ELECTION NIGHT SOGLIN
Surrounded by supporters including his wife Sara, family and friends, an emotional Paul Soglin prepares to make his victory announcement. Soglin's election night party was held at the Nitty Gritty in Madison on Tuesday, April 5, 2011. CRAIG SCHREINER - State Journal

Maybe he is mayor for life.

In a scenario unlikely only a few months ago, former Mayor Paul Soglin on Tuesday stunned two-term incumbent Mayor Dave Cieslewicz to recapture the office he has held longer than anyone in city history.

Soglin, 65, mayor from 1973 to 1979 and again from 1989 to 1997, entered the race late and ran a spirited campaign, serving as the aggressor throughout.

Cieslewicz, seeking a third four-year term, ran on his record and believed he would be helped by a large turnout fueled by young voters and those new to the community.

Tuesday's vote, the fourth time Cieslewicz and Soglin have appeared on a ballot together, caps an energetic campaign featuring two of the city's political heavyweights that nonetheless was overshadowed by issues at the state Capitol.

The candidates, liberals who have similar positions on many issues, both tried to harness energy stemming from opposition to Gov. Scott Walker's moves to sharply curtail collective bargaining for public employees and impose cuts in state aid.

Cieslewicz criticized the governor, was visible at the protests, and extended labor union contracts. Soglin also was a presence, even sleeping overnight at the Capitol.

Soglin found stride and mixed attacks with trademark charm while he brimmed with vitality in debates and forums.

Although Cieslewicz beat Soglin in the primary and general elections in 2003, Soglin outraised the mayor by more than 2-to-1 in January and won the Feb. 15 primary, establishing the former mayor as a viable alternative to Cieslewicz, who had lost some favor on the Isthmus over displeasure with his handling of the controversial Edgewater hotel project.

Cieslewicz regained his footing and outraised Soglin more than 2-to-1 in the most recent reporting period from Feb. 1 through March 21 and secured far more endorsements from labor, the business community and environmental groups. Each had an array of personal endorsements from across the political spectrum, including a lot of strange political bedfellows.

The mayor said his polling showed he was more popular among young people and that voters didn't punch as hard in debates. Soglin's polls showed that while the mayor had endorsements from organizations, he had ample support among union families.

Their debates revealed differences in style and differences on some issues.

Soglin touted his experience, especially with big projects like Monona Terrace and budgeting amid shrinking state aid. He said he is ready to take on big challenges, especially poverty, and offered a vision for the future while attacking the mayor on job creation, rising debt and respect for neighborhoods.

The former mayor, out of office for 14 years, also was able introduce himself to young people and new arrivals.

Cieslewicz said he had matured in office, led the city through the toughest economy since the Great Depression, and was more current on issues and city government.

He spoke of a record that includes lower crime rates; new fire stations and paramedic units; helping resolve Overture Center debt; the city's first public pool; improving streets; taming the Halloween party on State Street; and automated garbage pickup and recycling.

But like any long-serving incumbent, the mayor stepped on some toes, especially with The Edgewater and an unpopular bus fare increase to help financially stabilize Metro Transit.

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All wards reporting

CandidateVotesPercent
Paul Soglin 44,54249.77%
Dave Cieslewicz (I)43,82948.97%