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Manitowoc Herald Times Reporter

Grocery cashier, 22, beats MIT grad to become Manitowoc mayor

Manitowoc mayoral recount not ruled out

By Helen Clarke • Herald Times Reporter • April 8, 2009

MANITOWOC — Justin Nickels has “ambition and guts and passion” and “an unrivaled commitment to serve the public,” supporters are saying today — less than 24 hours after the 22-year-old was elected mayor of Manitowoc by a 15-vote margin.


Nickels, a grocery store cashier and college student, beat fellow Alderman Dave Soeldner, a 39-year-old civil engineer who holds a master’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to be the city’s 27th mayor. He replaces Kevin Crawford, who has served since 1989.

"Hard work pays off," Nickels said after receiving the news Tuesday evening. "The campaign is over. Now we need to focus on what's best for Manitowoc and move forward."

Nickels won with 4,711 votes to Soeldner's 4,696. The Board of Canvass meets at 3 p.m. today to verify the vote count. Soeldner said he would wait to hear the results of that meeting before deciding whether to request a recount.

Nickels Campaign Manager Matt Kadow said today the win was the result of both strategy and commitment.

“From the beginning, we wanted to really target the people that we could assume would be out and voting and tuned into this election,” Kadow, 26, said today. “We did that correctly.

“(Justin) has just an unrivaled commitment to serve the public. His vision, the knowledge he’s gaining from his education … and just his energy and youth and his big-picture thinking is going to be great for the community.”

Kadow also ran for mayor of Manitowoc at the age of 22, losing in the 2005 primary election to Alderman Jim Brey and incumbent Mayor Kevin Crawford. He said today that Nickels’ victory represents an opportunity for Manitowoc to encourage young, smart minds to serve the community.

Nickels’ mother, Pat Nickels, agrees.

“Our youth and our young people are going to be our future,” Pat Nickels said. “We need somebody that has that ambition and guts and passion to hopefully move our city in that direction.”

She said she was completely overwhelmed Tuesday night hearing the news that her son had won the election.

“I can’t believe it. I just can’t believe it,” Pat Nickels said. “We did it.”

Tuesday night totals showed Soeldner won Nickels' district — District 2 — by three votes. Soeldner also picked up District 8, which he has represented since April 2008, by 116 votes.

Still, he was unable to garner enough support elsewhere to win.

"I'll be bitterly disappointed if I lose, because I think I'm the right choice for the city," Soeldner said. "But the one thing that I have is that I stayed true to myself and I ran a campaign that I can be proud of."

He said running a campaign such as this is "a big emotional investment," but he's not ruling out a future bid for the mayor's office.

"I'd consider it, but I just have no idea what four years can bring," Soeldner said. "I've got another career that I'm going try to keep going, and I'm committed to continue serving on the council in a job I love."

Soeldner's City Council term is scheduled to end next April. Nickels' post, which was up for election this year but went unchallenged, will be filled by council appointment. His replacement will serve a one-year term.

Though Nickels won't move into City Hall for another two weeks, he's planning to hit the ground running — starting today. He has a 7 a.m. breakfast for Manitowoc Public Utilities and a 10 a.m. meeting with Crawford and all the city department heads.

"There's no time to sleep," Nickels said. "It's time to work."

Nickels is to receive $68,830 in his first year in office, $70,207 in his second, $71,611 in his third and $73,043 in his fourth, according to city ordinance. The mayor's seat will be up for grabs again in April 2013.

Helen Clarke: (920) 686-2137 or