With the Democrats in control of Congress and Wisconsin's own Rep. Dave Obey serving as chair of the House Appropriations Committee, it's natural to assume that the city of Madison will have an easy time getting federal funding for its upcoming projects.
But Mayor Dave Cieslewicz headed off this week to Washington, D.C., with a downsized list of requests.
"With the current negative attitude toward earmarks, we need to be more careful about what we ask for," says Cieslewicz. "We need to downscale our expectations."
In 2007, Madison requested $17.7 million in federal aid for special projects. It received less than $600,000.
This year, Cieslewicz is asking for just $9 million, including $2 million to buy filters for municipal wells tainted with manganese and $2 million to revamp the Mineral Point-Junction Road intersection.
Cieslewicz left out requests for several other city projects, including a couple million to redevelop the Garver Feed Mill on the east side.
"I would have liked to have that on the list," he says. "We just can't get everything we want."
Without federal funding, the city will likely have to borrow money to pay for projects like Garver. Or it may delay the projects for several years.
Of the items that remain on the list, Cieslewicz is particularly hopeful that Congress will give the city $1 million for a new parking ramp with 200-300 spaces, as part of the Villager Mall redevelopment.
The ramp, says Cieslewicz, "has become key to redeveloping the Villager." To maintain the mall's cash flow, it needs to expand, and all of its available space must be leased. And a ramp would provide ample parking. "It's the last piece of the puzzle," he says. "That's why it's important for federal assistance."
While in D.C., Cieslewicz will meet with Rep. Tammy Baldwin, to ask her to sponsor the city's funding requests. But Baldwin's spokeswoman, Jerilyn Goodman, is noncommittal.
"We get requests from many people," she says. "Tammy supports programs that have a positive impact on the community, have community support, and that have merit."
The mayor questions the current push in Congress to rein in earmarks. Without federal assistance, he says, Madison could not have reconstructed East Washington Avenue or built a new pedestrian bridge across the six-lane street for the Darbo-Worthington neighborhood. The feds paid about $36 million of the thoroughfare's $83 million reconstruction cost.
"The national media tend to focus on a few bad projects," says Cieslewicz. "But by and large, the projects are really helpful to the neighborhoods that need them. You'd be hard-pressed to find any pork barrel projects."
Tammy stands by her woman
Baldwin is mum on what she'll do if Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton duke it out all the way to this summer's Democratic National Convention. As a "superdelegate," Baldwin could cast a potentially tie-breaking vote to choose the Democrats' presidential nominee.
Baldwin has endorsed Clinton, but in its primary last week, Wisconsin voted overwhelmingly for Obama. In Baldwin's 2nd Congressional District, the vote was a lopsided 65% to 34%.
Wisconsin Rep. Steve Kagen has pledged his vote to Obama based on the will of voters in his district. And spokeswoman Goodman confirms that Baldwin has been hearing from voters who want her to honor her constituents' choice and support Obama at the convention. But Baldwin still favors Clinton. As she said in a statement:
"This was a hard-fought campaign, and the high turnout here is something we can all be proud of. Obviously, these candidates are in a highly competitive race, and I look forward to Clinton victories in upcoming primaries."
Not an actual reporter
Yes, that is Josh Wescott reading the news and hosting shows on AM talk radio station WIBA. The same Josh Wescott who became Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk's spokesman in November.
"I fill in part-time at the station if they need someone on the weekends," says Wescott, who's worked in radio for "years and years."
Cynics might wonder if having Falk's spokesman moonlighting as a news broadcaster is a conflict of interest. But Wescott insists there's nothing improper about his gig.
"I'm not an actual reporter," he says. "I'm just a voice to read stuff."
Topf Wells, Falk's chief of staff, says the county exec has no problem with Wescott's radio job. "This question did come up when Kathleen interviewed Josh," he says. "He certainly has to be careful not to be political. Our sense is that's how it's worked out."
Last month, Wescott hosted a show called "Madison Tonight," which discussed the presidential election. He says WIBA's corporate owner, Clear Channel, would never let him broadcast if there was a conflict. "They're not going to put someone on the air who's going to advance a personal agenda," he says. "I don't think it's any bit of a deal at all."
The city's new rack-it
As part of the planned State Street redesign, newspaper publishers will no longer be allowed to use their own racks. Instead, they'll have to lease space in a giant rack, owned by the city of Madison, that displays up to six publications at a time. The city would charge publishers roughly $125 a year per rack.
Currently, publishers can place their own racks on the street, without paying anything to the city.
Having uniform racks is "part of an effort to upgrade the image of State Street," says Archie Nicolette, a city planner. Under the plan, subject to Common Council approval, the city would install racks in 10 locations just off State Street, still visible to passersby.
"We're really not changing anything," he says. "What we're trying to do is organize it."
Nicolette says the city isn't trying to infringe on anyone's rights. The new fee is meant strictly "to cover our business costs." He's contacted several national publications, including USA Today, about the proposed change. "They seem totally okay with it," he says. "Other cities have done this."
Locally, The Onion and one of the real estate magazines have agreed to rent space from the city. But he still hopes to hear from other publications, including the Wisconsin State Journal. (Phil Stoddard, circulation director for Capital Newspapers, did not return a call.)
Isthmus, which owns three racks on State Street, likely won't lease any space, opting instead to find new businesses that will allow racks indoors.
Heather has two mommies - and a supersensitive babysitter
OutReach, the local nonprofit center for gays and lesbians, has started a new, gay-friendly babysitter referral service. The center says many of its members complained that they had trouble finding reliable babysitters who are sensitive to their unique family makeup.
"Some families may experience discrimination by a babysitter," says Leslie Kuhn of OutReach. "Or they may fear what a babysitter may say to their child."
The group has screened about 30 babysitters - mostly UW students - who answered a battery of questions about their sensitivity to gay issues. "We want to make sure they're not going to say things like, 'That's so gay,'" says Kuhn. OutReach has also contacted references and done criminal background checks on each of the sitters it recommends.
The referral service is free. Just call OutReach at 255-8582.