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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Mayor Dave no more: Cieslewicz looks at his time as mayor, his campaign and what’s next

Mayor Dave was somewhat cryptic about whether he would return to politics. He says he has no interest in going to Washington, but did indicate that if the circumstances were right, he may run for governor, or for another term as mayor.[/media-credit]

On a 15-degree Saturday in late February, Dave Cieslewicz walked around the Capitol with a group of Madison firefighters. The group was clapping and chanting, some were playing the bagpipes, and all were there together to protest Gov. Scott Walker’s budget repair bill. It was the largest protest of the year, with as many as 100,000 on Capitol Square.

Cieslewicz entered the statehouse and headed to the rotunda. Amid the screaming and the chanting, amid the drum circles and the general madness, the bagpipers started playing “Amazing Grace.” The entire building went silent.

“And then the crowd began singing along,” said Cieslewicz in an interview at his office, while his successor met with city officials at a makeshift transition office down the hall. An awe-inspired look came across his face and he gave a soft chuckle before continuing. “And of course, no one knows the words to the second verse of ‘Amazing Grace,’ so the singing stopped. But I’d have to stay that was the best moment, both of the campaign and my time as mayor.”


He hasn’t spent more than three months unemployed since he was 16.

Now, after a hard fought battle with Paul Soglin, Cieslewicz finds himself out of a job he’s had since 2003, and he’s taking a look back at what he did right, what he did wrong and at what’s next.

“It was such a narrow margin,” said the Madison mayor of the April 5 election, in which Soglin defeated him by 713 votes out of nearly 90,000 cast. “Any one thing could have changed the outcome. I think that, in the end, he was the only candidate who could have defeated me.”

Soglin’s game plan was simple. Keep a positive campaign overall, but still attack the mayor on a few major points: the Edgewater Hotel redevelopment, poverty and Cieslewicz’s strong-willed governance style.

Other than that, all Soglin had to do was remind voters how great he was, given all of his accomplishments as mayor in the 1970s and 1990s, and watch the endorsements and votes roll in from there. The slogan, “Now, more than ever, we need Paul Soglin” worked – which is a little ironic when you consider Soglin was born out of the counterculture movement of the 1960s, and a popular slogan for the Nixon-Agnew ticket in the 1968 election was “Now more than ever.”

What’s most fascinating about the race is how the Far Left, a pesky yet important constituency in Madison, got behind a different candidate than they did in 2003. Paul and Dave battled then, too, and progressives supported soon-to-be-Mayor Dave in high numbers, characterizing Soglin as a tool of the business community. But in 2011, Soglin had the Far Left’s complete support, and Cieslewicz thinks that flip-flop shows the fickleness of lefty voters.

“I think it’s a characteristic of the Far Left, that they’re not often happy with anything, so that was a frustration I had with them,” said Cieslewicz, a West Allis native who moved to Madison for college and never left, spending time on the Dane County Board and focusing on environmental issues. “I always felt my base was left-center. Liberal Democrats voted for us in strong numbers. If you look at most of the west side and near-west side I won those easily, but the Far Left is very difficult to make and keep happy. And I would suspect that over time they’ll also become less enamored with Paul and again look for someone else.”

Cieslewicz said he wishes he had addressed the Edgewater criticisms more directly. He also thinks the budget battle being fought between liberals and the Republican governor helped Soglin more than him.

“Overall when things are bad, when there’s a lot of frustration, that tends not to play well for incumbents,” said Cieslewicz, a visible figure at the Capitol during the budget protests. “I think it’s because [Soglin] has a more aggressive style, so they felt he might be the kind of guy who would stand up to Walker a bit more.”

That may have some credence. After all, Cieslewicz spent most of his mayoralty under Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, while Soglin championed a progressive agenda in the 1990s despite the policies pushed on Madison liberals by Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson.

Regardless of why he lost, Cieslewicz is still proud of his time as mayor, saying he’s proudest of the strength of Madison’s neighborhoods. When he came to office in 2003, the Allied Drive area was one of the most crime-ridden in the city. Now, police calls are down and it’s beginning to develop into a relatively positive low-income area to live. He said 2011 is the first time in which “there is no seriously challenged neighborhood” in Madison.

Beyond that, the mayor was glad to have had a huge hand in Madison’s first municipal pool and the Central Library, as well as Freakfest, a music festival started in 2006 to reduce police costs during the once-infamous Halloween on State Street celebration. He wishes he had pushed harder to get funding for the Dane County Regional Transit Authority on the November 2010 ballot, and he’s glad he helped Madison go smoke-free in the workplace in 2005, five years before the state did.

Mayor Dave hopes Soglin continues to work on many of the development projects he began, including the Public Market Square – a plan to turn a downtown parking garage into a year-round public market, ? la Pike Place in Seattle – as well as the corridor on East Washington Avenue, an area Cieslewicz thinks is “ready to explode.”

As for the future?

“I want to be editor of The Badger Herald,” joked the mayor. “How do I apply”?

When I informed him my successor had already been chosen, he began to devise other plans.

“I don’t mind having a little time to consider this,” he said. “Having the opportunity to sit back and reflect a bit on what I want to do is a nice opportunity.”

He thinks he can use his position as a former mayor to help the community in some ways. He also wants to continue blogging, something he started doing on the city’s website a few years ago, and he says he has a couple of offers to do that for pre-established blogs.

“In terms of earning a living I’d like to do that in a way that’s also meaningful and worthwhile,” he said. “I do appreciate the opportunity to lead a quieter, saner life. Being mayor is all consuming. Twelve-hour days are the norm. And while I didn’t choose it, the opportunity to live a quieter, more reflective life is something I’m looking forward to.”

As for a return to politics? I asked him about the reported chants of “governor” at his election night party at the Brink Lounge.

“One guy was chanting governor. And he was drunk,” Cieslewicz clarified, chuckling. “But really, I’ve always been less interested in a political career than I was in just being mayor.”

He says he has no interest in going to Washington and dealing with that “lifestyle.”

“The only other political job I may be interested in was governor, but that’s difficult for me to see coming together,” he said. “But I suppose you never say never in this business.”

He’s probably right: Other Democratic candidates would be more likely in a potential recall election in 2012, and the name “Cieslewicz” may have fallen further into political obscurity statewide by 2014.

As for pulling a Soglin, and coming back for a second stint as mayor?

“I don’t want to spend the next four years lamenting my loss and plotting my return to this job,” Cieslewicz said. “But if the conditions were right and people wanted me to do it I guess I’d consider it.”

Kevin Bargnes ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in journalism.

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