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Leadership Woes With Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway Regarding Madison Protests

June 10, 2020

I get up each morning and look out my favorite window to be greeted by the day.  I look up at the American flag to see from where the wind is blowing.  It gives me a sense of the weather.  But when it comes to my leaders, be they in the city or nation, I am trusting they are grounded and not susceptible to being blown about by the latest currents.

That is not, however, what I have discovered in Madison with Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway.  She has bobbed and wavered about when it comes to a coherent message in the days following protests and riots in our city.

The issue at hand is over a video that Rhodes-Conway released where she is empathizing with Madison Police Department officers.  Those who are in the vanguard of protesting in our city took offense over those words.  Then the mayor apologized to the activists for her remarks to the police.

In politics, it is never a good idea to give thoughts and views which are not honed so to be understood by one’s entire constituency.  When it appears that a message is delivered for a select audience, and in this case as WKOW-TV reported it was a private video to police, it never comes out to make the public official look good, and only winds up providing the electorate with buyer’s remorse.  That is where we now find ourselves with Rhodes-Conway.  It leaves Madison police in a no-mans land and residents wondering if the mayor has any guiding principles.

I strongly suspect most in this city understand that the vast majority of our local police are committed to public safety and just outcomes.  Many police were as pained by the video from Minneapolis as the rest of us, and we must realize that fact. To be sure there are some bad cops in the local department, that is the way of life in every profession, and they must be rooted out and removed.  But the majority of our cops do us proud.  There is nothing wrong with the mayor making sure the police know they are respected by many in this city, or demonstrating to the public at large that she shares our regard for the men and women in blue.

So far, so good.

But then she made a political blunder of the kind that one would only suspect a novice able to commit with such alacrity.  The mayor apologized via a statement and recorded video for not centering the message that “Black lives matter” in her video to the police.  In so doing Rhodes-Conway made it appear that it was an all-or-nothing moment in city politics.  She seems not able to convince even herself that one can be opposed to the death of black men from police choke-holds, and at the same time able to state matter-of-factly that Madison police serve us well.  To float about in search of a way to convey those two ideas in one presentation makes her look rudderless.  

In her message to the police, she stated that “communications can be really, really hard.” It is assumed that when one enters the arena of mayoral elections that the candidate already possesses the ability to clearly articulate and present ideas.  Pardon us as voters, if we were unaware of the ease with mangling a message to this degree.  And doing that mangling at the very time when we needed the best leadership, and the most professional of tones, that any mayor could garner in that office.

I get the fact that every mayor has a substantial amount of pressure being exerted from all sides of an issue.  But as a voter and resident of Madison, I always trust that all who take the oath have firm principles from which they will act during trying times.   Having one unifying message for the whole city that made it clear how we can stand together should have been the goal.   Allowing a split message has only further splintered this city. And weakened her as mayor.

That should concern us all.

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