Part of my fascination about reading history and following politics is learning how politicians navigate the rapids and try to miss the rocks in the process.
At the present time I am much enjoying Hot Time in The Old Town by Edward Kohn. It is not only a grand narrative concerning the dreadful and deadly heat wave in New York City during the presidential election of 1896, but also the story of how Theodore Roosevelt worked to dodge the pitfalls of being police commissioner and position himself on safer grounds for his further ambitions. Time and again much can be learned about the character of a politician by watching if an issue is tackled head-on, or artfully maneuvered around.
We see this play out in congress, most recently in New Jersey politics, and all too often at the State Capitol, just a few blocks from where I live. Come Tuesday we will also see it play out when the Madison City Council meets and considers another controversial development project that has strong supporters and opponents on both ends of the debate.
The central issue the council will deal with concerns a rezoning and conditional use permit for a proposed 14-story project which will overlook Lake Monona. To add flavor to the proceedings adjacent neighbors who live in high-rise condos have filed protest petitions that would force a three-fourths majority approval on both questions. Readers might think again if they feel this might be just a fight over Robert’s Rule of Orders. There are some very strong feelings that have been exhibited over this development, and frankly an objective person might be able to see both sides to some of the issues.
The condo owners in the 14-story, 55-unit Marina condominiums bought their homes with a fantastic view of Lake Monona. The proposed development would limit that view, and most assuredly lower the value of their condos. While it is understandable that no one would want a view diminished, I am less concerned about the value of their home.
Several years ago I wrote a rather long post about what is wrong when people think their home is an investment, rather than a place for raising a family and storing warm memories. I grant the fact I come at this from a whole separate point of view than the majority, but I can say for that I am grateful as my parents allowed me the perspective that has long proved to be correct. As I have listened to some of the debate from the condo owners over the East Wilson matter it reminds me of the fact that for many the condo became a mere building, nothing more than an investment. A warm place reduced to a cold financial transaction.
It might also be argued that no one who bought at the Marina could have possibly thought, given the fact they had moved into a new development, that another like it someday also might not be constructed nearby. This is after all downtown Madison. But having said that I am still mindful of how I might feel if a view I cherished was in any way limited. For me that is the most rational ground these owners can stand on when making their case, but still an argument not strong enough to stop the proposed plans.
Which takes us to Tuesday night and the council’s action on the matter.
The track record of Alderperson Mike Verveer has been in line with those who advocate for more dense urban designs. As I noted in a past post the whole idea whether this is a good idea as a general rule or not has likely been passed, and such urban policy is now settled in its favor. For the most part I agree with that outcome.
But how does a politician who has tried to work with both sides to broker the best outcome on the East Wilson apartments finally take a stand knowing that there will be very hard feelings left in the dust of his vote?
It is not too late for Alder Verveer to pick up Hot Time In The Old Town and take a lesson from TR.