"I think it's clear Soglin won," one person told me after last night's mayoral forum at the Capitol Lakes Retirement Center. "Is that really what you think," I asked. "Or is that just what you want to think?"
In general, I thought the debate was a wash. Cieslewicz did a good job of defending his record, and, as usual, spoke well and appeared likable. Soglin, whose body language, especially while others were speaking, seemed to indicate awkwardness or agitation, got better as the debate went on, and I think he had his best moment at the end, when he promised to implement two of the museum plans offered by self-proclaimed unserious candidate Dennis DeNure, as well as a museum of women's sports.
Along with his Packers tie, construction supervisor John Blotz's nasal accent and earnest outrage at "the erosion of the integrity of the civil service" in Madison undoubtedly made him the most midwestern candidate in a field in which all but one candidate were born and raised in the Heartland (yes, Illinois counts).
Nevertheless, for Blotz to stand a chance, he needs to develop some more material for the stump.
But I also thought Soglin suffered from the same problem as Blotz on the more controversial issues, including the Overture and the Edgewater. I think last night proved that attacking the mayor on issues of city procedure is tough, especially when the audience is not restricted to Madison political junkies.
Cieslewicz easily brushed off allegations that he was marginalizing citizen committees and neighborhood groups by saying that he and the Council follow the recommendations of of committees 99% of the time, but that at the end of the day, elected officials are elected to make their own decisions.
When a man in the audience pointed out that the people Cieslewicz is agreeing with 99% of the time were people he appointed, the mayor responded, "that's the point." He went on to say, however, that he was dedicated to ideological diversity.
"I'm even looking for a spot for David Blaska, who desperately wants a position...and he and I aren't even on the same planet."
If there's a local stand-up comedian who should have run for mayor, it's Dan Potacke. A performance that would have combined knowledge of city affairs with humor -- which is kind of what Dennis DeNure delivered -- would have been great. I think the stand-up who is running, Nick Hart, was caught awkwardly last night in between his wish to make jokes and his realization that the audience consisted largely of people staying up past their bedtime to learn about important issues facing their city.
In the end, I think Hart's candidacy would be more appropriate at the state level. For instance, his contention that we might not have enough oil to build the high-speed rail line was only slightly more absurd than the case made by Scott Walker -- that we don't have enough money to build it. And the voters actually bought that one. Tragic hilarity.