With 46 candidates running for the Madison Common Council this spring, it's tough for political observers to gauge the election's potential impact. Will the new council be more liberal? More conservative? More moderate? Who knows?
But maybe the primary race in Dist. 12, on the city's northeast side, can offer a clue. There are four candidates: Satya Rhodes-Conway, Michael Basford, Mark Deadman and Marcus Watson. Three of them ' Rhodes-Conway, Basford and Deadman ' are clearly strong enough to survive the primary.
Deadman, the most conservative of the bunch, is endorsed by Dorothy Borchardt, the district's former alder. The owner of a tavern, Busse's Markway, he's lived in the district for 25 years. Rhodes-Conway is a member of Progressive Dane and has served on a couple of city committees. And Basford, endorsed by former Madison Mayor Paul Soglin, is a strong neighborhood activist.
So who will make it through? The conservative, the PDer or the liberal?
'Satya stands out,' says the district's current alder, Brian Benford. 'If Mark Deadman doesn't make it, it's a whole new day.'
Benford has been on the council for four years and is a member of Progressive Dane. But the district he represents, running from Warner Park on the north side down past East High, is a wacky cross-section of blue-collar conservative and near east liberal. For years, the district was represented by the more conservative Borchardt.
But Benford says his election in 2003 changed all that.
'It always came down to me versus the old order,' he says, adding that Borchardt encouraged candidates to run against him. Beating his conservative challengers, he says, 'shows the district has really changed. A lot of progressive people are moving in.'
If Rhodes-Conway and Basford are the two left standing after this month's primary, Benford says, 'That's going to be pretty telling about the district's political future.'
Borchardt doesn't think that's going to happen. Indeed, she says Benford's first election to the council was a fluke. 'He fooled people,' she says. 'They asked him if he was Progressive Dane and he said no. He told people I supported him.'
She chalks his reelection in 2005 up to the advantage of incumbency: 'Once they're in, it's very difficult to beat them.'
And Borchardt doesn't believe the district ' or the city ' is becoming more progressive. 'People believe what they're told,' she says. 'They don't watch the council meetings. If someone comes to the door and seems nice, they believe them.'
Borchardt, who opposed many of the city council's recent initiatives, such as the smoking ban, hopes Deadman takes the seat. 'I want to see him in there so they quit doing some of their silly things,' she says. 'I'd like to get our city back.'
Hurry up, please, it's time
For the past two years, Ald. Benford has said he'll introduce an ordinance imposing term limits on city alders. Now, with less than three months to go before he retires from the council, he swears the ordinance is coming: 'I'm going to introduce it soon.'
Benford had wanted to bypass the council and hold a referendum on the issue, but was unable to get enough support. And he'd hoped to find a co-sponsor for the ordinance, but now says, 'I might just be the lone wolf.'
Many council members won't like the idea of term limits, acknowledges Benford, who doesn't expect the ordinance to pass. Still, 'It will be interesting to see how people vote and what they'll say. I'd love to hear Tim Bruer tells us why we have to endure his 20-minute speeches and why that's so important.'
GOP candidate Dave Magnum is still not saying where he got half a million dollars to loan his failed congressional campaign last fall, in apparent violation of election laws.
In his year-end report filed with the Federal Election Commission last week, Magnum noted that he lent another $3,000 to his campaign in December, for a total of $528,000 in personal loans. But the report offered no further information on where this money came from.
The FEC requires candidates to report where they get loans, whether borrowed from a bank or a business. In December, responding to questions from Isthmus, Magnum said his 'FEC compliance consultant' would look into the matter. But he has not responded to any questions since then.
An FEC spokesperson says the agency would probably not investigate unless or until someone filed a complaint against Magnum's campaign.
Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin, says if Magnum plans to run for a third time against Rep. Tammy Baldwin, it would be 'in his best interest' to reveal his funding sources. 'This is the kind of stuff that leads to suspicion.'
Enough with the referendums?
Not everyone likes Mayor Dave Cieslewicz's plan to eventually hold a binding referendum on streetcars.
'You don't put other highway projects to referendum, so why would you put this to one?' asks Dick Wagner, a member of Transport 2020, the committee studying commuter rail options in Dane County. 'It seems like another hurdle.'
Cieslewicz has always rejected referendums as a way to form public policy. Last year, he argued passionately against an advisory referendum on mandatory paid sick leave, saying elected officials are supposed to make such decisions. But Cieslewicz says the streetcar referendum is different.
'If you look back, our major public works projects always went to referendum,' he says, citing Monona Terrace and the Goodman Pool as examples. 'We do have a history of taking special projects to referendum.'
And he says getting federal funding for streetcars might be easier if there's a vote. 'If it passes, we'd be in a stronger position to go to the federal government and ask for funding, because we'd have the support of the public.'
But Wagner isn't ready for another battle. 'I just fought all summer over the constitutional amendment,' he sighs. 'That experience hasn't endeared me to referendums.'
The Parking Utility's new shuttle service between the downtown parking ramps has not exactly been a rousing success. Riders can take Route 89, which runs on the outer loop of Capitol Square and down State Street, for free simply by showing an entry ticket from one of the downtown ramps.
But in the shuttle's first week of service, Jan. 2 to Jan. 5, the bus had only five to eight riders a day. By the end of the month, ridership had crept up to between 15 and 21 riders a day.
'It doesn't come anywhere close to our expectations yet,' admits Bill Knobeloch, the parking utility's manager. The pilot program, which costs about $140,000, runs until June. Knobeloch is hoping drivers will park in ramps that are further away ' and cheaper ' if they can ride a shuttle in. That would in turn free up space in some of downtown's more popular ramps, including Government East on Doty Street, which is often nearly full.
The utility is running ads about the shuttle and recently e-mailed every state worker downtown about it, says Knobeloch. 'I hope with all the publicity, people will take advantage of it.'