I have been thinking today about President Jimmy Carter. It was reported that on March 22nd Carter will be the oldest living ex-president at 94 years, 172 days. That record will surpass the one held by President George H.W. Bush.
The election of 1980 was a contrast visually between the pragmatic, and at times too solemn looking Carter, while his Republican opponent, Ronald Reagan, portrayed sunny optimism with a winning smile and nod of the head. Carter, of course, had the weight of the Oval Office on his shoulders which included the Iran hostages along with an economy that was simply dreadful.
Over the weeks, while reading and listening to the Madison mayoral election, it has become clear one of the main differences between incumbent Paul Soglin and challenger Satya Rhodes-Conway has nothing to do with an actual issue. The difference is not about racial disparity or flooding concerns. What shows so clearly, even from the printed pages of the Wisconsin State Journal, is the lack of warmth and cheer from a mayor who has in this election an opponent with a smile and a convincing way of greeting voters.
This blog has had a series of views about Soglin which ranges from warmth to icy cold. On issues about downtown drinking, as an example, I have been in his corner. When it came to his attempts to undermine Overture we disagreed. As we did on the issue of the room tax. I even challenged Soglin’s thinking about the reason for the resignation of Richard Nixon.
It should be noted I supported Soglin’s bid for reelection four years ago.
But it is the gloomy and cranky side of Soglin this spring which seems to be so pronounced that it deserves more attention. The reason being Conway is a far more polished and personable candidate than Scott Resnick was four years ago. This spring Soglin reminds me of the man I wrote about in 2011, a few months after he became mayor (again).
We were used to Dave Cieslewicz and his youthful demeanor, his wit, his smile. “Mayor Dave” exemplified an energy about government service along with an optomisitc view about who we are as Madisonians. That appealed to me.
Meanwhile Paul Soglin comes across as cranky and pissed off. There seems to me a deep negative reaction within Soglin for anything that Cieslewicz succeeded at doing in the last eight years. As a citizen of Madison I hope that is not the tone we have to look forward to whenever Soglin speaks.
With that in mind…
Ah, Mayor for Life Soglin, Madison’s sourpuss-in-chief. Here’s a guy who seemingly shifts between two phases of existence: being unhappy about not being mayor, and being unhappy about being mayor. See if you can spot the common theme.
This week there was a new article in the WSJ which places Soglin’s working style alongside that of the alternative on the spring ballot.
Soglin answered a question about his perceived acerbic communication style by saying he made a choice early in his career to be forthright and act on behalf of his constituents, even if that meant not appealing to everybody.
Rhodes-Conway said she’d do a better job of appealing to a broad group and would make an effort to be collaborative.
“I see everyone as a potential ally,” she said. “We don’t have to like people to work with them.”
Honey and vinegar come to mind.
Last year I watched Soglin walk down a street during a festival on the East Side. His wife was with him, and while it was all laughs and smiles from the crowd, he walked looking like it was another required duty as he nodded to those he knew while seeming not to care it was a sunny day. He looked gruff.
There is no doubt the mood of the city has turned against Soglin this election cycle. There are, of course, policy reasons for much of the angst, but it also needs noting voters want to have an uplifting attitude and sunny disposition from their leaders. One can only take so much of Soglin’s dourness.
Conway will win the April election, and by a kind margin. And one thing we all can be assured of, even when the snow falls and winds are bitter next January as a city council meeting convenes, is a smile will cross the face of our mayor. We have not seen a light mood on a Madison mayor’s face for a long time.
I strongly feel voters want at least that much from city hall!