With the spring primary elections just over four weeks away, the Dane County Public Affairs Council is sponsoring a "Discussion with Madison Mayoral Candidates" next Wednesday, Jan. 24 at U.S. Bank. But only two of the four candidates -- Ray Allen and Peter Munoz -- will be appearing, as both Mayor Dave Cieslewicz and Will Sandstrom have declined invitations to attend.
Council board co-chair Don Severson says the mayor did not give a reason: "The statement was that he would be unable to participate. That's all I know. It came from his campaign office."
But Mike Flaherty, Cieslewicz's campaign spokesperson, explains that the mayor had a scheduling conflict but that his main reason for not appearing is that he doesn't like sponsoring organization.
"The mayor is accepting all invitations for debates except the Public Affairs Council forum, which he perceives, frankly, as very biased," says Flaherty, adding that Cieslewicz considers the group to have a "right-wing" agenda. "He wants to have a thoughtful, full discussion of the issues and he wants to do it in a neutral forum."
Next Wednesday's forum is not open to the public, with only members, invited guests and reporters able to attend. Severson says potential topics include trolleys and light rail, public safety, economic development, illegal immigration, and the location of a proposed new county work-release jail. (A more detailed description and summary of their previous meeting is available in the related downloads at right.)
"Our organization doesn't take any positions," says Severson. "We're an organization that seeks to get information from all perspectives, so that our members can make more enlightened decisions." He thinks it's a shame that the mayor won't be there: "It denies us the opportunity to learn the rationale for his positions."
The Dane County Public Affairs Council plans to hold more elections-related forums over the next two months, with its February event looking at three selected aldermanic races, and its March forum taking on the school board.
For the mayor's part, Flaherty points to three other candidate forums he has scheduled before the Feb. 20 primary. These are an event hosted by the Elvehjem Neighborhood Association on Feb. 10, another hosted by Communities United on Feb. 11, and a third put on by the Northside Business Association on Feb. 13.