GAIL RIECKEN A PERSON OF PRINCIPAL AND PASSION
by Bryan Fox
Prominent democratic officials have been scarce these days around Evansville/Vanderburgh County due to the past several election cycles. Currently, the Democrats hold a slim majority on the City Council, but the Republicans hold a majority of the County Council seats, County Commissioner seats, a majority of the area State Representatives and Senators are Republicans, and the mayor is a Republican.
Even though there have been several well-known names that have aligned themselves with the Democratic party locally over past 30 years, the only recent name that many around the city may be familiar with is the recently retired District 77 State Representative Gail Riecken.
Over the course of a 25 year political career, Riecken became an elected official and/or candidate for local, state, and federal offices. This would include almost 10 years on the Evansville City Council, a run for congress where she eventually lost, serving three terms as state representative, and being defeated twice while running for mayor.
When Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel was elected mayor, he appointed Riecken as the Director of City Parks and Recreation Department. While working under Weinzapfel in this department, Riecken says, “I enjoyed the support of the mayor in parks projects, whether ongoing maintenance or the Greenway. He understood the work of the department was labor intensive and costly to taxpayers. The public was very concerned what would happen when pools were no longer operational and he supported a community wide pools committee that made recommendations for improvements.”
During her tenure as State Representative-District 77, the Democratic caucus was the minority party for most of her time representing this area in the state house. Her caucus made state and national headlines when the state house Democrats fled the state to Illinois over opposition to Right to Work legislation the Republicans were attempting to pass. Rules stipulated that there needed to be 67 house members present to conduct a quorum. Since 38 house Democrats left the state and there are a total of 100 members, the General Assembly was unable to conduct business. Reflecting on this time, Riecken says, “We tried to keep bad legislation from happening to working people. However, there was a lot of backlash, even from some in organized labor, because people just didn’t understand. Workers’ rights kept diminishing with more legislation, including the worst, the law that ended support of competitive wages for local workers that also benefitted local contractors.”
In 2015, Riecken ran for mayor against incumbent Lloyd Winnecke. She was soundly defeated and the Democrats lost 3 city council seats. In retrospect, Riecken has no regrets running for mayor. “I ran because I thought with my conservative spending approach, I would do a better job than the mayor (Winnecke) controlling the budget. I can say I tried, I took a stand.” Riecken also made reference to the newly developed downtown hotel and IU med school. “I still hold that it was a bad deal for taxpayers on the hotel and I still don’t know how much taxpayers are over-obligated for the IU medical school. If Ivy Tech were part of the IU project as promised, it would be easier to accept. But it’s not. There was to be 1200 plus students with Ivy Tech included instead of the now, 400 without Ivy Tech. I’ve been told the opportunity for on-site, advanced medical training for the young people of our community is lost.”
So what is Gail Riecken’s greatest accomplishment as a public servant? “Standing up for working families whether protecting our children, fighting for better wages, safety on the job, improved education for children and adults, opportunity for better jobs, good government, and fair and just treatment for all.”
There you have it; Gail Riecken at the end of a lustrous career. There were some victories, defeats, accomplishments, and controversies. Whether you agreed or disagreed with her, Gail Riecken served the community honorably and was respected.