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Tuesday, September 16, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 57.0° F  Fair
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Paul Soglin takes historic victory in stride as he is once again elected mayor of Madison
Soglin: 'The voters of this city had a very tough choice.'
Credit:Dean Robbins

I expected Paul Soglin to be really happy when he made his victory speech just after 11 p.m. on Tuesday at the Nitty Gritty. After all, he'd just won a historic seventh term as mayor of Madison, edging out the incumbent who'd beaten him in 2003.

But Soglin took his victory in stride. He didn't seem overly excited; in fact, he didn't even smile. To be honest, he looked slightly annoyed that his supporters were drowning him out as he spoke into the TV microphones.

Now those supporters -- they seemed really happy.

If Soglin avoided excessive celebration, maybe it's because he knows how much hard work lies ahead, with a Republican governor and Republican-dominated legislature guaranteeing tough times for Madison. "This election is just the beginning of a very long journey," he said.

Soglin was gracious toward his opponent, two-term mayor Dave Cieslewicz, a fellow liberal with similar views on most issues. "The voters of this city had a very tough choice," he said. "I know how difficult it is to make that phone call to congratulate your opponent."

Soglin referred to the fact that it had been a "long night," and one can forgive him a bit of edginess after a hard-fought campaign that found him railing against not only Cieslewicz, but also our new extremist governor, Scott Walker. (He even slept overnight at the Capitol to show his solidarity with those protesting Walker's anti-union budget bill.)

But Soglin's supporters at the Nitty Gritty had no trouble wallowing in victory. They erupted in cheers every time the TV screen flashed updates on his narrow lead, and they certainly weren't going to settle down after Cieslewicz conceded.

I didn't find many Dave-haters in the room. People were more inclined to make careful distinctions between the two candidates -- the choice between "better and best," as one supporter put it.

Former Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton referred to the need for "a fresh perspective." "I think executives need to leave after eight years," she said. "What I saw was a pattern that wasn't unique to [Cieslewicz], but is common in executive positions -- that you become confident and lose perspective on who your constituency really is."

Milele Chikasa Anana, publisher of Umoja Magazine, referred to Cieslewicz as a "decent man," but one who lacked vision. More damningly, she added, "He hasn't done much for black people."

Linda Willsey, a pharmacist at Community Pharmacy, zeroed in on Cieslewicz's controversial handling of the Edgewater Hotel redevelopment, probably one of the biggest factors in his loss. To her, it's proof that Cieslewicz just didn't "get" Madison. "He came into the city not really knowing how the city works," she said.

Willsey believes that Soglin, by contrast, knows exactly how it works. "He gets our long arguments and messy process. He gets that we're sometimes slow, but that the best results come from the bottom up. We need someone who can fight for our Madison values and help us make the tough choices we'll need to make in upcoming years."

Addie Pettaway, a retired consultant in the state Department of Public Instruction, gave the most colorful rendition of that common theme: Soglin as fighter.

"I like him because he's got that Chicago grit," Pettaway said. "That's what we need now, with Gov. Walker. Soglin speaks up, speaks out -- and will punch you out if necessary!"

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