Happy Solstice! We've now endured the longest night of the year, which means the days only get longer from here (it's also a Very Important Day for yours truly, but for completely different reasons.) Though we are snowbound and frost-nipped, it's important to search for the half-full glass, yes? Optimism!
Speaking of positive thinking, former mayor Paul Soglin is feeling good enough about his chances against incumbent Mayor Dave Cieslewicz that he officially filed papers to run against him in next year's election.
First reported as rumor by TDP's own Sconz last Friday, the news went legit yesterday when Soglin went to the city clerk's office and filed his campaign registration, declaration of candidacy, and statement of economic interests. All that remains is for The 'Stache to collect 200 signatures on his nomination papers before January 4 -- but I have a sneaking suspicion that won't prove much of a hurdle. The man maintains a sizeable list of supporters.
Though seven other individuals have officially filed to run against Cieslewicz in the spring, Soglin's candidacy seems to have woken a lot of people up (right or wrong) to the possibility of a competitive -- and interesting -- race.
Soglin has been pretty critical of the current mayor's tenure, especially in regards to the handling of the Edgewater redevelopment and Overture Center related processes. Over at Waxing America -- a blog Soglin shares with Barry Orton -- the candidate's most recent post, on Nov. 17, was all about the Overture Center and included an apology to Madison artists and audiences that the Ad Hoc Overture Committee, of which Soglin was a member, didn't have enough time to hear from them. Orton has done all of the writing since then, presumably since Soglin has been, well, busy.
Go further back, though, and you can find several more instances of direct or oblique digs at Cieslewicz's mayoral decisions. What I've appreciated, however, is that Soglin's criticism of Cieslewicz has been, as far as I can remember, almost entirely constructive and policy-based. You can also get a very good idea of what Soglin's own policies and initiatives are likely to be if elected by culling through past entries at the blog.
I have not yet personally decided to throw my support behind any one candidate, but I do support more people tossing their hats in the ring. I'm sure plenty of people will simply be turned off by the idea of electing a guy who already had two runs as mayor, but Soglin's candidacy will be worth it if simply to provide a serious challenge to the incumbent. If Cieslewicz really wants to keep the job, I want him to work for it -- which means I don't want his only debate opponent to be the guy who wants to turn State Street into a row of museums.
If nothing else, I want to hear Cieslewicz made to further explain and defend his decisions regarding the Edgewater TIF, which have not always made sense to me, as well as his frequently criticized management style.
I do for the most part respect Soglin and Cieslewicz, though I do not always agree with their choices and policies. Both bring a wealth of experience to the table and have done good things for the city in the past. Still, it would be awfully nice to see some fresh blood in the race -- someone who hasn't been mayor yet, and who comes to the table with solid, progressive, creative ideas for Madison's future.
I should say the same thing for County Executive (it's the '80s all over again!).
Overture Center: Buy local!
After my recent post briefly discussing the newly agreed upon plan for the future operation of the Overture Center, I got an email from OC publicist Robert Chappell addressing the part where I wondered "Does this mean there will be more effort at bringing in and working with local promoters and artists?"
I've had positive dealings with Chappell in the past -- which is why I have optimism for what can be done with the facility. I would still like to see more of an effort made to get input from local performance groups and individuals, and to provide them with more affordable access to the space -- but I would be remiss not to mention the many things already being done in that regard.
According to Chappell, "any nonprofit arts organization automatically gets a 50% discount on rent. Many of them don't know that, and to be honest sometimes they call and get the wrong person on the phone here, who may not know that either."
He also notes that they have "Community Arts Access, which we hope to expand. We have a certain amount set aside -- I think like $50,000 -- to help community arts groups defray all of those costs [associated with use of the center]."
Between those rent subsidies and the CAA program, Overture's assistance to local performers last year ended up being $417,000.
Most encouraging, though, is Chappell's insistence that local artists, "whether it's a big non-profit or just a kid with a guitar, should just talk to us...We want local artists to succeed, and we'll do what we can for them to be able to perform here. We can't make any promises, but no local artist should assume they can't perform here."
Some of this is certainly information that I didn't know before this exchange, and, based on my talks with other local artists and groups, I'm not alone. Perhaps a top priority of the new Overture management team should be to more effectively communicate all of their locally focused programs, grants, and accessibility to those people and organizations that would be most directly affected by them.
And keep going. Do more. Add even bigger incentives and discounts, etc. -- above all, listen.
Like I keep saying, the Overture Center is a facility with so much untapped potential. It's great that they've added the touring Broadway shows. I've been impressed with a lot of the concerts that come through as well. And there have definitely been some cool, locally affiliated programs there.
I still want to see more. And it would be great if more locals had a say in how the Overture handled local arts. I don't know how that will pan out with the new private ownership deal, but for the sake of the center's future -- and the city's not insubstantial $2 million a year subsidy, I hope someone at 201 State is paying attention.
News broke Monday that a test by the Environmental Working Group found exceptionally high levels of hexavalent chromium (also called chromium-6) in Madison's tap water. The chemical has been "deemed likely to cause cancer in humans in a U.S. EPA draft review this year."
Made famous by activist Erin Brockovich's multi-million dollar settlement over pollution of groundwater in Hinkley, California, hexavalent chromium is only regulated in that state. The EPA does not currently set a legal limit for the substance in drinking water.
Reacting to the release, the Madison Water Utility is apparently now considering doing its own tests for the chemical. Which is good news, because it means the people charged with making sure our drinking water is safe are doing due diligence -- whether to prove that the initial report was heavily flawed, or to show that there is a problem that needs fixing.
Tom Heikkinen, general manager of the city's water utility, said the report raises important questions about the possible presence of the contaminant but also said he is skeptical about the environmental group's reliance on a single test and the testing protocol followed by the organization.