By all accounts, serving on the Madison Common Council is a thankless job.
The two-year terms involve long hours at meetings that sometimes last all night. Alders regularly field calls from angry and upset residents and have to make agonizing decisions over city funding. And many of their constituents probably don't even know their names or bother to vote for them. They do all of this for the meager salary of $660 a month.
So it's understandable to watch the biennial ritual of self-congratulation that unfolds when the council turns over. It's a noon meeting filled with platitudes and speeches, as alders honor colleagues who are either retiring or were voted out of office.
On Tuesday, the council members did not disappoint as they bid farewell to five alders: Bridget Maniaci, Brian Solomon, Satya Rhodes-Conway and Jill Johnson (none of whom ran for re-election) and Tim Bruer, who was defeated after 29 years on the council by John Strasser.
Their remarks sounded like a mix of battlefield homilies and Academy Award speeches.Ald. Shiva Bidar-Sielaff -- who is not leaving the council, but was honored for completing the largely honorific one-year term as council president -- apologized for breaking into tears during her remarks. "You know I'm a crier," she said.
Solomon framed the council post in epic terms: "The fight for equality and justice and our city is as old as our species."
Others talked about the importance of serving in public office and of remembering the people they serve. Rhodes-Conway reminisced about the first time she spoke at a Common Council meeting, before she was elected, and how she shook with nervousness. "Don't forget that feeling of shaking -- that's what your constituents feel when they interact with you and city hall."
But the day belonged to Tim Bruer, who has served longer than any of them, representing the south-side District 14 since 1984. True to form, Bruer delivered a long, meandering speech, thanking his constituents and city staff. He urged freshmen council members to "pick a couple of ideas that are important to you and your district and build coalitions" to work on them.
He got some of the best laughs of the meeting, by saying he was going to start a blog called "A blog from the grave" and said he would start "twittering and twatting."
There was hardly a harsh word to be found, but there were acknowledgements of old battle wounds. Solomon referenced the allegation of sexual assault against him and the call of six of his colleagues that he resign. He thanked his detractors "who tested my values, courage and patience."
Ald. Lauren Cnare, in bidding farewell to Johnson, referenced the grocery store development, Grandview Commons, that the two bitterly fought over. "Everybody knows there's a grocery store in the air," she said. And Bruer joked about dedicating a chapter of his autobiography to Ald. Mike Verveer, who recently criticized his tenure.
The council finally broke for its ceremonial lunch after 2 p.m. They were scheduled to meet later in the evening with five new members: Strasser, Ledell Zellers, Maurice Cheeks, David Ahrens, and Denise DeMarb.