We all make decisions. But some of us make decisions that change the direction of the communities we live in. There are a handful of people in this neck of the woods who will make choices in 2014 that will have big public consequences. Here's a short list.
State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout: Once she recovers from her serious car crash (and we hope that's soon), Vinehout has to decide if she wants to take on the Democratic Party establishment and run for governor against its wishes. She would be doing democracy, the Democratic Party and even frontrunner Mary Burke a favor if she mounted a vigorous -- but positive -- challenge for the nomination to take on Scott Walker in November. With a poor record on reproductive rights issues, I don't see how Vinehout represents a credible challenge from Burke's left, but it doesn't matter. A primary's a good thing.
Mayoral candidates: Choose any two or more from this list: UW Vice Chancellor Darrell Bazzell, Ald. Shiva Bidar-Sielaff, Urban League president Kaleem Caire, former Ald. Bridget Maniaci, County Clerk Scott McDonell, Ald. Scott Resnick and Mayor Paul Soglin. All of the above are actively considering running for mayor or have been mentioned as potential candidates in the April 2015 election, but they have to get serious by the middle of next year. Let's hope there's a crowd. It would mean that the city's political culture is healthy, and it would give us the vigorous debate about our city's future that we deserve to have.
Wisconsin State Journal publisher John Humenik: Whether or not you subscribe to the State Journal, as the city's last daily print newspaper standing it's a very important institution in our community. Retired editor Bill Johnston pretty much stuck to the business end of the operation, but Humenik comes from the reporting side. He might get more actively involved in shaping the paper, and if he goes beyond just repackaging to up the ante on investigative reporting, especially at the local level, he'll be making a big contribution.
Bishop Robert Morlino: The bishop has a new boss in Rome. Pope Francis hasn't yet changed a word of Catholic teaching, but it seems like he's is running a different church altogether. Francis is picking sweeter songs from the big Catholic hymnal, emphasizing tolerance and charity over rigid teachings on sexual and reproductive practices. If Morlino gets with the program, he could unleash a lot of civic energy from previously listless liberal Catholics who for too long have found no joy and little inspiration in their church. The bishop has always been a top-down leader who has expressed little sympathy for those who stray from his way of looking at things. We'll find out this year if he applies that same attitude to the new direction he's getting from his own boss.
The Madison Police and Fire Commission: PFC members Fabiola Hamdan, Craig Yapp, George Kamperschroer, Michael Lawton and Wes Sparkman will choose Madison's new police chief this year. It's likely that their choice will lead the department for about a decade. The working assumption is that they'll choose from within. That's fine because all of the internal candidates are strong. If they go outside it'll have to be an extraordinary candidate, but the Stephen Heimsness mess could make an outside candidate somewhat more viable. Heimsness was the Madison cop who shot and killed Paul Heenan late in 2012. It turned out that Heimsness had a significant record of poor judgment and use of force. If the PFC believes Heimsness' selection as an officer reflects enough on his bosses, then they just might look to shake things up.
Sometimes people like to think that Madison is so big and so reluctant to accept leadership of any kind that individual leaders don't matter. There's some truth to that; we're probably less susceptible to the predilections of individual players than are a lot of places. But in the end the decisions made by individuals in key positions at key times do end up making a big difference for everyone in the community. Let's hope they choose wisely.
Dave Cieslewicz is the former mayor of Madison. He blogs as Citizen Dave.