Ray Allen and Peter MuÃoz agree on the big issues, at least as seen at the first mayoral debate on Wednesday. Both see a need for stricter immigration policies locally, both want to keep the Huber work-release jail where it is, and both disparage Mayor Dave Cieslewicz's streetcar proposal. But there appears to be one distinctive difference between the candidates: their tone.
This difference crystallized in their closing statements at the debate (which Cieslewicz skipped), when each made a final pitch for themselves. Both emphasized their vision for the future of the city, citing crime and basic services as the cornerstones of their platform. Both expressed pride for Madison, too, as an element of their desire to seek the city's highest office. The difference between how they did so, though, was striking.
Early in the debate, Allen worried that Madison may be "sending the wrong signals." He noted that the debate in 2001 over requiring schools to broadcast the Pledge of Allegiance, as well as the city council's recent decision to allow officeholders to formally protest the state constitution's ban on gay marriage and civil unions when taking the oath of office, makes it hard for others in the state to respect Madison.
"It's the little things -- the Pledge of Allegiance, not wanting to take the oath -- that send the message that we're some kind of silo onto ourselves," he argued. "That we're doing different and unique things that make people not want to be a part of us."
Was Allen really invoking the time-honored and talk radio-trodden "surrounded by reality" jibe? Apparently so.
"I'll make you proud to be from Madison," he told the small crowd at in his closing statement, "so people don't roll their eyes in the back of their head and cite some goofy thing [city government] has done. I'm proud to be a Madisonian and I'm going to make you proud to be a Madisonian."
MuÃoz pounced on this in his closing statement. "I assure you Madison is a jewel in a world that is less than desirable for the most part," he said, emphasizing that there is no reason to be ashamed of the city.
This exchange had little to do with policy matters, but it spoke volumes about the two candidates. Madison is certainly not a love it or leave it kind of place, nor are its politicians. Candidates regularly seek to challenge the status quo, regardless of ideology, and warn that the city is turning in the wrong direction. It's a rare candidate, though, who picks up a moth-eaten stereotype about their potential constituents and throws it back at them.