Former Neenah mayor speaks out about political division and pays tribute to his supporters

NEENAH, Wis. (WBAY) – After 35 years of public service, former Neenah mayor Dean Kaufert said a lot has changed in politics since he first ran for office.

He thinks about it as he prepares for the next chapter.

At the site of the newly built Gateway Plaza in downtown Neenah, Kaufert held a community event Thursday night to thank his supporters just twelve days after ending a political career that began in 1985 when he won a seat to the city council.

Kaufert said, “It was wonderful. You know, at an early age, 14, 15, I felt that public service was kind of a calling.

After five years as an alderman, Kaufert won a seat in the state assembly, serving 24 years in Madison before returning to Neenah and becoming mayor.

During that time, he fought to keep hundreds of jobs at the Kimberly Clark-Cold Spring plant, but a few other things also stand out.

“The thing I look back on, the Trestle Trail, of course had a huge positive impact on the city. Keeping Theda Clark Hospital here is the only thing I’m going to look back on and say you know what I’m pretty proud of because they had one foot out there,” Kaufert said.

There are plenty of politicians deciding to retire right now and Kaufert isn’t surprised, given that the political climate has changed quite a bit in the 35 years since he took office.

“I think it may have played a small role even in mine,” he said, adding, “The meanness of the subjects and the people are not, some people have very strong opinions and so I see division and dividing even more.”

For now, Kaufert plans to enjoy the break although he does not rule out a return to politics.

“I’m going to catch my breath. These twelve days of retreat have already taught me that I was running instead of walking and now I walk and am a little more measured. I have fun.”

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