At the top of a campaign flier sent out supporting Tiffany Tobias for Common Council is the picture of a familiar face: Madison Police Chief Mike Koval.
Next to Koval’s mugshot is a quote reading: “Your collective silence is DEAFENING.”
Tobias is challenging Ald. Denise DeMarb, a first-term council member who has nevertheless established herself as a rising star. She is the current pro tem and sits on the powerful Board of Estimates, which oversees the city’s fiscal matters.
The Koval quote comes from an email the chief sent to the Common Council on March 18, in the wake of the Tony Robinson shooting and subsequent protests, asking council members to be more vocal in their support of the police department.
“It is unacceptable for elected officials to remain silent while an institution like the MPD is sullied with drive-by disrespect,” the email continues. “The practice of whispering in my ear in the hallways of the [City County Building], sending me a text or giving me a phone call saying ‘Stay the course, Chief. We support you’ won’t hack it anymore. You must be more public and more intentional about support for the MPD and our employees.”
Has Koval grown tired of dealing with current city leadership and meddling in council politics?
In email to Isthmus, Koval says no.
“While flattered that this candidate supports the MPD, I was not formally asked for use of my image and/or quotes. As chief, I do not give ‘endorsements’ on individuals running for office,” he writes. “That said, the images used and quotes invoked are in the public domain, and I have no basis or reason to object.”
DeMarb finds the use of Koval’s image to be a cheap tactic. “To many people picking up that piece of literature, they’re going to think he endorsed her, which he did not,” she says. “I have the police and fire [unions] as endorsers. I work really well with them.” She adds that the chief’s email was addressed to the council as a whole, not her in particular.
Reached for comment on Monday morning, Tobias said she did not have time to talk and scheduled an early afternoon phone call with Isthmus. However, she did not answer at the appointed time and did not call back.
Tobias is getting hefty financial support from A Better Dane County, the lobbying arm of the Madison Area Builders Association. The group sent out fliers on her behalf and also paid for radio ads. One flier read, “Tiffany Tobias supports the policies that will result in a Madison economy that allows our young families to THRIVE.”
Andrew Disch, director of government affairs and advocacy for the group, did not immediately return a call for comment Monday.
Discouraged by the negative campaign, DeMarb says: “I hope that people see through this and get out and vote tomorrow.”
Former Ald. Satya Rhodes-Conway, who is DeMarb’s campaign manager, says that Tobias had done little campaigning until last week.
“In the last seven days, it’s been a [mailing] every day,” she says. “And a lot of it is not her money.”
Rhodes-Conway says that in addition to the fliers, there’s also been radio ads, and she’s heard, though not seen, a TV ad. The aggressive media campaign is unusual for Common Council races.
When Bridget Maniaci ran against Brenda Konkel in 2009, the Madison Professional Police Officers Association bought two billboards for Maniaci, who won the election. But council races are generally low-budget affairs that involve lots of door-to-door campaigning.
Rhodes-Conway says it clear that A Better Dane County is spending heavily in this race. The question, she says, is “What’s at stake that’s so important?”