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Monday, January 26, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 16.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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Allen and Cieslewicz face off for the first time
Dave Cieslewicz and Ray Allen debate at the Madison Club on Thursday morning.
Dave Cieslewicz and Ray Allen debate at the Madison Club on Thursday morning.
Credit:Kristian Knutsen

Downtown Madison Inc. wastes no time when it comes to kicking off the general election campaign for mayor of Madison, holding the first face-off debate between Ray Allen and incumbent Dave Cieslewicz a mere 36 hours after the polls closed on Tuesday evening.

This debate is the first opportunity for Madisonians to see the two candidates square off mano-a-mano. And where else would this occur, of course, but in front of many of the city's most active business leaders at the exclusive Madison Club nestled between Monona Terrace and the downtown Hilton.

Both candidates arrived prepared and ready in the front row of the club's main meeting room for the Thursday morning face-off; Cieslewicz accompanied by his mayoral aide Janet Piraino and campaign manager Megan McGrorty and Allen sitting to the mayor's right sans entourage.

The pattern through the primary debates was fairly rote when it came to their messages. Allen would challenge the incumbent on crime and basic services, then dive into his (Paul Soglin-touted) theme of poverty and education (along with a requisite dig at trolleys). Cieslewicz, meanwhile, would focus on his four years of work as mayor, identifying his recycling initiatives and service programs.

At the post-primary DMI debate, each sticks in large part to his talking points, but brings his game to a higher level. Allen is more direct, more polished in both his message and objections to the incumbent, though he remains fairly light on specifics.

Cieslewicz is a little slicker too, getting more pointed with his differences from the challenger when he cites his litany of projects completed and political allies made over the last four years. And neither mentions streetcars until the very end.

Business is, of course, at the top of the morning's list of topics.

"I'll be the top cheerleader for Madison," Allen says, "a deal-closer," promising to run the mayor's office as an executive and the city "as a business, not a non-profit."

The challenger dives right into the economic topic du jour in central city politics, saying that the Madison's business climate (or at least the perception of it) is a major problem. "I'll be your chief economic officer," he says, "I'll be your champion."

"Good staff," a "comprehensive plan to address crime," a "meeting with social-service providers" to tackle poverty, and changing the city's business climate top Allen's agenda for his first 100 days in office.

Cieslewicz points to the importance of the likely turnover in the city council during the first 100 days. "That gives us an opportunity to work with the city council, reshape it," he says, 'and I think we have an opportunity to change the culture on the council," including having it do less "micro-managing."

Allen, on the other hand, says he will "take government to the people" and hold office hours in different neighborhoods around the city. "We've got a divide in this community" along racial and economic lines, he says, one that needs bridging. Allen also promises to "balance" aldermanic representation on the city committees.

Both candidates emphasize hope and consensus as keys to their working styles.

'There was a brief period I tried to be Darth Vader," says Cieslewicz, "but I think I'm a little bit better with his brother Chad."

Allen points to his experience, cracking wise as well by noting that he is the oldest candidate now that Will Sandstrom is out of the race. Allen adds he will stand up to the council when necessary, yet remain "engaged" on matters of social services.

The final question -- Madison's role in a regional approach to issues -- plays to Cieslewicz's message. He points to his good working relationship with County Executive Kathleen Falk, the merger of the city and county health departments, the metropolitan approach to providing speedy ambulance response, the city's cooperative boundary agreements with outlying communities, and his support of the yet unnamed regional economic development entity.

Allen cites his regional bona fides as a Collaboration Council member before launching into one of his emerging campaign themes. He considers the downtown to be a "destination point," and wants to attract more touring artists that typically bypass town in favor of Milwaukee and Minneapolis.

Allen also says the city's perceived hostility to business scares away potential partners. Playing to the downtown business crowd before him, Allen closes with a promise to build a mid-State Street parking ramp as mayor, a project that's been in stasis for decades.

The questions start rolling subsequently, with the first one addressing schools. Allen proposes helping them by taking school police officers off the school payroll. He also wants a more aggressive approach to dealing with gangs. A former member of the Madison school board, Allen notes that he still meets weekly with Supt. Art Rainwater.

Cieslewicz replies by touting his relationships with school board president Johnny Winston, Jr. and school security director Luis Yudice. He also cites the city's increased funding for after-school programs near Elver Park.

The heavily-flogged trolley topic comes up only at the end of the debate. Cieslewicz points to the committee examining prospects for regional bus service, light rail, and trolleys. In light of the 100,000 more autos expected on Madison streets over the next two decades, he says something will need to be done, but he cautions people to wait for the results of studies coming out later this year.

"It would be foolish of us to rule out any option to deal with that eventuality [of increased congestion]," he says.

As for Allen, he supports plans for a North Mendota Parkway, contending it will reduce traffic through the city. He agrees with the mayor on a regional bus system, and encourages a slicker system with express routes and park and rides.

In conclusion, each candidate is asked about the biggest issue facing the city. Allen says poverty and crime; the mayor says managing growth. He closes with with dig at the challenger: "It's one thing to talk about poverty; it's another thing to have actually done something about it for the last four years."

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