About 80 people scattered in clusters around MATC's Mitby Theater heard Mayor Dave Cieslewicz and his challenger, Ray Allen, essentially repeat their stump speeches Wednesday night with a few nods to the business community thrown in.
The occasion was a mayoral candidate debate sponsored by several business groups (Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce, Small Business Advisory Council, African-American/Black Business Association, Latino Chamber of Commerce, MAGNET, and several neighborhood business associations) that some observers hoped might produce some sparks that have been noticeably lacking from the race to this point.
'I have a vision of hope and opportunity for the city of Madson,' said Allen, a number of times. 'As mayor, I'll give you a government as good as the people it serves.'
Over the course of the 75-minute question-and-answer session, Allen focused on his opposition to mandates directed at the business community, although he was at a loss to name one he'd like to see eliminated.
'Certainly, I don't like a lot of the mandates that have been proposed. I was against the sick leave proposal,' he said. 'I'm more concerned about the mandates that may still come. Many of these are better done at the state level.'
Cieslewicz publicly opposed the sick leave bill, but Allen said the mayor is responsible for a culture in city government that values progressive 'social engineering' over fostering a healthy business community. He also identified the lobbying ordinance and accused Cieslewicz of waiting to speak against it until the last minute.
'You can't put the business community in the frying pan and then take credit for pulling them out,' he said.
Cieslewicz said he has succeeded in redirecting the energy of Madison's progressives toward initiatives that help foster a healthy business climate in Madison, as he has done with daycare regulations.
'I don't think sick leave will come back,' he said. 'I've made it clear to my progressive friends on the city council that I won't support it. We have to realize that we can be progressive and pro business.'
Most of the evening progressed similarly, with Cieslewicz neatly deflecting Allen's jabs and neither candidate saying much that could be considered inspirational or even particularly noteworthy. At one point, Allen said he didn't want a government that would turn his for-profit businesses into non-profits, a line Cieslewicz dismissed as 'glib.'
But that's about as interesting as it got. With the election only two weeks away, this race has failed to generate anything close to the same level of excitement seen four years ago, when Cieslewicz unexpectedly defeated Paul Soglin.