I was just on "A Current Affair," Brenda Konkel's bi-weekly talk show on WORT, talking city and county politics with Konkel and Jacque Pokorney, the co-chair of Progressive Dane. Among other things, we discussed how long the incoming mayor's honeymoon with city progressives would last. Soglin's popularity among the local left will correspond closely with the energy he puts into the fight against poverty.
Candidate Soglin talked a lot about the burgeoning Madison underclass, particularly in the public schools. He pointed out repeatedly that nearly 50 percent of school children are living below the poverty line. How will this influence education policy? I certainly don't remember hearing a lot of specific answers during the campaign. This is how Soglin's website summarized the issue:
Should the mayor have a role in improving public schools?
Absolutely. The percentage of school children who live in households below the poverty level is almost 50%. Great neighborhoods and great schools go together.
Great neighborhoods. It could be that Soglin chose that wording as an appeal to neighborhood group activists, many of whom felt marginalized by Cieslewicz. But likely he is referring to a general concept of neighborhood co-operation on a broad range of issues, from economic development to safety and schools. Kids no doubt have better learning experiences when they are a part of an engaged community of parents, teachers, and social and recreational organizations.
However, Soglin's response to poverty in schools remains ill-defined. During the campaign, as far as I can recall, there was very little discussion of specific education policy. Will the mayor be taking a lead on changes within the schools (if any at all?) or will he largely defer to the school board?
Soglin was a tad more specific on other fronts. For instance, he emphasized the need to engage non-profits in services for the poor, such as transportation and childcare for low-income workers. Whether the city begins or expands relationships with groups like the YWCA on job creation in the coming months should be the focus of progressives who supported Soglin.
Finally, the issue of job creation itself. Pokorney and Konkel both felt that Cieslewicz did little to help job-seekers without college degrees. How could a mayor be a more effective champion for blue-collar employment? Pokorney suggested better coordination with MATC, which already offers a number of job-training programs, as well as with trade unions, which get workers trained through apprenticeships. The problem I have with the latter point is that unemployment in the building trades is already so high that it seems unrealistic that many of these unions are dying to train more apprentices.
What do you think? How can the mayor fight poverty in Madtown?
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