After joining forces over the weekend to protest Gov. Scott Walker's budget repair bill, Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz and challenger Paul Soglin returned to the campaign for a debate at Meriter Hospital's auditorium Monday night.
With the April 5 spring election looming, incumbent Cieslewicz and Soglin, a two-time former mayor, strove to differentiate their often-similar approaches to governing.
While Cieslewicz touted his "experience and optimism," Soglin stressed the importance of working together as a community in response to the upcoming years of Republican-dominated state politics.
Monday's questions honed in on recurring issues of contention, namely Soglin's proposed job cuts and Cieslewicz's plan to replace long-time city employee, Arthur Ross, in the upcoming budget.
When asked about state budget cuts, Soglin stressed the necessity of building a strong fiscal platform for city government by eliminating unnecessary positions like the mayor's communications aide and the fiscal efficiency auditor position.
To Soglin, the communications position is needless. And as for the fiscal efficiency auditor, "either the comptroller is doing their job in that office or they're not. If they're not, there's something wrong, you deal with it."
In their place, Soglin proposed bringing back the legislative analyst/lobbyist position, which would deal with intergovernmental relations and, he said, yield a net savings of $150,000.
"It's not a lot," admitted Soglin, "but I think it's an excellent place to start."
Cieslewicz defended the fiscal efficiency position, saying it serves a unique and indispensable function.
As for the legislative analyst position, Cieslewicz said that job is best served by hiring a contract lobbyist, as he has done, to serve as a "face at the Capitol."
Cieslewicz did not mention the communications position.
The incumbent candidate took heat from one questioner for a recent plan to remove the city's bicycle-pedestrian safety coordinator, Arthur Ross. Noting he had to be "very careful" in his response, Soglin nevertheless lashed out, saying he believed Cieslewicz's action was "completely contrary to good public management."
"What you're doing is not just impacting that employee, but you're doing it to all [other] employees." said Soglin. "You do not want to send fear through the organization."
Soglin said the normal response to someone who performed inadequately was to go through the process of escalating discipline and, "if you don't like somebody, you just deal with it."
Cieslewicz responded: "It's not unusual for positions to be eliminated and others to be created through the budget… it happens all the time."
Cieslewicz said in the case of Ross, the city needs a different, more comprehensive and authoritative position.