In the entertainment world there's a saying used to indicate the exact moment when a television show or movie series or even an actor has gone so grossly out of their way to pander to the audience that what originally made the thing great is entirely lost: jump the shark. It comes from a later episode of "Happy Days" when Arthur Fonzarelli jumps over a shark while water skiing.
When I read Mayor Dave's blog post wherein he attempted to convince Hammes Co. to appeal the decision by the Landmarks Commission not to issue a certificate of appropriateness (which they since have), that phrase floated through my head.
I remember the first time when I, a lowly student at Edgewood College, saw Dave Cieslewicz in person. Not long after winning election to his first term in office, he came to my campus to talk about the importance of sustainability and environmental responsibility in community development. I very much supported most all of what he had to say and the ideas he had for helping Madison put a greener thumbprint on its future. Heck, I voted for the guy twice.
So it has been with increasing consternation and disappointment that I've watched as Mayor Dave seems to turn more and more toward shady insider maneuvering, name calling, and even political strong-arming in order to get his way. There were smaller signs of it before, but the whole Edgewater saga appears to have really brought out this less than admirable side in our city leader.
I sincerely suspect that Mayor Dave wants good things for Madison and that he believes in better urban design with a heavy, environmentally friendly component. That's why it's an even greater shame that he's letting his strong desire to bring in new development to the downtown, along with jobs and increased tax revenue (all good things, of course), cloud his judgment and poison the process by which you get such things done.
The Edgewater redevelopment proposal was toxic nearly from the very beginning. What good might have come from such a project was all but negated by shady lobbying practices, an almost total lack of transparency and accurate representations of what the building would really look like, and a cadre of city officials who made up their minds about the whole thing before the public process even began, leaving little to no room for meaningful debate and/or changes.
Most recently, in an apparent fit of petulant anger over the Landmarks Commission's decision effectively blocking further progress on the plan, Mayor Dave accused the body of being undemocratic because its members were appointed instead of elected. I mentioned this in my last post here (and was taken to task for not going further with the argument), and others have noticed as well, that such a statement seriously smacked of hypocrisy. The mayor, after all, recently helped to appoint some of the members of the newly formed Regional Transit Authority, a group with the authority to raise taxes.
Mayor Dave also recently appointed a member of the Alcohol License Review Committee, appointed Bill Clingan as the Economic and Community Development Director, and sometimes uses such power in reverse by removing people from city positions as well. Committee appointments are, in fact, a pretty standard part of being mayor.
What, then, makes the Landmarks Commission so different? The only conclusion one can draw is that they had the audacity to go against his wishes. Such retaliation-coupled with his somewhat blind support of the developer-is not something the people should tolerate in their highest elected officials.
Certain bodies are appointed and others elected. When done with good reason, that provides an important balance in government. Picking and choosing which groups you think ought to be one or the other based solely on your personal agenda more often than not leads to disarray, poor morale, and serious ineffectiveness. That's why we attempt to maintain a system of checks and balances, so no one person can get their way all the time. Sadly, there are very few of us who can be relied upon to be so consistently benevolent and level headed.
Is it perhaps time to make a serious effort at redeveloping the Edgewater Hotel and would such a move be likely to benefit the neighborhood? Yes and yes, but only if done with appropriate forethought and far less blatant politicking.
There's no reason this has to be the only proposal we could examine and approve. We barely know what it is we'd be approving anyway, since the few architectural renderings provided by Hammes Co. have proven to be insufficient and even somewhat misleading.
Perhaps most importantly, though, why are we seriously considering giving $16 million in TIF funds to this project when there are so many other parts of town where new investment is far more desperately needed? It's not as though the city can afford to just be throwing around money these days. This would be an investment in future revenue, sure, but so would bringing in new businesses to areas like, say, the section of East Washington that currently resembles a ghost town, or the south side near struggling neighborhoods like Allied Drive.
In any case, the Edgewater appeal should come before the Common Council on Tuesday evening and, unless a motion to refer brought by Ald. Lauren Cnare is accepted, there's a good chance Mayor Dave will get his wish that it live to fight another day.
But there are simply too many questions about this proposal to raise in one article alone, and that fact has lead me to seriously question why Mayor Dave and his fellow boosters seem so hell-bent on ignoring them.
For some reason, they've become so intent on launching over the proverbial shark that they've lost sight of the audience they're supposed to be serving.
UW-Madison Chancellor Biddy Martin made the dreams of campus labor activists come true last week by officially giving Nike an ultimatum on how it produces the apparel it contracts with the university to provide. If, she says, the giant company fails to make substantial progress in how it treats workers in its Honduras factories within four months, the UW will end that contract. This is something that many concerned students and citizens have been working on for years, so it's good to see some potentially solid progress in holding Nike truly accountable. Let's hope there's actual follow-through, too.
Our Legislature finally agreed on the terms of drunken driving rules laid out in a bill that's expected to be voted on and passed this week. The new laws would make a fourth OWI offense a felony and a first offense a crime if "there's a child under age 16 in the car." It would also increase court fees paid by criminals, and raise the amount a person would have to pay to get their driver's license reinstated if it was suspended due to a drunken driving conviction. This is definitely progress for a state with such an abysmal track record when it comes to holding drunk drivers accountable, but I'm still having a hard time with the "we'll let you wrack up three OWIs before charging you with a felony" thing. What ever happened to being called out on the third strike?