Early spring afternoons should be spent in the garden, on a bike or at least sitting on the patio with a beer and a book. But since the City Council race in my district (the fighting 20th) is heating up, I thought I'd head over to the Sequoya Library and take in Saturday afternoon's candidate forum. I wasn't disappointed.
Thuy Pham-Remmele and Gary Poulson offer contrasts in politics and style as they seek to replace outgoing Ald. Cindy Thomas. Poulson, a former council president who served three terms, is looking to get back on the council and displays a thoughtful approach and command of the issues.
Pham-Remmele is a retired teacher who moved to Madison from Vietnam in the 1970s. In its endorsement of her this week, the Wisconsin State Journal described her as "feisty," a trait in evidence at the forum. She also has a command of the most important issues facing the district, but unlike Poulson, didn't list many plans for how she would address them if elected.
An item published in Isthmus this week (scroll to 'Always doublecheck the 'To' box') revealed that Pham-Remmele's own supporters may have attempted to squash attendance at the forum. County Supv. Matt Veldran mistakenly received an an email from Tim Johnson (pdf), a member of the Meadowood Neighborhood Association, that was meant for Cindy Thomas.
"As I put up flyers for the Summer Youth Fair, I can quietly and surreptitiously take the Gary-Thuy [forum] flyers down if I see them," Johnson wrote. If not, "maybe Thuy will find her inner strength and be able to think on her feet...and come across well in the forum.'
A standing-room only crowd indicated Johnson's plan may have backfired, but I guess I don't know what he was so worried about. Pham-Remmele definitely speaks with a Vietnamese accent, but she's not hard to understand and communicates with passion and humor, if not always as succinctly as she should. While it's true that Poulson speaks with much more authority on the issues, he is an experienced politician and English isn't his second language. This is local politics and an unpolished style like Pham-Remmele's should not only be tolerated, but celebrated, particularly by her own supporters.
However, as refreshing as Pham-Remmele's feistiness is, she admitted to not paying much attention to the council and often opted for rhetoric during the forum over thoughtful responses to the question. "I thank God I have a life!" she said. "I don't have time to watch all these boring meetings."
Does she realize that going to boring meetings is kind of a big part of the job she's trying to get?
And while claiming to have no political affiliations, she is clearly Thomas' (as well as the Chamber of Commerce's) horse in this race. Several weeks ago, I stood looking out my front window on a weekend afternoon as Pham-Remmele and Thomas consulted a clipboard on the sidewalk just outside. After glancing up at me, my address and back at the clipboard, they moved on without so much as a wave. I'm still relatively new to the neighborhood, so I'm probably not on their list of likely supporters. But I guess I don't understand why a candidate would pass up a chance to at least stick some literature in my hand. Poulson has visited twice.
Thomas certainly won't be missed by Madison progressives, but it's hard to tell if Pham-Remmele would vote differently on many issues. Poulson, on the other hand, certainly won't be the "breath of fresh air" that Pham-Remmele promises. But in a district that is increasingly concerned about a growing crime problem, development issues and city services, a steady hand might be the better choice.