Despite splitting his time between running for governor and running the city, Madison Mayor Paul Soglin is vowing full attention to city affairs, saying he’ll continue to push initiatives involving public safety, bus rapid transit and housing as he enters the final year of his current four-year term.

Soglin, who formally joined a crowded Democratic primary for governor on Wednesday, said he’ll also aggressively pursue other city priorities including launching a Madison Public Market, targeting homelessness and poverty, and increasing opportunities for people of color.

The mayor said he’ll campaign — including raising money in his bid to unseat Gov. Scott Walker — in extra time.

“I may end up moving from 10- to 12-hour days to 14- to 16-hour days,” he said. “The most significant change is my general rule of not working on weekends will be broken. I expect to do a lot of campaign work on weekends.”

City Council members said the governor’s race naturally will affect Soglin’s capacity to lead the city and engage in crafting city policy, but it’s unclear how much.

“The requirements of a major statewide campaign will have a tremendous impact on the mayor’s personal schedule,” said Ald. Mike Verveer, 4th District, the council’s longest-serving member. “With that said, I don’t think the mayor would be running if he didn’t think he could manage both.”

While the mayor will spend much of his time traveling around the state, City Council President Marsha Rummel said, “he’s always had a travel schedule. I assume he’ll keep a fair balance.”

Soglin said he already has a statewide donor list and network of supporters and was confident he could build a campaign war chest that would dwarf the sums he’s raised for mayoral races.

“I have some friends with offices Downtown,” he said. “I will go there on my lunch hour and make calls. I’ll be doing that from home after hours and on weekends.”

The mayor said he’ll continue to travel out of state to gain insights to help the city deal with issues like economic development, education and food policy, gangs and transit, and he is confident city staff will continue to deliver high-quality day-to-day services.

“Scott Walker has run for governor twice while being governor,” Soglin said. “Tommy Thompson ran for governor three times while being governor. Jim Doyle did it once. I can run for governor and be mayor.”

But there’s no denying Soglin will have to spend time away for debates, candidate forums and meetings with groups, just like during a previous stint as mayor when he unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 1996, Verveer said.

“It will be an additional burden for his staff who will probably have to fill in for him,” he said. “I don’t think it will impact day-to-day operations of the city.”

If he is elected governor, Soglin said he’d continue to serve as mayor through the city’s fall budget process and resign sometime between passage of the city budget in early November and the gubernatorial inauguration in January 2019. He said he won’t resign to campaign or if he loses.

In October 1996, just before the vote in his race for Congress, then-mayor Soglin announced he would leave office the following January if he won and in April if he lost. He ended up forgoing the final year of his mayoral term.

City safety ‘paramount’

On city priorities for the coming year, Soglin said, “the question of safety is paramount.”

Madison, he said, has gone five months without a homicide, a result of Police Department initiatives in August and September and a community-based effort to recruit peers of victims and participants involved in shootings and other violent incidents to head off retaliation. He said he next would like to add a public health-style, data-based approach to address causes and prevent violence that has plagued the city.

The city will continue to pursue bus rapid transit, a high-frequency, high-capacity, limited-stop service with unique branding that can run on city streets or dedicated lanes, or even in a rail corridor, he said. The city is now eyeing an initial $40 million to $60 million east-west corridor including Downtown and the UW-Madison campus.

Soglin, whose initiative to create 1,000 units of low-cost housing is already unfolding, said he has also asked staff to explore how to keep the cost of construction down for apartments and single-family homes. “It’s looking at everything,” he said.

Verveer suspects Soglin may have less time to interact with council leadership, to engage in city policy, such as Downtown liquor licensing, and that attendance at ceremonies will fall more often to council leadership or other officials.

Meanwhile, Soglin will be engaging an increasingly assertive council. The council’s first ever chief of staff, Kwasi Obeng, started work Monday.

The new position will help build the council’s staff capacity and, if Soglin’s gubernatorial campaign leaves a void, “we’ll be more capable of filling that,” Rummel said.

The mayor’s office and all 20 council seats are up for reelection in the spring of 2019.


Dean Mosiman covers Madison city government for the Wisconsin State Journal.