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Soglin's online barbs presage mayoral match-up with Cieslewicz
Battle of the bloggers
Soglin (left) has mostly said negative things. Cieslewicz has mostly held his tongue.
Soglin (left) has mostly said negative things. Cieslewicz has mostly held his tongue.

Paul Soglin's entry into Madison's mayoral race presents fresh avenues of analysis, given that both he and incumbent Dave Cieslewicz are prominent local bloggers.

Soglin, who was Madison's mayor for a total of 14 years, has been writing Waxing America since 2005; Cieslewicz, who beat Soglin in 2003, has written Mayor Dave's Blog since January 2009. Both have used these forums to sound off on what will surely be a major theme of their campaigns: each other.

On Waxing America, Soglin has mentioned Cieslewicz in at least 18 posts, usually by his full name and apparently never by the handle "Mayor Dave." An Isthmus analysis found a few neutral mentions, like Soglin's Feb. 15, 2007 take on a mayoral debate attended by Cieslewicz and crashed by an uninvited fringe candidate.

"Think that is tough?" waxed Soglin. "Try a live televised debate with seven candidates including one wearing a fish head, another carrying his lunch and a change of clothes in a grocery bag, a friendly chap who parks cars for a living and describes himself as a 'transit manager' and two very serious challengers. Then do that four or five times." Poor guy.

Last year, Soglin gave several positive nods to the mayor he now hopes to unseat. He declared Cieslewicz "the biggest winner" in the April 2009 election who wasn't even on the ballot, because "he got victories in the two most critical city council races where he made endorsements." He also (mostly) defended Cieslewicz's decision not to reappoint a critic to a city committee and praised him for apologizing for how he handled a December 2009 snowstorm.

But about half the time, Soglin had negative things to say about Cieslewicz. Two posts concerned the December 2009 snowstorm, with Soglin alleging the problem was compounded by the city's failure to buy new equipment.

This prompted Cieslewicz's only substantive reference to Soglin in his two years of writing Mayor Dave's Blog. He refuted Soglin's claims of lax snow preparedness: "I like Paul, and he was a great mayor. I often seek his input and advice and he's usually right, but not in this case."

Earlier Soglin barbs were less specific, and thus not as easy to challenge. On May 25, 2006, he blasted Cieslewicz over a host of issues, including the discovery of high levels of manganese in the city's water supply:

"My focus is on how this was handled. It is symptomatic of a larger problem. Knowing there was a deadline for refinancing Overture, the mayor waited until the last few weeks before coming up with a plan. Those delays actually killed his own plan.... Then we have this manganese issue. And finally, after years of escalating violence, just this last month we get a task force appointed to address gang issues."

Soglin's Dec. 22 campaign kickoff statement, which doesn't actually mention Cieslewicz, also presents a list of grievances: "The Edgewater, the downtown library, Overture[,] snowplowing[,] taxes that are too high, a budget that is structurally unsound, the exodus of talented city managers, neighborhood groups whose input is ignored and whose participation is devalued. Good ideas that go nowhere and bad ideas that won't go away."

But the most telling Soglin web post came on Jan. 10, 2007, when he criticized Cieslewicz's failure to take a stand on a controversial school name choice, on grounds that it "is not a city issue."

"Like hell," groused Soglin, citing other school issues that clearly affect the city. He continued:

"It was not intentional, but one of the biggest insults I ever received was in the 2003 campaign when a friend said, 'Whether you or Dave wins, it makes no difference; you are both the same.'

"Like hell."

High school to open credit union

Paul Simon famously mused, "When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it's a wonder I can think at all." Point taken. But schools do occasionally try to prepare students for life.

On Jan. 25, Madison's La Follette High plans a "soft opening" of a Summit Credit Union on school grounds, with an official grand opening to follow in February.

"It's not necessarily a unique idea," admits Darrin Graham, a La Follette teacher who's spearheaded the project. Other state public schools already have onsite credit unions, serving students and faculty while helping teach "financial literacy."

But La Follette is the first school in Dane County to embrace this trend. (Memorial teacher Dave Thomas worked with Graham on the idea, but a decision was made to open a La Follette credit union first.)

La Follette Principal Joe Gothard says making room for the facility served another long-term goal: creating a "welcoming" space in the school's main entrance. "We took about a classroom and a half and remodeled it to a welcoming center on one side and the credit union on the other."

The credit union will be staffed by La Follette students (two of whom have already been hired and trained) and overseen by a branch manager for Summit Credit Union. It will be open to La Follette students and staff (not the general public) for a brief time each day, during the lunch hour. It will cash checks, manage checking and savings accounts, even make some loans.

Moreover, promises Graham, "It's going to be a really good educational experience for our kids." Students in Graham's marketing classes will craft campaigns for the new service. And the branch manager will be on hand to talk to classes about economics and finance.

"Really, the whole purpose of us being there is to educate the students," says the branch manager, Jenna Gordon (La Follette Class of '98). The idea is to teach financial management skills and "help them save toward their future goals."

In the long term, the credit union could play a role in students' families, as a resource and teaching tool. "We're trying to have a big effect on not only our students but on the families of our students," says Graham. "It's going to be a great thing, and we're really excited by it."

Death on tap?

The video maker known as madtimeinmadison admits via email that his latest offering is "kind of over the top and dramatic but my idea was to scare people...." It might just do that.

The video, posted last week on YouTube, makes a series of shrill statements prompted by a recent report that Madison's water contains chromium-6, a known carcinogen. Statements like, "I pay 5,000 fucking dollars in property taxes every year and I can't even drink the water without getting cancer - stomach cancer?"

This is the video's main message: People who drink the water in Madison will get (graphically depicted) stomach cancer and die. Viewers are urged to call the Water Utility and mayor's office to complain about the "poison running out of the tap," and to consider not paying their taxes.

The man behind madtimeinmadtown, who doesn't want to be named (no wonder), says "anyone who knows me is not going to take [the video] that seriously," but adds that he considers it to be a serious issue.

Tom Heikkinen, the Water Utility's general manager, calls the video "long on fear and short on science," adding, "I do not think it is responsible to spread fear and misinformation about the safety of Madison's public drinking water supply."

Heikkinen notes that the Water Utility has just begun its own testing program for chromium-6, and directs residents to a city website (PDF) which concludes that the levels of this contaminant in Madison water are "not believed to result in any known or expected risk to health."

Watching madtimeinmadtown's video, meanwhile, might make you stark raving mad.

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