In May, Christopher Daly heard about a campaign to force the Common Council to hold referendums whenever the city wants to subsidize projects with more than $10 million of tax incremental financing. The idea was spurred by the city's $200 million Judge Doyle Square proposal, which includes a luxury hotel for Monona Terrace and could take up to $100 million in city aid.
Daly -- who plans to run for mayor (see Facebook and Twitter) -- enthusiastically jumped on board, downloading petition forms and gathering signatures on State Street. It seems to Daly a wildly popular idea.
He estimates that more than 90% of the people he talked to eagerly signed, and within a few weeks he had collected 1,000 signatures, a significant portion of the 16,331 required.
"People are overwhelmingly against more subsidized construction," says Daly, who would rather see the city funding urban agriculture and green technology initiatives. But earlier this month, the group that started the petition drive -- Citizens Against Subsidized Hotels, or CA$H -- gave up on the idea. Organizers say the city is rushing ahead with Judge Doyle Square in order to avoid having a public vote on the project. Organizers also feared they wouldnâ€™t get the necessary number of signatures and decided to focus on other efforts.
But others, like Daly and the political party Progressive Dane, did not give up and are continuing to collect signatures in an uncoordinated effort. The deadline for the drive is June 30. However, Susan Pastor, policy co-chair of Progressive Dane, says that CA$H is declining to turn over the signatures it has already collected, making success unlikely.
"It's been confusing and honestly disappointing," Pastor says. "We didn't initiate the referendum, but we definitely supported it. It's a needed check and balance when the stakes are highest."
Pastor has no idea how many signatures have been collected, by her group or others, but she contends opposition to Judge Doyle Square is strong. She says Progressive Dane volunteers each "collected anywhere from 50 to more than 100 from their immediate neighbors, and without a lot of effort."
"We crunch out that it is pretty easy to get 45 signatures an hour," she says. But she isn't sure that Progressive Dane has standing to submit the petitions, since the campaign was started by CA$H.
CA$H says it has shifted away from the referendum idea and toward getting residents to lobby Common Council members against the project. Andy Olsen, a CA$H organizer, says the group decided not to put any more energy into collecting the petitions. Asked why it won't hand over the petitions it has already gathered, he says that would take a considerable effort, since the petitions are dispersed among numerous people.
"We're a volunteer group. We only have so much spare time," Olsen says. "There are more important things we feel we need to focus on, like working on contacts with alders and tracking things in city hall."
Daly is disappointed. "We were getting the volunteers we needed," he says. "We could have pulled it off."