The headline above the fold in this morning’s Wisconsin State Journal read “Historic Choices In Primary”. That message carries burdens for Mayor Paul Soglin as he places his long and storied career before the electorate in a primary race Tuesday.
Soglin comes equipped to this race with political skills that far exceeds his challengers. Along with his record in electoral combat he also carries a mental storehouse stocked with reams of data about city concerns that just waits for someone to pose a question. So there would seemingly be no concern for this candidate given that he has what many a city would desire for their leader. Soglin comes loaded with institutional memory, a commodity that many do not consider important until it does not exist–and then it becomes apparent why it matters.
But there is a sense from what one hears when talking about Madison’s favorite topic–politics–that the electorate is yearning to turn the page on Soglin. Can restlessness be the ultimate winner come April at the ballot box?
Without doubt, if one were to look for the most prepared challenger to step into the mayor’s office it would be Satya Rhodes-Conway, the former City Council member, and clearly, the most cerebral of the lot. She runs a national learning network for mayors and their staff focused on equity, sustainability, and democracy. She would be the first openly gay mayor in city history. Some describe her as bookish–but that resonates with those who like educated officeholders.
With lots of money and some very well-packaged television commercials Raj Shukla, Executive Director of River Alliance of Wisconsin, has made a name for himself. But without even one stint as a city council member it is hard to imagine him taking the reins of the mayor’s office and wrestling with the myriad issues that confronts the office daily. I believe Skukla to be bright and earnest. He is strongly well-versed in his area of expertise. But Skukla has not demonstrated the larger skill set that a mayor needs to have on Day One.
Alderman Mo Cheeks should have had a stronger hand to play in this election. But he seems not to have been able to get as much air in his campaign sail. I have heard on several occasions from diverse demographics that if not for Cheeks being African-American he would not have ever been considered mayoral material. Some call him more able to promote himself than make differences when it comes to end results. I call him a show horse.
Readers to this blog know I was critical of Cheeks for how he waged his 2017 election to the city council. It was one of the most expensive races in city history, spending $18,000. We all should have been troubled with that fact.
But when it came time to apply that reasoning to the Cheeks campaign there seems an easy off-ramp for too many liberals in this city. All of a sudden striving for more issue-oriented campaigns with less money is no longer the focus. It would seem Cheeks is being given a pass based on being black.
I would be interested to know–based on the amount of money spent–if Cheeks’ constituents are now brimming with facts and data and policy ideas that match the level of money that was spent. After all, I have stated over and over, that one reason for waging a campaign is to start a dialogue on issues that matter. So even if one loses the race the months of campaigning would be worth the time as something bigger was gained.
So might Alder Cheeks now state what his large campaign treasury imparted to his constituents which now makes them better able to be part of the political process. Or was the stockpile of money, and the way it was used, just a sign that he really wants to be mayor?
We have our answer, ladies and gentlemen.
Tuesday night Soglin will be matched up with one of the three challengers for the spring election. I think Shukla will be the second place winner following Soglin in the primary. Then Soglin will need to respond in a more forceful way, than he has up to this time, about why he felt a need to leave city hall for a larger office in the statehouse. His race for governor was one of the worst decisions ever made in his political career.
Yes, Soglin can now say with vigor that he can roll up his sleeves and work with Governor Evers. A kindred relationship can aid the city. But there will need to be some bold, gut-feeling rhetoric from Soglin that will allow voters to know he is not only data-driven but excited and fully invested for another four years as mayor.
I have deep concerns that many voters are no longer listening to Soglin and will vote for the challenger in April. Which then makes the choice we carry on Primary Day all the more important.