The race for District 2 alder is a referendum on Brenda Konkel’s leadership. Konkel’s public feuding with Mayor Dave Cieslewicz aside, her performance on City Council has left a bitter taste in the mouths of both moderate council members and a large portion of her own district.

While Konkel used calm, rational explanations to defend moves such as votes against the last two budgets, support of Inclusionary Zoning and her proposal condoning a urination free-for-all — to her credit, she admitted that part of her homelessness ordinances was ill-advised — her attempt to push through legislation by force reeks of political posturing. Perhaps she’s drawing principled, “progressive” lines in the sand, but she is still more politically motivated.

However, this is not a case where we advocate simply voting against the incumbent. Konkel’s expertise with issues of her district and Madison as a whole is extensive and she does her constituents a public service with her blog by making them aware of the inner workings and debates regarding development projects, the constant Madison Metro saga and budget debates. While we disagree with her on many of her initiatives, she has been an ally on Eli Judge’s Downtown Residential Lighting Initiative and we understand that she is a valuable scrutinizing eye on City Council.

Therefore, it becomes a question of whether someone can prove to be the “anti-Konkel” — an invested, experienced resident of the city with drive and ability for compromise, pragmatic solutions and, most importantly, better communication skills.

Sherman Hackbarth is not that man. By any stretch of the imagination. While his passion — better characterized as an almost excessiveness giddiness — for involvement in city matters was readily obvious during our meeting with him, he is far too green when it comes to city matters.

When all four candidates were asked, during a debate, whether they would support the proposed Renaissance development project in the Tenney-Lapham neighborhood, Hackbarth admitted he knew little about the project. Furthermore, when this board asked his opinion on the Alcohol License Density Plan, he claimed no solid opinion on it. Nor did he have a decisive position on whether to raise bus fares. When we discussed safety in the neighborhood, he almost immediately focused on the subject of traffic.

His first attempt at public office is noble, but his failure to adequately articulate any views outside of the importance of economic development on East Washington makes his candidacy a non-starter.

Then we have Adam Walsh. Walsh certainly has a vision for the neighborhood, expert communication and outreach skills and very specific policy ideas.

We would certainly endorse Walsh as a more than adequate representative of the neighborhood if we didn’t disagree with him on nearly every big ticket issue.

He does not support the bus fare increase, arguing that a $650,000 deficit in a budget of $30 million should be something that careful budgeting could solve. Unfortunately, he did not give any specifics of what he would cut or “rearrange” to free up this money.

More problematic, however, was that, despite our current recession, he still felt it was necessary to spend more city funds on tackling alcohol programs. He not only supports quotas for enforcement of alcohol violations, but said his problem with ALDP was that he preferred the same strict standard be applied to those establishments with tavern licenses as well.

Walsh’s specific vision of the neighborhood revolves around making it a family-friendly environment and idolizing the neighborhood school. This is admirable, but misguided when his evaluation of local businesses’ failure to prosper in the district amounts to dismissive comments about how they have to organize themselves. For someone who claims he is ready to represent a diverse district, that is not the start of a beautiful relationship with the business community.

Which brings us to Bridget Maniaci.

First off, Maniaci was the only candidate to propose a low-cost, community level collaboration designed to revitalize local businesses. Her idea to bring gallery nights, sidewalk sales and generate increased involvement and interest in the business community in the Johnson Street neighborhood is a practical solution. In times of a recession, low-cost planning is always a plus.

Her approach to ALDP and linkage to safety showed a considerable amount of insight as to how residents are exploited in the downtown area. Maniaci emphasized that the increase to downtown nightlife as a result of the increase of bars and restaurants with tavern licenses increases foot traffic and, in many ways, safety in numbers. Her desire to eventually sit on the Alcohol License Review Committee to bring a more rational approach to Madison’s alcohol policy is also encouraging.

We do, however, have some reservations about her opposition of an increase in bus fares. She shares Walsh’s views on rearrangement of the budget as a means of fixing Metro’s deficit.

Most importantly, however, is that she’s the only candidate that has the initiative and drive to build her knowledge base to rival that of Konkel’s. Just after a cursory discussion of challenges facing District 2, it became obvious that her knowledge of the more wonkish elements of city government blended well with ground-level knowledge of development in District 2, the older housing stock and local business concerns.

Additionally, her relationship with the mayor’s office and residents has infinitely better prospects than the current alder, who’s eroded the patience of many potential allies.

Given the vast amount of knowledge Maniaci already has, her readiness to serve District 2 residents and her more pragmatic approach on policy issues is a much-needed change for City Council. For these reasons, we endorse Bridget Maniaci for the District 2 seat.