Who to vote for mayor of Madison will be the most important -- and exciting -- civic decision of the next four years. In case you missed it, there's an election for that position coming up on April 7, with a primary only a few weeks away on February 17.
You could be forgiven for not knowing that because, despite the challengers' best efforts, virtually no attention is being paid to the race at the moment. Is it just the cold? Campaign fatigue from last November? Energy siphoned off for the Packers?
No, I don't think so.
When I first ran for mayor in 2003, all of those same factors were in play. We were just coming off a governor’s race in 2002, the weather was really cold and Green Bay was in the playoffs.
Yet, we still had a debate to attend in the first week of January. And it never let up through the winter. The same thing happened in 2007 and again 2011. In each of the past three mayoral election cycles in Madison, there were multiple forums before the February primary.
This year, so far only one forum has been scheduled: a joint event hosted by Downtown Madison, Inc., and Capitol Neighborhoods, Inc. on Thursday, January 29. More will no doubt be scheduled -- the Tenney-Lapham Neighorhood Association is talking about hosting one -- but it seems like there will be nowhere near as many as there have been in previous cycles.
This works to the advantage of incumbent Mayor Paul Soglin. He already has name recognition, and can command attention simply by making an announcement. The challengers could use the exposure provided in these forums to introduce themselves and their ideas, and to contrast themselves with the incumbent. But fewer debates mean less opportunities for challengers to be heard -- advantage to the guy who already holds the job.
Challenger Bridget Maniaci was at our door last Sunday afternoon. She was distributing literature in the vote-rich Regent neighborhood on that cold afternoon. I admired her energy, but she expressed frustration at the lack of interest in the race at this point. She wants to debate Soglin and the other challengers too. She wants to get in there and mix it up, compare records, trade ideas, and talk about the future.
And I know that downtown alder Scott Resnick feels the same as I assume the other challengers do. He reports purchasing a new coat just for the purpose of knocking on doors in the cold. (Resnick also reports that he's still cold.)
So, if the challengers are willing to work that hard, why won't groups invite them into a comfortable and warm meeting room and give them a chance to share their ideas? Where have all the debates gone? If campaigns are supposed to be the conversations of democracy, we're not talking much to one another right now. That is a civic deficit that needs addressing.