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Tuesday, January 27, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 25.0° F  Fog/Mist
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Madison council candidate Matt Phair a suspected ringer
Potential Pham-Remmele challenger has family ties to mayor
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Pham-Remmele to the mayor: 'Don't play dirty.'
Pham-Remmele to the mayor: 'Don't play dirty.'

In the spring of 2009, Mayor Dave Cieslewicz drew flak for recruiting candidates to run against his Common Council nemesis, Brenda Konkel. Konkel lost her seat to Bridget Maniaci, who had previously interned in the mayor's office.

Now another of Cieslewicz's foes may be challenged by someone else with ties to the mayor.

Well in advance of next spring's election, Matt Phair is saying he will run for the Common Council seat now held by Ald. Thuy Pham-Remmele. Phair is married to Cieslewicz's personal secretary, Connie Phair.

Phair says he wasn't recruited by the mayor but is running because the district needs better representation.

"It doesn't have anything to do with the mayor," he says. "When I went to the polls [in 2009], I didn't even realize no one was running against the current alder."

Cieslewicz also denies recruiting Phair, though when he heard about his intentions, he says, "I offered my encouragement, as I do to anyone interested in running for public office."

Pham-Remmele has often been at odds with the mayor. She helped derail his streetcar plan in 2007. And she was furious with Cieslewicz for not reappointing her to her favorite committee, the Community Development Block Grant Commission (see, 5/7/2009).

Pham-Remmele has no doubt the mayor is behind Phair's run and is annoyed by it, saying, "Don't play dirty."

Yet Pham-Remmele doesn't know whether she'll seek reelection, saying "it's too far ahead" to make a decision. She adds that some people have encouraged her to run for mayor. Cieslewicz is also up for reelection in 2011.

Whatever happens, Pham-Remmele doubts Phair would be an independent voice for her district. "His wife's boss is the mayor. Would he stand up to the boss of his wife?" she wonders. "Does he have the gumption?"

Cieslewicz says he's friends with other alders who sometimes disagree with him. "From what I know of Matt, he's a very principled guy and has his own ideas about things. I don't think he'd hesitate to disagree with me."

City attorney Michael May says the city ethics code prohibits alders from "voting on something that would benefit somebody in their family." But there are exceptions, in that they are allowed to vote for general pay increases for all employees or approve contract negotiations.

There might be no conflict at all if Cieslewicz decides not to run or loses next year. "I don't want to be evasive," he says. "I love the job and would like to continue in it but I'm not going to make a final decision until the fall."

'Green streets' for Greenbush?

The Greenbush and Vilas neighborhoods have teamed up to produce a plan to preserve traditional parts of the neighborhood and shape development in others.

A new revitalization report (PDF) contains ambitious suggestions for leveraging the clout of the city and the area's major institutions, including the UW-Madison, Meriter and St. Mary's hospitals.

But the most radical idea would turn two streets, St. James and Bowen Courts, into "green streets." If this idea comes to fruition, the streets would be lined with trees and grass and closed to all but pedestrians, bicycles and emergency vehicles. The report points to the Milwaukee Avenue Historic District in Minneapolis, where most of the houses were renovated and others replaced with historic replicas. A homeowners association manages the common areas.

The report says green streets allow "smaller homes with smaller footprints, tightly grouped housing in exchange for community spaces for cars, garbage and pocket parks, and a place designed for walkability and community-oriented living." It argues that St. James and Bowen Courts are ideal candidates because they are "narrow, human-scaled streets already" and are "in an area of Greenbush that needs a transformative change to encourage a diversity of housing options and residents."

Ald. Julia Kerr, who represents the neighborhoods, says residents are excited about the green streets proposal.

"When the idea was first thrown out there, I thought, 'It's not going to work because we get a lot of snow here,'" she says. "But then I saw the example in Minneapolis, and if they can make it work, we can make it work."

Looking for transportation links

High-speed passenger trains are scheduled to run to Madison in early 2013, with a station at the state Department of Administration Building, 101 E. Wilson St. While the state Department of Transportation continues to gather input on the station design (including a meeting on Thursday, July 29, at the DOA Building, from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m.), city officials are busy trying to find ways to link to the station.

Madison officials have said all along they want the station to be multi-modal and connect smoothly with buses, cars, bicycles and taxis. One idea that city engineers are contemplating is allowing intra-city buses to connect to the station on John Nolen Drive rather than on Wilson Street.

City engineer Rob Phillips says this could help avoid traffic jams around Monona Terrace. But there are some challenges, including the fact that people would have to navigate several building levels to get to the buses. There would also need to be a pull-off area on John Nolen for buses and, says Phillips, "there just isn't a lot of room down there."

Architect Kenton Peters has floated the idea of turning South Pinckney Street between Wilson and Doty into a State Street-like road, specifically for pedestrians and buses. Madison traffic engineer David Dryer is skeptical.

"People are going to find they'll need that street between Wilson and Doty to circulate traffic," he says. "Like anything, it's a possibility, but it'd have to be looked at for the pros and cons of what you would get out of it."

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