After a five-year hiatus, Paul Soglin has re-entered the political arena.

Nearly three decades since first taking office as Madison’s mayor, Paul Soglin announced Tuesday he will challenge incumbent Sue Bauman in the 2003 mayoral election.

In a vague and at times cryptic speech, Soglin outlined his vision for retooling Madison’s city leadership, claiming “escalating problems,” “a lack of vision and leadership” and an increasing loss of morale currently plague City Hall.

Soglin began his speech by directly attacking his strongest opponents — Bauman and Madison School Board member Ray Allen.

In the speech, Soglin described the prospect of a general election between Bauman and Allen as “unacceptable,” saying it “does not present the voters of Madison with a positive choice.”

Praising the City Council’s activity over the past few years, Soglin spoke highly of a “very capable city staff,” but alluded to internal conflict and stagnation within the city government, saying their “leadership is missing” and suggesting Bauman is responsible for the current situation, having been unable to unite the various sectors of government.

One example Soglin drew upon was Bauman’s inability to resolve an ongoing conflict between the firefighters’ union and Fire Chief Debra Amesqua.

“I have been deeply concerned about the course of the city in the past few years,” Soglin said.

Soglin spoke Tuesday afternoon at the Madison Concourse hotel with his wife by his side.

The gray-haired Soglin did not escape confrontation, but he was able to successfully fend off several aggressive questions regarding his true intentions in running for mayor, his dedication to the job he once abandoned and even his health, which has been shaky in recent years.

Perennial mayoral candidate Eugene Parks accused Soglin of participating in a racially charged conspiracy to keep an African American from being elected to the mayor’s office, pointing out that Soglin was opposing not only Madison school board member Ray Allen but also Parks himself; both are African-American.

“I find Ray Allen’s politics out of step with the majority of the city of Madison,” Soglin said of the conservative Allen.

To questions suggesting Soglin had simply left office suddenly in the middle of a term in 1997 and might be prone to do it again, Soglin reasoned that he had “lost perspective” and had served eight years, the maximum term allowed for many public offices.

Soglin suddenly resigned as mayor in 1997 after serving for eight consecutive years. In that year, Bauman was elected mayor in a special election, defeating Ald. Wayne Bigelow by a slim margin of 55 votes. Bauman was able to edge Bigelow due largely to a successful campaign aimed at attracting votes from the university. She pledged to fight for student issues, such as a curb on police crackdowns on house parties.

Recently, however, Bauman has been criticized by students for supporting both the proposed drink-special ban and an ordinance designed to prohibit smoking in some bars, two initiatives which are unpopular with students.

Until Soglin joined the campaign, it appeared as if an election between Bauman and a challenger might indeed be as close as that of the 1997 election with Bigelow.

However, with Soglin throwing his hat in the ring, Bauman faces an uphill battle to gain reelection.

“Soglin is now the clear frontrunner,” Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, said.

Soglin made his name in Madison by organizing student protests in the 1960s while a student at the university, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1966 and a law degree in 1972.

The next year, Soglin became Madison’s youngest-ever mayor, a position he retained from 1973 to 1979 and then again from 1989 to 1997 for a total of 14 years.

Soglin ran for Congress in 1996, losing to incumbent U.S. Rep. Scott Klug, R-Madison.

Since retiring from office in 1997, Soglin has been working with the investment banking firm of Lincoln Financial Advisors Corp. as well as teaching at the La Follette School of Public Affairs at UW.
Bauman questioned whether Soglin is dedicated to the job he once deserted and said Soglin wants to bring back policies and initiatives that had been tested and had failed in the past.
“Maybe he wants to go back to the future,” Bauman said. “Is he in a position to move Madison forward?”
Bauman also dismissed accusations on the part of Eugene Parks that Soglin and she were involved in conspiring to keep an African American out of the mayor’s office as “not where it’s at,” saying, “It’s got nothing to do with race.”
The mayoral primary election is set for Feb. 18, and the general election is April 1.