Editor’s note: This story has been updated with Mary Thao’s written answers, to better reflect her ideas and opinions about the issues Wausau faces.

Wausau Pilot & Review will publish a series of Q&As in the days leading up to the April 3 spring election for contested seats in the Wausau metro area. For a sample ballot and general election information, visit the Marathon County election information page. Watch for more election coverage and be sure to bookmark our elections page here. Candidates, listed in alphabetical order, were given the opportunity to answer identical questions in the interest of fairness. Their answers are listed below.

Letters to the editor are encouraged through Monday, April 2. Email editor@wausaupilotandreview.com.

Reporting by Raymond Neupert

Wausau City Council, District 10

Mary Thao, Challenger

Age 39, senior IT consultant

Why are you running for office?

I’m running for office because I am invested in this community. I am a mom of four children, my husband and I love Wausau and we plan to make it our home for a very long time. Based on my experience in the last couple of years serving on the Wausau School Board, it’s important to place professionals like myself into leadership roles where we can be effective and bring positive change. Young Professional like myself are stepping up so we can learn from past and current leaders. I want to bring back that Wisconsin idea.

What do you think should be the city council’s top priority this year?

There are competing priorities and opportunities for the City of Wausau right now. The river district and downtown is transforming, and focused on attracting young professionals to the area. Having a vision for Wausau to be a destination city is incredible.  I believe we can achieve that.

Thomas Street expansion is a concern. We must address the issues and rebuild confidence with community citizens.

Healthcare is expected to grow by 30%-35% in the next several years. We need to stay focused, think about how that will create positive impacts for the community, and how our citizens will benefit from this growth.

Do you think our downtown is healthy and successful? If not, what would you do to change that?

The mall has gone through numerous exchanges in ideas and opportunities.  I would like to see a comprehensive plan on how we will transition the property to be a beacon for our community.

We have redesigned downtown to be very attractive. More and more businesses are coming back to the downtown scene because of the transformation. The riverfront allows a longer path for quiet walks and nice runs. Very family friendly and safe with all the installed lighting. The City of Wausau is very open and inviting to diverse activities and opportunities for this area. This is a plus.

There has been some controversy about the riverfront development and how the city handles the RFP process. Do you think the city has handled this issue appropriately in the past? What, if anything, would you change for future projects?

I’m not there at the city council yet; I’m not familiar with the RFP process they have internally. I have concerns about selecting the right partners. I am very forgiving about individuals who have made mistakes in the past, but I am also mindful that people don’t forget everything.  Have more emphasis on developing the RFP’s, therefore, resulting in more responses.

What’s more important for our city right now: building new homes and commercial space or better utilizing our existing homes and storefronts?

I have two responses to this.

One, we do have aging facilities and residential homes. This can be an eye sore and it doesn’t look very welcoming to those who are looking to move here to Wausau. I would love to see more redevelopment done on the aging facilities and homes in areas that need it the most.

As for as new homes and commercial space? If we’re going to be the destination city we have to build homes to accommodate that need and we must provide access to businesses who need the commercial space.  The west side is where development is headed in the next few years. I believe when you see more homes and commercial property developed it only means the economy is picking up. This is positive and I embrace a strong and vibrant community.

How do you feel about the transportation options currently available in our city? How would you improve upon them?

I’m glad we still have the Metro Ride as a form of public transportation. Not only does it benefit my kids who ride the bus to one of our middles school’s  it also provides transportation for those who don’t have a vehicle  to get to work. The public transit has limitations such as hours of operation and the lack of routes to outside of Wausau.  I support public transportation and I know it benefits citizens who don’t have sufficient transportation.

How do you plan to involve residents in decision-making in our city?

I was invited by Community Resource Officer, Nate Stetzer to the Southwest Neighborhood group recently.  Donna Krause was there along with me and she’s running for the County Board. I was sharing with the neighbors the great work Katie Rosenberg and Pat Peckham have done with their town hall meetings on the Southeast side. These public meetings are valuable and you get the chance to be personable with everyone. Communications is key and sharing the city and county agenda is important. I would start this going forward if it works with Donna.

If you received a $1 million grant to use for the city any way you wanted, what would you do with it and why?

Public education, subsidies for more low-income housing, wrap around services for our opioid issues today, and business loans for small business startups.

Do you believe the city council’s decisions and actions along Thomas Street were appropriate? What, if anything, would you have done differently?

Citizens are upset over the current expansion and future changes coming to Thomas Street. We need to reevaluate the proposal and review the assessments again. It’s important to gain buy-in from the community even if the issues are complex.

Anything else you’d like voters to know?

I believe in the people and I want to represent the community of District 10 and City of Wausau in a strong and professional way. I’m a servant leader looking at ways on how I can work hard to build a quality of life for everyone.

Vichai Gillette, Challenger

Age 55, environmental services attendant for Ascension Medical Group

Why are you running for office?

I am for the people, and whatever they want to say or do, my door is open to them 24/7. You got one guy right here who will stand for the people. Their pain is my pain, their fight is my fight.

What do you think should be the city council’s top priority this year?

The streets need to be fixed. The potholes need to be fixed, and Thomas Street needs to be done if we can.

What’s more important for our city right now: building new homes and commercial space or better utilizing our existing homes and storefronts?

There are not enough housing options for poor people to live in, because the housing around here is very expensive. I want to make it affordable for everyone. It doesn’t matter what sort of job they have or what sort of income; they could use a little help.

How do you plan to involve residents in decision-making in our city?

You’ve got to listen to your residents. You have to listen to the people. The people have the power because they live there. They know what’s good and bad. The people who work at City Hall are pushing papers and pencils. They don’t know how the people feel. They just get someone else to evaluate the problem. They’re not actually there. When you’re there it’s different.

Do you believe the city council’s decisions and actions along Thomas Street were appropriate? What, if anything, would you have done differently?

We just need more testing on the soil. You’ve got to get the two sides together and figure out which side of this hole you’re taking readings from. We need to get the state side and the independent side get together and combine their data together and then evaluate from there.

9 replies on “Election Q&A: Wausau City Council Dist. 10”

  1. Shereen, did you ask the people running for city council what their political party affiliation is? I noticed that (at least some) of the county supervisor candidates answered that question, but unless I completely missed it, NONE of the city council candidates were asked nor offered. There was one political swipe (expected from Tom Neal), but it’s very disappointing to not know their political affiliation(s). I’m aware it’s not required for city council members to declare such a thing, but I truly believe it would tell a LOT to voters.

    1. Because of the recent friction between city council members and this publication, I asked our south metro freelancer to do the reporting on city council issues. I did come up with the questions, but he did the reporting, and I do give freelancers room to tweak, add, or reject questions as they see fit. On the list of questions I gave him did include the “political affiliation” question, as asked to the county board candidates, but our freelancer did not ultimately choose to include that in his questions. I think Ray did a great job with these interviews, some of which were difficult to get, but I do regret that the affiliation question was not asked, and in the future it is something I will insist on. I know that this is non-partisan, but I do agree that it’s a good question to ask. In the case of the county board candidates, the responses were certainly interesting to read. Thanks for weighing in on this.

      1. Completely understood! I will say though that the “recent friction” in my not so humble opinion is not brought on by this publication, but by the council members themselves. The old saying “if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen” certainly applies. The interviews are/were certainly appreciated, but in no fault of yours, the answers were about as “canned” as we all probably expected by anyone running for public office. It is what it is, but you’ve brought more coverage to the local elections than ANY publication ever has to this area. A sincere thank you. 😉

    2. Good point 1911,

      Party affiliation is a valid question, particularly if affiliation is also tied to support: funding, advice, shoe leather, etc. This could be fleshed out in an affiliation question.

      I’m conservative, with no formal membership in a party.

      I did appreciate the $1 million question as it did infer some of the information you might be looking for.

      1. Doug, thanks. Yeah, there’s more than one way to skin a cat I guess (sorry for the lame pun). Unfortunately, I don’t live in your district, so I can’t vote for you, but I wish you luck!

    1. Stan: This was an unusual situation. Ms. Thao and Mr. Gillette both initially chose to respond to questions on the phone, rather than in written form. We STRONGLY prefer written answers so there is a physical record of responses and there can be no accusation of bias or error. In this case, our freelancer spent several hours transcribing a recorded phone conversation and submitted those responses for publication. After publication, Ms. Thao reached out with concerns that her questions were not accurately portrayed. I asked her to submit written responses instead, and these are her answers. It was a difficult situation, and I struggled with how to ensure fairness here. We also reached out again to Mr. Gillette, asking him to respond to questions he didn’t respond to the first time around, but he did not return those calls.

  2. Call1911

    I will admit that some of them were a bit unusual, but most seemed sincere, even if you and me did not agree with them.

    What do you mean by “canned”? What did you expect?

    1. Stan, I agree all were “sincere” in their answers. What I meant by “canned” was the typical “I hope to represent the wishes of my constituents” and “I hope for more transparency”……which I find QUITE ironic from some of the incumbents, because if it wasn’t for the work done by Shereen to bring to light some of the pure insanity going on within the city council, mayor and staff, we’d know nothing about the financial shenanigans that have been going on. We sure as hell can’t depend on the Daily fish wrapper or the liberal mouthpiece known as City Pages to bring such “trivial” things to light. But I digress…. 😉

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