Having watched much of the budget debate that occurred at Tuesday night's Madison Common Council meeting, it is clear that there are two Madisons. Not in the John Edwards sense of rich and poor - there are too many shades of both to quantify.
No, there are two Madisons with regard to the rights and responsibilities of its inhabitants. I use that word instead of "citizens" because to signify the malefactors with that term is a dignity they have not earned.
On one side are those, who hold with Police Chief Noble Wray, that poverty, et cetera does not excuse lawlessness and that lawbreakers must be held accountable. Count me in. On the other side are those for whom every social deviance is attributable to a lack of or under funded social programs. The fault, dear Brutus, lies with Da System!
Like the political nation, Madison can be divided into red and blue "states." They roughly correspond with the results of the Cieslewicz/Soglin race almost five years ago. Paul Soglin, incredibly, was seen as the more conservative. He won wards describing a doughnut around the city of Madison. Mayor Dave took the jelly-filled downtown, Monroe-Dudgeon, Marquette Neighborhoods.
Both were well represented Tuesday night.
A woman named Susan who lives on Hammersley Road testified that she moved to Madison in 1958. "I always thought Madison was an alternative to reality but Madison has changed." She spoke of crack deals going down one block from her home and an 80-year-old neighbor who moved to New Glarus. "She was afraid to walk around the block."
We heard from Diane Wencel, whom I know from the Meadowood Neighborhood Association Council.
She longs for one summer's night when she can sleep with her windows open, because of all the noise. She spoke of her apartment complex manager's morning routine of collecting empty dime bags of coke. Of a party that started across the street late one night and migrated to her own parking lot, with people sitting on the automobiles parked there.
"I cannot sit out on my patio to enjoy the beautiful flowers I plant every spring," Diane said. "Is that the kind of place you'd like to live?"
Pish posh, countered the residents of the jelly doughnut center. People like Susan and Diane are not talking about crime, they are talking about "lifestyle issues."
They testified in support of an amendment that would have reduced Chief Wray's requested 30 additional police officers to 18, with the remaining contingent on a police staffing study and fiscal analysis.
However, the sponsors of that amendment - Julie Kerr, Brian Solomon, Eli Judge, Marsha Rummel and Brenda Konkel, all representing the jelly doughnut center - requested no such staffing study or fiscal analysis of their pet nostrums.
Unsuccessful aldermanic candidate Vicky Selkowe, like Rummel and Konkel, a Progressive Dane, decried the "fear-based budgeting at its worst."
There was the well-spoken lady from the Marquette neighborhood - I did not catch her name - who has undertaken an inquiry into homelessness. She struck me as slightly more nave than the average League of Women Voters member.
With the inevitable Esty Dinur (hey, thanks for the shout out!), they supported enriching the already thick fabric of Madison social services: make-work youth employment, full-time homeless shelters, apprenticeships, more after-school programming, homeless intervention types - even a youth center for the Meadowood Shopping Center.
Blaska's blue state Rx:
- If we want young people to work - and every teenager should have a summer and after-school job - why do we keep jacking up the minimum wage to price those jobs out of reach?
- If we want young people to work - I sure did growing up! - let's put a broom and mop in their hands after school for 45 minutes at least one day a week. When the school has been cleaned, march them out to the surrounding neighborhood. I say this of every A student as well as the troublemakers. In winter, they shovel walks.
Assign them areas of responsibility, give them team names, and keep score. Have a police officer stop by to chaperone these task forces on a rotating basis.
- If we build year-round homeless shelters, we have just removed one incentive for the AODA-addled to clean up their act. We have now freed up money that might have gone for rent so that it can be spent on more and better highs.
- If adults are partying all night long they cannot get up for work in the morning. Children who grow up without seeing an adult go off to work in the morning tend not to go off to school.
- Crime causes poverty, not the other way around. Your dope dealing, dope taking and all-night partying prevent you from succeeding.
- The police represent a wake-up call. They cure the immediate problem of Diane's sleepless nights and serve as the intake system for people who need help. And the best help they can get is to be told that what they are doing is wrong, stupid and won't be tolerated.
Police can make this offer: go to jail or get your life straight. Can your social program do that?