothered me was Oak Creek was just there,” Scaffidi said. “No one considered us a place to do business. Now, Oak Creek is a pretty dynamic community. We have not been afraid to take risks, to make big bold choices. And it is not just me, it’s everyone on the staff and the council.”
Milwaukee developer Blair Williams, who is developing the Main Street portion of Drexel Town Square, said Scaffidi and his staff’s steadfast commitment to leadership, productivity and collaboration has made him an exemplary partner.
“Drexel Town Square is nothing short of remarkable,” Williams said. “There are other developments that are bigger in scope, but Oak Creek choose to completely reinvent itself.”
Scaffidi also fought to keep Oak Creek’s largest company, Master Lock Co. in the city. Master Lock considered several sites in downtown Milwaukee and was offered $10 million to move to Illinois, but eventually decided to move its corporate headquarters to the former Caterpillar mining division headquarters on Howell Avenue.
“We were not going to let our largest employer go to Illinois,” Scaffidi said. “The state didn’t make this happen; Oak Creek made this happen. We invested the time and energy to make this happen, along with Master Lock and Caterpillar. It’s one of those things I’m really proud of. The state likes to think it creates jobs, but it’s the great leadership teams that think outside the box. For me, Master Lock is everything we’re really good at wrapped into one story.”
Jerry Franke, president of Wispark, the commercial real estate development arm of We Energies and the city’s private partner in the Drexel Town Square Project, said working with Scaffidi and the entire Oak Creek administration and council has been one of the best experiences in his commercial development career.
“I was a planner and city manager for 13 years, so I know what he goes through,” Franke said. “Every team needs a leader and Mayor Scaffidi is the best leader I have had the privilege to work with in this business.”
Just four months into his term as mayor, Scaffidi, whose only training was a three-year stint on the city council, faced an unimaginable leadership test on Aug. 5, 2012, when Wade Michael Page fatally shot six people and wounded four others before killing himself at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek.
Scaffidi, a moderate Republican, later accepted nearly a dozen invitations to the White House, where he has spoken about the need for reasonable gun control and changes to the mental health system.
His comments have not been viewed favorably by some members of the Republican party.
Scaffidi briefly aspired to higher office in 2013, announcing a run for former State Rep. Mark Honadel’s (R-South Milwaukee) Assembly seat, but later dropping out of the race. Scaffidi had planned on serving as both mayor and state representative.
“I’m not ruling out politics in the future, I just need a break for a little bit,” Scaffidi said. “Right now, I have my marketing company, I work for a PR firm in Green Bay and I’m mayor. I would like to focus on one thing. I don’t know yet what it’s gong to be, but it’s going to have to be something really, really interesting. I’ve had a few offers already. I’ll know when it’s the right fit.”
When his term is up in 18 months, Scaffidi will be ready to go. But he does worry the person who takes the reins won’t have the same vision to move the city forward. Long time City Administrator Gerald Peterson is retiring Oct. 24.
“My only fear is leaving and having someone not qualified or with a negative view of development will come in, but that’s not a reason to stay,” Scaffidi said. “I think I do some things very well and I want to do those things in a different way. Will it be tough? Yeah, because I’ve gotten used to this lifestyle.”