In the thick of impassioned public debate surrounding the controversial Edgewater Hotel project, one first-term local alder stands squarely in the middle: Ald. Bridget Maniaci, District 2.
With the Edgewater hotel landing within her district and with Maniaci a declared supporter, she has fought for the hotel redevelopment and therefore opened herself up to criticism from those on the other side of the debate, as well as information requests from residents.
“I was a walking target from day one (of my alder term) and this project was going on since day one,” Maniaci said.
In fact, since September, citizens have made five open records requests concerning correspondence involving Maniaci, according to City of Madison Administrative Assistant Lisa Veldran. Three requests dealt directly with exchanges between Maniaci and Hammes Co., the developer of the Edgewater redevelopment project.
As a more than 20 year veteran of the city council office, Veldran says one or two requests a year total are more typical for all the alders in the council — not five for one alder within a six-month period.
Maniaci expects the record requests are generated from people who are craving information on the project in which there is so much “misinformation,” due to new information daily and being in continual flux.
However, she is not ruling out political motivations behind the requests, with some possibly trying to fish out what is going on behind closed doors between Hammes Co. and the alder.
As a public official, Maniaci is not immune to criticism. In response to any sense Maniaci has become too close to Hammes Co. or any kind of back door dealings, she strongly rebuffed:
“It’s total bullshit. Here’s the deal: I’m not about to stonewall someone who is coming in very earnestly and eagerly about a project.”
The multiple meetings with the developer are done in a spirit of alders trying to do their jobs and be efficient while working on the issue, Maniaci said. As a result, some alders are being “lambasted” for the meetings.
Maniaci attributes some of the public’s concern of working with the developer to a generational gap. Maniaci is of the philosophy that working with the developer is more beneficial than working completely against them.
Maniaci admitted to some frustration with her job, given the long hours and relatively low pay. As she is fairly central to a public controversy, Maniaci gets her share of public backlash in the form of “vitriolic” emails.
“It’s really stressful … part of it is death by a thousand paper cuts,” Maniaci said. “I’ll say I’m really stressed out.”
She added the public may not understand the responsibilities and time commitment an alder job entails. With committee meetings and related work added to any other projects an alder would want to undertake, it’s a lot of work for a salary amounting to $535 a month.
Some criticism of Maniaci — most notably seen on a mass e-mail list serve of an East side group, East Isthmus Neighborhood Planning Council — centered on a perceived lack of concrete accomplishments for her district and a failure to keep residents up to date on meetings.
In an e-mail to the list serve, Maniaci responded to these claims, saying she is not focused on blogging or “long, laborious e-mails.” However, she said she is very open to direct communication and prefers face-to-face interaction and phone calls.
In perhaps a show of frustration to the criticism on the mass e-mail system, Maniaci said she was not going to be “baited or bullied by the small-minded, incoherent drivel” people post on the list serves.
Maniaci said she is currently working on facilitating the city review process for the Edgewater project and keeping people such as city staff up to date on numerous meetings, among other responsibilities.
Maniaci is a member of the Landmarks Commission, as well as the Housing Committee and the Tenant and Landlord Issue subcommittee, where she was involved with reviewing certain landlord and tenant ordinances.
“There are times when you want to have an honest conversation with people, but you are supposed to be this cool and calm individual at all times — this is completely unrealistic,” Maniaci said.