As protesters chanted and marched in the cold across the street, Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz and former mayor Paul Soglin squared off at a debate Wednesday, presenting significantly divergent assessments of the city's health and future.
In a 45-minute exchange before the
"I let you down," he told the audience.
Cieslewicz, in turn, deadpanned his biggest regret: "I wish I had made Paul buy breakfast more often." This referred to the monthly meetings between the two at which Soglin purportedly never expressed his deep dissatisfaction with the city's direction or his intention to seek Cieslewicz's ouster. (Cieslewicz also said he wishes he'd done more to push for a Regional Transit Authority before Walker's ascension made it a sitting duck.)
The exchanges were cordial and the disagreements, while many, did not suggest fundamentally different philosophies of governing. Both candidates seemed to be in favor of competent management and inclusive government, but Soglin, in particular, didn't think Cieslewicz practiced it.
In an apparent reference to the mayor's plan to ax the position of longtime Madison bicycle-pedestrian guru Arthur Ross, Soglin said: "You don't build trust by writing people out of the budget because you disagree with them."
Soglin, whenever possible, used words like "chaos" to describe changes Cieslewicz has wrought. He said "I can guarantee you" that if the city's dalliance with deepening debt is left unchecked, it will lose its triple A bond rating -- achieved during Soglin tenure -- during the next two years. And he clucked about no-contract bids, including the one that brought the city into partnership with Trek for a bike rental program starting this year.
Cieslewicz championed his successes in stabilizing Madison Metro and ending the "nightmare" that Halloween parties on State Street had become. He boasted about the city's low unemployment rate and vowed to "continue our progress in building our modern economy," like high-tech companies and stem-cell research.
"What traits do I possess?" Cieslewicz asked. "An enduring sense of optimism and a belief in the city of Madison."
Neither candidate seemed to have found the Holy Grail of an answer when asked how the city was going to deal with the funding cuts and property-tax freeze proposed by Gov. Scott Walker.
Soglin seemed to think the city had no choice but to cut, saying Walker "clearly believes in what he is doing. He is not going to back down." Soglin identified two positions within the mayor's office itself, including the spokesperson job, as expendable. Cieslewicz defended these positions and suggested Soglin was going too far: "Pretty soon he's going to be answering his own phones." Not if he isn't elected.
Cieslewicz said he hopes to persuade the governor and Legislature to build flexibility into their plans. He thinks the Madison public wants and deserves "quality services" and should have the option of raising taxes to allow these to continue: "I believe local governments should decide that on their own, based on local values."