Last October, I had a chance to introduce someone at the Wisconsin Book Festival. I had my choice of authors and I chose Bill Lueders. You might think for the purposes of revenge, but you'd be wrong.
Today is Bill's last day as news editor of Isthmus and I can't think of anything more truthful than what I said about him last fall. So here it is:
I learned from reading his book that Bill Lueders and I have a lot in common. We're the same age, we both grew up in Milwaukee, both have three siblings, we went to Catholic schools and each of us has exactly the same formal training in journalism: one class in high school.
But I chose the dark side, becoming a politician, while Bill chose the path of all that is good and just and right and poorly compensated.
Bill taught himself the craft of journalism and the art of editing. I have witnessed firsthand his skill at both. I've been both a subject of his writing and the beneficiary of his editing, having written many short columns and three long cover pieces for Isthmus over the years. As an editor he has made my writing better. Leaner. More crisp and to the point.
As a journalist and columnist, Bill has made me a better mayor and Madison a better city. As I wrote in a cover blurb for his latest book, Bill goes fearlessly and fiercely wherever the truth leads him. I don't always agree with where he ends up, but I never doubt that he got there honestly.
The best relationships between journalists and politicians are like the relationship of hunters to Wisconsin whitetail deer. Hunters want more deer so that they can enjoy killing them. No deer, no hunt and no hunters. Similarly, without politicians, reporters would be lost, out of sorts, grumpy and cynical. Some would even resort to drink.
But luckily for journalists, we do have politicians and what my fellow whitetails need to appreciate is that anyone given authority over the lives of others should be held to account for how well they use that authority. They should be asked to justify their decisions, reveal the facts they had access to, and be second-guessed and berated when they try to hide their mistakes. Bill Lueders does all these things and he has done them often with me and my administration.
And yet, it's the damndest thing: I count him as a friend. I think that's because, at the end of the day, Bill Lueders' writing can be sharp, mocking, raging, but never mean. For 25 years, Bill Lueders has shaped Madison. He keeps reminding us that we are a community with a conscience and a great, still unrealized place in the world of cities.
We are a better city for his two and a half decades of muckraking and rabblerousing.
Bill will continue his trouble-making at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, but Isthmus won't be the same without him and our city will be just a little different for having someone else at the helm of that publication.
Bill left a mark on Madison. It was a good one. Thank you, Bill, and best wishes on your new adventures.