Though most media attention was pointed at the Progressive Dane mayoral debate on Wednesday night, there was a much larger spring elections event being held at the downtown Madison Public Library. A total of 31 candidates in the spring elections pitched their campaigns at the monthly meeting of Democracy for Wisconsin (DFW). This two-year-old Madison group, which seeks to strengthen progressive policies within the Democratic Party, invited the candidates to briefly speak in advance of its formal endorsement vote.
"We're going to end up with very few endorsements coming out of here tonight," said Russell Wallace, a DFW organizer and vice-chair of the Democratic Party of Dane County. The endorsement covered only those candidates running in the Feb. 20 primary, and the results were largely unsurprising: Nearly every candidate recommended by DFW's open planning group was endorsed by the group.
DFW officially endorsed Linda Clifford for state Supreme Court, Dave Cieslewicz for reelection as mayor of Madison, and Beth Moss for Seat 3 on the Madison school board. On Madison aldermanic races, endorsements were to four contenders: Marsha Rummel (Dist. 6), Brian Solomon (Dist. 10), Julia Kerr (Dist. 13), and Vicky Selkowe (Dist. 15).
Several other Common Council candidates, including Satya Rhodes-Conway (District 12) and Benito Juarez Olivas (District 18), fell narrowly short of the requisite two-thirds majority. Nor was an endorsement made in Dist. 11, with a close contest between incumbent Tim Gruber and challenger Chris Schmidt.
The forum truly was a cattle call, with each candidate getting two minutes to speak before moving along to make way for the next person. There was no time for questions, aside from one put to Clifford from activist Ben Masel, who asked about protecting Wisconsinites from unreasonable searches and seizures under narrowing federal interpretations of the Fourth Amendment.
"I am open to finding a separate body of rights in the Wisconsin Consituttion based on Wisconsin's differing traditions and history," replied Clifford, who is facing Washington County Judge Annette Ziegler and Madison attorney Joe Sommers in the general election.
All of the candidates listed above attended the meeting, along with many, many others, each getting two minutes at the mic in the front of the room to quickly make their case. When one member lamented that there was no time for questions, Wallace explained that the response from candidates interested in speaking was far beyond their expectations.
Who were these 31 flavors of candidates seeking attention from DFW?
For the Madison Common Council, there was Aaron Backer (Dist. 1), Troy Thiel and Robbie Webber (Dist. 5), Lauren Woods (Dist. 8), Brian Solomon (Dist. 10), Chris Schmidt and Sandra Lynn Saul (Dist.11), Michael Basford and Satya Rhodes-Conway (Dist. 12), Mike Clark and Julia Kerr (District 13), Vicky Selkowe (Dist.15), Mary Thornton (Dist. 17), Benito Juarez Olivas and Michael Schumacher (Dist. 18), Mark Clear (Dist. 19), and Gary Poulson (Dist. 20). Additionally, candidate representatives (or in some cases Wallace) read statements on behalf of Rummel, Gruber, and Jon Becker (Dist. 18).
Five of the seven Madison school board candidates also spoke, including Pam Cross-Leone and Beth Moss (Seat 3), Johnny Winston, Jr. (Seat 4), Maya Cole and Marj Passman (Seat 5). Wallace also read a statement offered by Rick Thomas (Seat 3).
The parade of speakers ended with three of the four mayoral candidates: Dave Cieslewicz, Peter MuÃoz, and Will Sandstrom, all rushing to the library from their earlier forum on the northside. The latter two stuck around for a while after the forum (even spending some time discussing immigration), while the mayor took off immediately after his talk.
Most candidates read prepared statements, veering rarely from the basics of their campaign to offer a broader vision as to why they were running. There were exceptions, of course. Both Maya Cole and Marj Passman offered impassioned statements expressing their concern about the fate of Madison's schools, followed by Winston and Cross-Leone. The poise of these candidates reflected the high stakes and interest in the school board races. "Nothing gets people going," said Winston, like taxes and their children, and schools combine both.
Then there were the aldermanic candidates, many political newbies who were not as slick as those running in citywide races. Standing out from the crowd, though, for the brevity of their statements (always positive when it comes to interminable council meetings) and depth beyond biography were Solomon, Basford, Rhodes-Conway, Selkowe, Olivas and Schumacher. Indeed, campaign forums of this nature provide good practice for prospective alders to voice their opinion briefly yet clearly.
DFW will be meeting again after the primary, at which point they will take a look at endorsements in the rest of the school board and city council races.