After coming in second to two-time former Mayor Paul Soglin by a narrow margin, incumbent Mayor Dave Cieslewicz appeared before a small group of supporters Tuesday night at Marigold Kitchen just off the Capitol Square.
"It's going to be a close race, again," he said to his supporters. "But I'm looking forward to it, and I hope you're looking forward to it as well. It's a chance for Madison to choose opportunity and success just like they did eight years ago."
The gathering attracted about 35 to 40 people at its peak. Voters, volunteers, donors were treated to a small spread of Mediterranean food and a laid-back atmosphere in the small downtown establishment. White tablecloths, candle votives, and small floral arrangements topped the long family style tables which had been pushed to the wall.
No televisions competed with the acoustic guitar music. Instead, two laptops were set up near the front for smart-phone-less supporters to check the results while they waited for Cieslewicz to arrive.
Denise Runde, a policy initiatives advisor at Wisconsin Medicade and a Cieslewicz donor, was one of the first to show. She spoke confidently about the race, but expressed wariness with what she sensed as a damaging trend toward apathy in non-national elections.
"I'm optimistic but not secure," said Runde. She expressed concern that a lack of turnout might eventually lead to a divide between elected officials and actual public sentiment.
"Look at the number of people voting and compare it to the turnout at the Capitol today," she said, referring to the public employees unions' mobilization against the proposed budget that continued Tuesday night as Union workers and UW students staged a sleep-in at the Capitol. "You have to wonder how many people who were out there actually voted in the first place.
Runde also thinks a Soglin victory on April 5 could be the final step in a three part (national, state, local) shift rightward. "I'm kind of afraid of this wave - and I hate to call it that. But it could end up affecting a lot of things we take for granted."
At a nearby table, Adam Brabender, who has worked in social services and is currently living in Madison and commuting to UW-Whitewater for class, said he's been active in Wisconsin Democratic politics for about a decade. He expressed an unexpected opinion of Cieslewicz opponent Paul Soglin.
"I was dissapointed Soglin decided not to run for County Exec," said Brabender. Though he mentioned he supported Joe Parisi in the County Executive Primary, Brabender said, "I think Soglin would be firmer with the governor."
By 8:30, it was clear that Cieslewicz would move on to the next round of the mayoral race. Still, it wasn't until after 9 pm that the mayor entered Marigold Kitchen to applause, looking tired but pleased. He greeted nearly every person in the room with a brief handshake, and after an introduction took the floor to speak.
"The preseason is over and now we're on to the regular season," said Cieslewicz. "It's close, and we knew it would be. But that gives us an opportunity to talk about the record and our policy."
Cieslewicz made special effort to mention the group representing Firefighter's Local 331, a group that has endorsed him. Though firefighters wouldn't be excluded by the proposed budget bill, Cieslewicz took their support as a sign of his strength with the unions. "What's going on down the street, that's a real fight."