The next Madison mayoral race is approaching fast, and with a crowded field, candidates don’t have a ton of time to make their case before the early February primary.
Each candidate will need to find messages that resonate with voters when the holiday season, Super Bowl and opening of the Wisconsin Legislature's next session will all compete for voters' attention. In early 2011, the rematch between Dave Cieslewicz and Paul Soglin felt like an afterthought compared to what was going on in state politics at the time. Act 10 didn't just put city issues on the back burner, they were taken off the stove entirely and left to dry out on the counter.
With Gov. Scott Walker determined to please his core constituents (i.e. the Republican caucus-goers of Iowa), there is certain to be some major state issue hogging the news spotlight. It might be ditching Common Core, or messing with state employee health insurance, or micro-mangling the UW, or cursing the city of Milwaukee to one thousand years of darkness because it is daring to build a streetcar. I'm not sure what it will be, but there's going to be something going on at the Capitol that will distract from business at the City-County Building.
With these distractions, Madison's mayoral race is going to be determined by a handful of issues that might attract attention. Each will shape the discussion of who will make it past the primary. Mayor Soglin is basically a shoo-in, so these discussions will be key in determining his challenger.
Soglin wants the race to be about financial management. His veto threat on the budget was all about that. This issue makes sense for him, as he's had by far the most experience with Madison budgets. Saying the city is headed towards a fiscal catastrophe can help frame a scenario in which only his wise hand can be trusted to guide it.
But deciding whether or not to delay the purchase of a biodigester into a future year's capital budget doesn't seem like a major motivator for voters. Soglin's plan seems managerial -- it doesn't seem visionary.
Madison's future growth seems like a fertile topic and one that lines up better for Soglin’s potential challengers, though not without bumps. Former Ald. Bridget Maniaci has worked on several of the projects that dot Madison's skyline, including the popular Constellation but also the more troubled Edgewater redevelopment. Ald. Scott Resnick has a tech-oriented start-up background, but he doesn't really have many major developments under his belt.
Our city's disgraceful racial inequities dominate news headlines, but will any candidate offer a vision to address that?
Former Dane County Supervisor Richard Brown is campaigning on making Madison "a place for all." But his history of running the now-defunct Genesis business incubator dampens his message of effectively combating economic inequality.
The winner of Madison's next mayoral election will make major decisions that will shape what this city is and what it wants to be heading into the 2020s. Now it's up to every candidate to cut through the noise and motivate voters.