Former Madison Mayor Joel Skornicka died unexpectedly Saturday. He was 82.
Skornicka’s longtime partner, Bonnie Cleary, said it’s suspected that he died of a blood clot. Though he had been healthy recently, Skornicka called 911 at about 6 a.m. Saturday and died in an ambulance on the way to the hospital, she said. Cleary was informed of his death around 7 a.m.
Skornicka received a bachelor’s degree in political science from UW-Madison in 1959 and a master’s of public policy and administration in 1975. He served as assistant chancellor at the university before his term as mayor from 1979 to 1983.
An April 1983 story in the Wisconsin State Journal described Skornicka as “a buttoned-down University of Wisconsin administrator who seemed to some an unlikely candidate for mayor in a city that has become accustomed to the flannel shirts and blue jeans of the Paul Soglin era.”
His victory in the 1979 election was considered something of an upset — he received about 1,000 more votes than James Rowen, the heir apparent to Soglin. And once he was in office, he set himself apart from his predecessor.
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“Skornicka usually tried to lay low, and unlike Soglin, seldom participated in council debate,” another story noted.
Marc Eisen, former Isthmus editor, was a reporter during that era. He lauded Skornicka for “assembling the strongest mayoral staff I had seen as a reporter.”
“More than half the key of management is hiring good people, and he did it,” Eisen said.
In 2000, he helped establish the Skornicka Public Service Award, which benefits civically minded UW-Madison students.
Cleary said she valued Skornicka’s “good nature.” He was an avid news reader who kept up with local and national affairs and maintained a lifelong interest in history. He was a big fan of Badgers football.
“He was a very gentle and kind man, always concerned about others,” Cleary said.
Skornicka is survived by daughter Jennifer and son Christopher. Cleary said the family is tentatively considering holding a funeral service on Dec. 5.