Wisconsin-Madison Brother Walsh Makes Impact As Mayor

Jan 13, 2023 – After three decades as a successful commercial real-estate executive, Denny Walsh was elected mayor of Orono, Minn.

There’s a time-worn adage that says government can’t be run like a business. It may be true that some facets of entrepreneurialism aren’t transferrable to public service, but there are many elements of running a profitable business that would prove beneficial to government functioning smoothly. Denny Walsh, Wisconsin-Madison, was a thriving commercial real-estate manager and broker for approximately 30 years before his election as mayor of Orono, Minn., a Minneapolis-area bedroom community with approximately 8,000 residents, in 2017, and he’s created a successful formula for serving the town’s residents.

After graduating from college with a bachelor’s degree in consumer science and a minor in real estate, he worked for two years before getting his broker’s license and founding FTK Properties and Walsh Partners. His companies have earned such distinctions as being named one of the Twin Cities’ 25 largest commercial real estate firms, as well as one of the city’s 50 fastest-growing businesses by the Twin Cities Business Journal.

Given his professional success and frustration with the local government’s bureaucracy, Denny decided to try his hand at local politics. However, his triumph didn’t occur overnight.

“My first campaign was for a spot on the Orono City Council, which was unsuccessful,” Denny said. “I learned a lot from that campaign and was able to build relationships and win a Council seat the second time.”

After two years on Council, Walsh decided to run in Orono’s mayoral race. He prevailed in a hard-fought campaign and was able to persuade like-minded individuals to run for City Council and transform how the city’s government engaged the community.

“The council that was previously in place didn’t have representatives with a business background,” Brother Walsh said. “They managed their funds poorly and weren’t accountable to their constituents.”

After he was sworn in, Denny’s first priority was establishing a transparent local government. Orono’s staff revamped the city’s website and other public-facing communications to clearly explain the city government’s operations and offer clear explanations of its budget items.

“When you’re in business, you have to be accountable to your customers,” he said. “We adopted the attitude that Orono’s residents are our clients, and it’s our job to do our best to meet their needs. We reduced fees and simplified building and zoning codes so our residents could understand them.”

Another key priority was instilling fiscal discipline for Orono’s city government. Whereas prior administrations reactively paid for road repairs and other infrastructure through assessments to cover costs, Denny and the council set forth budgets that prioritized well maintained streets and public safety and enacted fiduciary prudence across all local-government departments.

Brother Walsh credits Delta Sigma Pi with helping him develop his entrepreneurial skills: “It was beneficial to be surrounded by brothers who had the same interest in learning how to embrace a mindset of innovation. The camaraderie of the brotherhood was very important to me.”

Denny did have a few words of advice to other aspiring politicians: navigate social media carefully and have a thick skin.

“Social media is a necessity, but it is a scourge of politics,” he said. “People will distort the truth to promote their agenda. It’s disappointed me to see it in local politics, where we know each other and our kids go to the same schools, but it is what it is. You just have to be prepared for it.”








  • Brothers of Delta Sigma Pi