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Friday, January 30, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 24.0° F  A Few Clouds
The Daily
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Yuks fly at Progressive Dane's mayoral debate
Will Sandstrom, Peter Muñoz, Dave Cieslewicz and Ray Allen make their case at the Warner Park Community Center.
Credit:Kenneth Burns

He probably wasn't the only one thinking it. "I can't wait for the primary to be over," sighed Mayor Dave Cieslewicz at last night's mayoral debate, held by Progressive Dane at the Warner Park Community Center. His lament about the Feb. 20 election came in response to taunting by long-shot candidate Will Sandstrom. "Dave, you're a con," he had just told the mayor. "A sad case."

The exchange provoked laughter. The roughly 50 spectators laughed a lot last night, in fact, as Cieslewicz and his challengers -- Sandstrom, Ray Allen and Peter Muñoz -- discussed policy and traded barbs. (Sandstrom mostly stuck to barbs.) Some of the laughter came as moderator Ald. Judy Olson posed screwball questions like "'Survivor' or 'The Apprentice'?"

But the questions were largely substantive, including several about public transit. Olson never mentioned streetcars by name, though. That fell to Allen and Muñoz, who repeatedly criticized the very notion of streetcars, a favorite of the mayor -- even as, at another moment, Muñoz praised New York City's rail system for its convenience.

Allen and Muñoz seemed mostly to decry the mayor's policies, in fact. They denounced his approaches to, among other things, tax increment financing, poverty, water, policing, and conservation, as well as transit. They were so stridently united in their criticism that it came as no surprise when, in response to a question, each said they would vote for the other for mayor, if they could not vote for themselves.

As for the mayor, he defended his record as he cited progress in inclusionary zoning and economic development, as well as a Web-based system citizens can use to report problems with city government.

The discussion repeatedly veered into absurd terrain, though, thanks to the puzzling, largely irrelevant contributions of Sandstrom, who is running on a platform to raise the maximum federal income tax rate to 94%.

I really do struggle over just what to say about Sandstrom. Some believe his utterances aren't worth reporting at all. But dang if the guy isn't mesmerizing.

He brought a silly, at times unsettling tone to the proceedings last night, a tone that seemed very Madison, in its way. He taunted the audience and his opponents, suggested that as a child he was abused by a gay couple, made a terrible pun on Bert Zipperer's last name and wondered more than once whether there are "girls in chains" in Madison (that musing came as he reflected on the city's crime woes).

"You may not like me," Sandstrom said, "but you had better vote for me."

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