Paul Soglin speaks at a 2011 rally at the Wisconsin Capitol.
Every four years we get a chance to debate what kind of city we want to be.
But with the next mayoral election scheduled for exactly one year from now, I'm starting to worry that the debate won't happen in 2015. No serious candidate has yet emerged to take on Mayor Paul Soglin, who professes that he will run again despite having no money in his campaign account.
Whether you love, detest or are indifferent about Soglin, you probably agree with me that our community deserves a rigorous analysis of what the mayor has accomplished and where he has failed in the last four years. There is no indication that we will get that from a timid press that is afraid of being yelled at and of having its access cut off by this mayor.
But even assuming that Soglin will have intimidated the press out of offering any real criticism of the job he's doing, we could still have a good discussion about different approaches to the issues and different visions of our future going forward.
I will do what I can to prompt that debate from the sidelines, but certainly not as a candidate. I don't want to go back to my old job, and it wouldn't be good for the city if I did.
At every stop during the 2011 campaign, Soglin said that he wanted to return to office because he was "happiest when I'm mayor." This begs the question of what the man is like when he's not.
For me it's just the opposite. I'm so happy to be out of politics that I can't imagine ever returning to it. Moreover, if I ran against Soglin we'd be offering the voters a choice between the deep past and the recent past. This would not be an inspiring debate.
What's needed is an interesting and exciting discussion about our future, and that can only happen with at least one (and ideally two or more) fresh faces in the race.
Some dynamic potential candidates are out there. My favorite is Ald. Shiva Bidar-Sielaff. Already very popular in her near-west-side district, she'd crush it on the isthmus, where mayoral elections are won and lost. Downtown Ald. Scott Resnick would be an interesting choice. A young new-economy entrepreneur, Resnick is a favorite of the business community. And former police chief Noble Wray is easily the biggest name in the potential field, though he would need to overcome the shaking of public confidence that resulted from the police shooting of Paul Heenan on the east side late in his tenure as chief.
Still, none of the potential candidates seems ready to move forward with a campaign. At best they are in an extended exploratory phase.
So, to jumpstart the debate, let me suggest a few conversation starters.
Do we want to embrace the future or cling to the past? The current dust-up over the private cab apps Lyft and Uber would be a great starting point for that discussion. Mayor Soglin vigorously defends the cab companies. I would like to hear a vigorous defense of the new technology and, by extension, the new economy.
Do we really care about poverty or is it just a liberal debating point? One of Soglin's key issues in the last campaign was an assertion that he would start a new local war on poverty. He hasn't even fired the first shot. I would like to have a debate about new approaches to the issue.
Are we going to continue to go it alone or strengthen our regional ties? Soglin has restarted the regional cold war, attacking Dane County and alienating our suburbs. Can't we all just get along?
Can we put two bricks together? Soglin has been silent on the big development debates in the city. He has taken no position on the controversy over the proposal to replace three awful buildings in Mansion Hill with three attractive ones and the Landmarks Commission's wrong-headed decision to stand in the way. Another example: We have lost at least three years in the effort to build a public market as he dithers over its location. Do we want a mayor who hides under his desk or one who is willing to spend some political capital on projects that are good for the city?
And lastly, the über issue: style. A mayor speaks for the city, and he plays the chords that resonate and echo. Like a person, the Madison electorate has its sweet notes (generous, smart, playful, innovative) and its sour ones (entitled, officious, arrogant, self-righteous). Soglin plays the dark music well. Is it time for a different tune?
Not if no one steps forward to play it.