Credit the Downtown Madison Rotary for asking the candidates for mayor a revealing question at a recent forum: What was your biggest failure?
Mayor Dave Cieslewicz said his was not going to referendum last November on a transportation and taxation plan for the Regional Transit Authority.
"That's one I wish I had back," he told the Rotarians. "I wish I had pushed for it harder."
The RTA is widely expected to be either dissolved or neutered this year by a hostile Republican Legislature. Voter ratification of the Dane County RTA would have made it that much harder to kill it, Cieslewicz said.
Cieslewicz, speaking afterward, confirms that he and Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk clashed over the staging of the referendum, as well as over the RTA's focus.
"I felt we could win a referendum in November," Cieslewicz says, citing a poll from the spring that found 65% of Madisonians supporting the transportation authority. Topf Wells, Falk's chief of staff, says the county executive wanted to hold off on a referendum until a well-developed plan could be presented to voters.
Soglin's biggest failure was an even more candid admission: He regretted resigning from the mayor's office in 1997. "A lot of things would be different" had he remained mayor, he told Rotarians. "Epic Systems would be in the city of Madison. Overture would not have become as difficult a challenge for our community."
Soglin, who left the mayor's office to run unsuccessfully for Congress, was succeeded by Sue Bauman, who handled the Frautschi family gift of the Overture Center and also the city's unsuccessful effort to keep fast-growing Epic in the city. He later worked for Epic for nearly five years, and says Madison developer George Gialamas tried to find annexable parcels large enough to keep the medical software company in Madison.
"But George was in the same boat with Epic," Soglin relates. "Nobody [in city government] was returning his calls."
Soglin estimates that Epic has spent about $700 million on its Verona campus. "It will easily go over $1 billion."
Had the software leader built on land annexed by Madison, the state-of-the art campus would be much closer to the urban core today, he says. Housing and transportation patterns would be far more energy efficient. "And the other private investment that's pending out in Verona would be in Madison."