Political opponents of Madison Mayor Paul Soglin have urged for change in light of his recent announcement he will run for another term as mayor, despite previously saying he would not seek reelection.
Soglin thought he would not be up for another campaign after losing the candidacy for governor, but since July, business leaders, progressives, conservatives, people of color and Madison residents urged Soglin to reconsider, according to a statement from Soglin’s office emailed to The Badger Herald.
Soglin has been elected mayor nine times and will have served a total of 22 years as mayor by the end of his current term.
“Madison has been just a wonderful city, but we’ve got a lot of challenges,” Soglin said. “The first eight years of this position has been rather tough because I didn’t get the kind of cooperation from city council that most mayors have had in the past.”
Rep. Terese Berceau, D-Madison, said while she has supported him over the years, he shouldn’t have changed his mind about running for another term.
Berceau has endorsed Satya Rhodes-Conway, a former alder and the current managing director for the Mayors Innovation Project at the Center on Wisconsin Strategy.
“I have been a big supporter of [Soglin] over the years and he’s been a great mayor,” Berceau said. “I think he’s left us with a good foundation to remain a vibrant city, but that I do think that there are others who should be given the chance to take the helm.”
Soglin said he felt encouraged to run again after he began to see greater consensus in city council on how to deal with challenges in the city — most importantly, poverty and inequality.
Soglin said it took a while for city council to understand where progress was needed in low-income neighborhoods, instead of focusing on funding every public works project. Now, proposals Soglin previously made to city council are beginning to pass.
“We’re finally getting this movement, and I would like to make sure that we get this institutionalized,” Soglin said. “I’d like to make sure that it becomes a permanent fixture in our community.”
Soglin said this movement may mean the city’s turned a corner — away from politicians who talk “a big game” about equity and social justice, but fail to act on it.
Rhodes-Conway announced her campaign for mayor in May. Almost a year before the 2019 mayoral election, she was the first candidate to announce her candidacy.
As mayor, Rhodes-Conway said she will address the deep racial inequality, expand affordable housing, provide better public transit and address climate change. She said new leadership is necessary to tackle these issues.
“I’m running for mayor because I want Madison to be the kind of place where everyone has an opportunity to thrive,” Rhodes-Conway said. “We’re a really great city for most people, but not for everyone, and that’s not right.”
Rhodes-Conway, who said she wasn’t surprised Soglin changed his mind about running, criticized the current administration for the lack of equity in Madison — especially in affordable housing.
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When Soglin re-entered office eight years ago, he said Madison had mostly embarked on a very unsuccessful housing policy that discouraged the construction of new apartments in the city. He addressed this by changing policy and creating a commitment to building a thousand units of affordable housing in the next five years.
Now that there is a higher housing supply and rent costs are stabilized, Soglin said he wants to guide the city through a new period of expansion in housing. By doing so, Soglin said Madison’s high quality of living for middle and upper-income households would include lower-income households and communities of color.
To make student housing more affordable, Soglin said the city is attempting to add to the affordable housing stock. So, even though students aren’t eligible for affordable housing, they can still benefit from the decreasing competition in the rental market.
Soglin said Madison had some of the best landlord-tenant ordinances in the country that protected renters — especially students — in terms of security deposit returns, privacy and housing conditions. He said he wants to restore these ordinances, which the state Legislature “threw out” five years ago.
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Soglin also raised concerns about safety for students. While he would like to address all kinds of violence in the city — especially gun violence — he said excessive drinking in the student population can lead to excessive violence.
According to a CBS news report, Madison and a half-dozen other Wisconsin cities are among the worst in the U.S. for excessive alcohol consumption.
“While I think some ordinance changes are needed to contain the volume of consumption, it’s only the students themselves who are going to bring a cultural change in regards to safer consumption of alcohol,” Soglin said.
Beyond his expectations of University of Wisconsin students, Soglin said he is working with the university to address binge drinking on campus.
Because she works on campus, Rhodes-Conway said she is familiar with the dynamics of UW and recognizes the importance of addressing issues students are concerned about, because they reflect the concerns of the larger city.
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She said while there might be a divide between UW students and the rest of Madison, students are still a large, critical part of the community.
As managing director of the Mayors Innovation Project — a COWS initiative at UW — Rhodes-Conway collaborates with a network of mayors across the country.
“I think I have a very different, more collaborative leadership style,” Rhodes-Conway said. “I’m exposed to good ideas and innovation from cities all over the country on a regular basis, and I would be able to bring that learning and that perspective to the office of mayor.”
Soglin criticized six of his opponents who have already announced they want change. He said his opponents need to be specific about the kind of change they will deliver if they replace him in office.
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Soglin said he has brought change to the city by putting Madison on the map as one of the best tech cities, reducing violence and arrests, and improving the housing situation. Overall, he said he’s used public money to create a more fair economy.
“Change can be a hollow word — change in what way?” Soglin said. “When I said I would bring change to the city of Madison eight years ago, I kept that promise.”