Former Neenah mayor talks political divide, honors supporters

It was a chance for Dean Kaufert to thank the community and reflect on 35 years of public service
Published: May. 5, 2022 at 8:06 PM CDT
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NEENAH, Wis. (WBAY) - After 35 years of public service former Neenah Mayor Dean Kaufert says a lot has changed in politics since he first ran for office.

He’s reflecting on that as he prepares for the next chapter.

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

Kaufert said, “It’s been wonderful. You know, early age, 14, 15 years old I felt public service was kind of a calling.”

After five years as an alderperson, Kaufert won a state Assembly seat, 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 stick out.

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

There’s a lot of politicians deciding to retire right now and Kaufert isn’t surprised, considering the political climate has changed quite a bit in the 35 years since he first took office.

“I think maybe it had a small role even in mine,” he said, adding, “The viciousness of topics and people are not, some people they have very strong opinions and so I see division and getting divided even further.”

For now, Kaufert plans to enjoy the break even though he won’t rule out a return to politics.

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

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