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Mayoral candidates unbowed by Paul Soglin’s entry into race

October 21, 2018

Mayor Paul Soglin’s surprise announcement Friday to seek re-election hasn’t bowed other candidates seeking to lead the city after the spring elections.

Those in a crowded field running for mayor said they are running because the city needs new leadership and are ready for a debate on the issues. They either announced their candidacies before Soglin reversed himself and announced he’d be seeking another four-year term or expected him to do so, they said.

Since mid-summer, seven candidates have filed initial paperwork for the mayoral race: Ald. Maurice Cheeks; former Alds. Brenda Konkel, executive director of the tenant Resource Center, and Satya Rhodes-Conway, who works for the UW-Madison think tank Center on Wisconsin Strategy; Raj Shukla, executive director of the conservation organization River Alliance of Wisconsin; Toriana Pettaway, the city’s racial equity coordinator; Madison firefighter and former School Board member Michael Flores; and comedian Nick Hart.

“It doesn’t change my belief that we need new leadership,” said Rhodes-Conway, who announced her candidacy well before Soglin in July said he wouldn’t seek re-election.

“Madison needs to deal with affordable housing, bus rapid transit, racial equity and the impacts of climate change. We need to get some things done and get moving on them now.”

The city, for example, has long talked about Bus Rapid Transit, a high-frequency, high-capacity, limited-stop service with unique branding that can run on city streets or dedicated lanes, or even in a rail corridor, “but I don’t see any rapid buses on the street,” she said.

Cheeks, who declared his candidacy just before Soglin’s July announcement, said, “I am excited to lead a discussion with all the candidates for mayor about a hopeful, forward-looking view for Madison’s future. This race is about the leadership of our changing city that offers fresh vision and a plan to promote economic opportunity for all.”

Shukla said: “The real question is, are we satisfied with where we are as a community? Have soaring housing costs made us a stronger (city)? Has a transit system that’s near the breaking point prepared us for the future? Have we invested enough in real solutions — like early childhood education — to bridge the racial, economic and social divides that plague the city?

“I am eager to show the city how my leadership is equal to the dreams of our residents,” he said. “More of the same is just not good enough anymore.”

Konkel said she always believed Soglin would run.

“I’m not surprised,” she said. “Soglin is always running for something, if not mayor, governor or Congress. It’s just in his DNA. I think it will make the debates much more lively. I think we can have some really great debates about the direction of the city.”

Matt Baier, Hart’s campaign manager, said, “Taking someone like Soglin on for mayor of Madison is really like taking a lion on in his den. But at least the popularity and support of the lion in question is about as low as it’s ever gotten. Paul Soglin has done great things for this city. And there is plenty more to do, but we think it’s time for new blood and new ideas.”

Pettaway and Flores could not be reached for comment.

The filing deadline for city races is Jan. 2, with a primary on Feb. 19 and the general election on April 2.

Downtown Ald. Mike Verveer, 4th District, the council’s longest-serving member, has not endorsed a candidate but believes Soglin is now the front-runner.

“I believe the mayor becomes the immediate front-runner without any doubt in my mind, particularly with such a crowded field,” Verveer said. “There are many in the city who believe it’s time for a change and are not excited by today’s announcement. However, many are excited.”

To some extent, the election will be a referendum on Soglin, shining a light on the things he said he would do that are not done, Konkel said.

Soglin, mayor for 14 years in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s and now completing a second straight four-year term, in July announced he would not seek re-election amid an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination for governor where he eventually placed a distant seventh place in the August primary.

But on Friday, Soglin announced he is entering the mayoral race, saying he’s been encouraged by many to run, is enthused for a campaign, wants to continue to promote racial equity, economic development and entrepreneurship, and has unfinished business such as the Madison Public Market.

Ald. Paul Skidmore, 9th District, a frequent Soglin ally, said he was disappointed the mayor didn’t highlight public safety as a priority on Friday.

Soglin, who predicted none of his challengers would drop from the race, estimated a campaign would cost about $250,000, and voiced confidence he could raise the money based on recent conversations with supporters.

The race was always going to be expensive, but it now may become harder for challengers to raise money because people fear angering the mayor, Konkel said.

An immediate test for candidates will be the adoption of the city budget for 2019, with final City Council decisions to be made in the second week of November, Verveer said.

The often strained relationship between Soglin and the council has evolved to a degree because two former presidents who were often critical of the mayor’s policies and another member resigned this year and have been replaced by appointees unlikely to run in the spring elections, where more than half of the council could turn over.

The council, Verveer, said is now more balanced between the mayor’s supporters, critics and those in the center.

Early signs suggest Soglin may be more collaborative than combative during the budget process, but much opportunity for drama remains.

Of the race, Konkel said, “This is going to be fun.”