Madison's mayoral primary is coming up soon. As candidate Bridget Maniaci said at the first debate, Mayor Paul Soglin is almost certainly going to make it through the primary. That leaves four other candidates -- Richard Brown, Christopher Daly, Scott Resnick and Maniaci -- fighting it out for the other spot on the general election ballot in the spring.
With that in mind, I'd like to offer some unsolicited advice to the four candidates, ways I feel they can stand out from the crowd and ways they can answer some of the most common critiques of their campaigns. Now, I'm just a blowhard who has no experience running a citywide campaign, so feel free to take these all with a grain of salt.
Bridget Maniaci and Scott Resnick
You are both borderline millennials who served two terms as alders, and you both have plans to grow the local tax base based upon the tech sector. You even have similar fundraising levels. If only one of the two of you were on the ballot, it is a safe bet you'd be the candidate to clear the primary.
But there are two of you. I easily see your campaigns splitting the vote among your target audience. What makes you a distinctive candidate? What is the added value you bring to the table for the voter who is undecided between the two of you?
You both have interesting backgrounds, let's hear more about it. Maniaci, this is a town that loves going to college and getting a bunch of degrees. What are the key ideas you learned getting your master's degree? Most importantly, what was the value of going to an out-of-state school to get that degree? Madison is proud of its status as a college town, so much so that our residents sometimes refuse to admit other universities might have something to offer.
Resnick, you have experience as a business owner. Madison has a mostly undeserved reputation as being hostile to business, even though Dane County is consistently the economic bright spot in our underperforming state. Tell us how you'll walk the tightrope of being pro-business and progressive. The growth of the tech sector sometimes seems like it is increasing disparities in various cities. How would your Madison beat that curve?
Finally, each of you needs a stand-out issue that has nothing to do with development. There are large number of voters who, right or wrong, care little about broadening the tax base. How do you appeal to them?
Resnick, you recently put out a memo of proposals, including broad plans to fight homelessness and provide more childcare options. These are good, but they lack specifics and there are too many of them. There's no way a first-term mayor has the political capital for all of those proposals. Pick what you really want to focus on.
Maniaci, this is your chance to escape from the Edgewater debate that dominated much of your service. You promoted some solid policies during your terms, specifically the ordinance requiring landlords to give new tenants voter registration forms. You know you've written something powerful when the state Legislature, run by the party of "local control," decides to muscle out municipal action in state law. Running in Madison, I'd trumpet that in every interview: "the Legislature thought my idea was so good, they had to make sure they killed it."
Additionally, you've got neat transportation proposals, but talking transit can get really wonky, really quickly. How will your public transit ideas work? And how will they help the average Madisonian get home from work faster? How does that translate to the ground level?
My main question to you is, how have you learned from your previous financial troubles? In an interview with Isthmus, you laid out the problems you had as a landlord, often because you rented to people whom no one else would rent to. You also led a business incubator with a great mission that filed for bankruptcy.
You are a caring individual committed to fighting poverty and improving the lives of Madison residents. For that, you should be applauded. But can you do that while balancing a budget? Being mayor involves making tough, sometimes unpopular decisions. I'm not sure your record shows you can do that. But, as human beings, we grow from our mistakes. You've still got some time to show why your varied experience would make you a good mayor.
Also, I think your idea for faith-based partnerships within the city is an interesting one. Church congregations are a great way to meet residents where they are at. But Madison loves and cherishes the separation of church and state. In a city where large numbers of voters feel uncomfortable discussing matters of faith, I think you need to make a stronger case for why you feel these partnerships are necessary and what this office would look like.
Just keep doing what you are doing. Also, there is no chance in hell you clear the primary. That's okay -- your job is to represent the ultra-left in Madison. In the 2003 mayoral race, Burt Zipperer provided some left-leaning pressure on the candidates. A young Dave Cieslewicz adopted policies similar to Zipperer and managed to win the mayoral race, beating out none other than Paul Soglin himself.
The ultra-left's job is to introduce big ideas. While many of these ideas initially sound wacky, they eventually become mainstream. In the 2000s, Madison's ultra-left pushed seemingly wacky policies like an indoor smoking ban and a municipal minimum wage increase. Today, both of those ideas are accepted, mainstream public policy. Wisconsin's marketplace of ideas is woefully out of stock when it comes to liberal policy right now. Like a startup company, outsider candidates innovate and reinvigorate, even if a high proportion of them ultimately fail.
Still, I have no idea what you are talking about with a public bank or what the primary benefits would be. How is this substantially different from a credit union?
To all the candidates
Start attacking your opponent.
I'm not talking about Paul Soglin. I'm talking about Scott Walker. In 2011, both Soglin and Cieslewicz were all over the downtown protests. It was a smart move on both of their parts -- all of the news coverage was on the Capitol and not the City-County Building a block away.
2015 is feeling all too similar to 2011. If there was a Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs for politics, it would show that massive state budget cuts trump municipal elections. Candidates, talk about these issues. It makes it far more likely you'll actually get some press coverage. Make a plan for how the city will help the UW spin off new businesses, how you'll work to help recent graduates find jobs in the city. Create a three-party panel with UW-Madison's School of Education, Madison Metropolitan School District and the mayor's office to fight disparity issues. The exact plan doesn't matter; you just need to be out there supporting the University of Wisconsin.
How are you going to be an effective lobbyist for the city in the current state climate? Walker has been at war with the city of Milwaukee since he was Milwaukee county executive but they've still gotten major road projects and a sweetheart loan for a new stadium on his watch.
What projects will you help get done for Madison at the Capitol? What harmful policies will you work to stop or at least soften? The current Legislature loves roads -- get them to do something about the Wisconsin and Southern Railroad crossings that paralyze the east and north sides on a regular basis, and you are my hero forever.
Finally, congratulations to all of you for being out and about at different city events and forums, even those that aren't debates. It helps you come across as invested and interested in our city. Soglin has a busy schedule, but his lack of attention sometimes makes it look like he is sleepwalking through this campaign. You are all running a good race, even if the press coverage and public attention is seriously lacking.