At age 28, Scott Resnick would have to take a pay cut if he becomes Madison’s next mayor.
But the soft-spoken, two-term City Council member and chief operating officer of a multimillion-dollar mobile application and software development firm hatched in UW-Madison’s dorms isn’t making his bid to unseat Mayor Paul Soglin based on his income.
It is, he says, about a vision for the city at a critical time based on consensus building, engaging community leaders and open and transparent government with a theme of ideas and innovation.
“I’m young, there’s no denying that,” Resnick said during an interview at his modest apartment he shares with his wife, Kelly, on the 14th floor of a student-oriented building with views of the Langdon Street neighborhood and Lake Mendota. “I do have a track record of some large accomplishments all under the age of 30.”
Resnick’s other daily view, in fact, is from the panoramic windows of the offices of his company, Hardin Design & Development, a millennial’s dream filled with computers but also fun stuff like video games, pool and pingpong tables and a bar with a tap offering craft beer on the first floor of a modern building on the shores of Lake Mendota.
“He is truly a creature of the 21st century,” Ald. David Ahrens told Resnick supporters at a recent campaign event.
“He doesn’t view the other person as an enemy,” Ahrens said. “He’s looking for some other way forward. He’s really wise beyond his years. He has this nerdy kind of look. That’s a disguise.”
But some still wonder if he’s too young, too inexperienced and perhaps too centered in the tech world and the needs and lifestyles of young professionals.
“I like Scott, we’ve been supportive of each other,” City Council president pro tem Denise DeMarb said. If there’s a concern for some, “it’s experience, that he’s only had two terms on the council. Life experience — it counts for something.”
Resnick is also a founding member of Capital Entrepreneurs, an association of more than 300 startup companies, and StartingBlock Madison, which expects to break ground this year on a entrepreneurial hub in a redevelopment on the Near East Side. He works to promote the Forward Technology Festival.
He cites poverty, homelessness, housing, the achievement gap, employment, transportation and the digital divide — barriers to the Internet and technology for low-income residents and neighborhoods — as top issues.
“I am motivated by doing the big projects,” Resnick said. “I’m trying to help others by dreaming big.”
Success at young age
Born in Binghamton, New York, Resnick’s family moved to Wausau in 1988 after his father, a rock radio DJ, was let go and he had to find a place where no one had heard his voice. His father worked for radio stations his whole life and two years ago fulfilled a lifelong dream to own one. He said his mother worked as an administrative assistant at Northcentral Technical College for 23 years but retired in the wake of Act 10.
“We didn’t come from money,” Resnick said. “It was a very modest household.”
In Wausau, Resnick developed a passion for community service and social justice and as a teen was a member of the Mayor’s Youth Council, cutting his teeth on issues like a smoking ban (for) and youth curfew (against). He remembers politicians putting youths’ concerns aside and listening to the more powerful and well-connected. While in high school, he also met Kelly. They were in band together; he was a marginal trombone player and she a strong percussionist.
At UW-Madison, Resnick worked various jobs, was named a Pathways Scholar, spent time working with the State Public Defender’s Office, and earned a degree in political science and legal studies. “Right now, I’m supposed to be a lawyer,” he joked. “I planned to go to law school. The plan changed.”
While living at Chadbourne Residence Hall, Resnick met Jon Hardin and they brainstormed ideas that would eventually become Hardin Design & Development in 2007. They took risks — two years in they once had $8,000 in the bank and a $12,000 payroll to meet — but eventually found success through perseverance and luck, Resnick said. He recalled, at age 23, calling his grandmother when the company made its first million in revenue.
Now, Hardin Design & Development has 20 employees and has grown more than 20 percent in each of the last three years, said Resnick, who as COO manages the budget, negotiates contracts and handles human resources. The company has clients that include FedEx, Mercedes-Benz and Toyota.
In addition to the beer and pingpong, the company is progressive about health insurance and retirement packages, Resnick said, and was named one of the city’s best places to work last year by Madison Magazine. “We retain most of our talent,” he said.
Resnick and his wife, a UW-Madison graduate and behavioral specialist working with children with disabilities, married in August 2013 at Overture Center. “She’s been in my life forever,” he said. “I really don’t know what it would be like without her.”
Collaboration over combat
Through it all, Resnick kept his interest in public service. He served as president of the State-Langdon Neighborhood Association from 2009 to 2011, and won a council seat in the city’s student-dominated 8th District in that latter year. He was council president pro tem in 2013-14, and was poised to become president, but chose not to run for that leadership position as he weighed a mayoral race.
“I was always involved, but I was never the guy who runs,” Resnick said. “I was more interested in policy than politics. I only found out how much I like it after being in office.
“It takes a lot of confidence to put your name on the ballot. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life,” he said.
While on the council, Resnick focused on basic services, believing his young constituents would remember and be inspired by a positive first interaction with government, also served on the Plan Commission and has led the council’s special committee on demographic change. He cites efforts to open data and help close the digital divide as top accomplishments, and has pushed on the technology front, seeking ways to legalize controversial ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft and to equip police with body cameras.
He says it’s time for new leadership in the mayor’s office, which he contends is damaged by a top down, confrontational style. “I voted for Paul Soglin. I expected to work with him. Like others, I have buyer’s remorse,” Resnick said.
“I believe in bottom-up leadership that engages community members and promotes collaboration, not combat,” said Resnick, whose campaign is being run by Mike Basford, former chairman of the Dane County Democratic Party.
The vision, Resnick said, is the most open and transparent municipal government in the country that proactively responds to climate change and a city that’s a hub for creativity and innovation in economic development, the arts, basic services and interacting with residents. The city must deal with the achievement gap, racial inequities, homelessness and transportation, he said.
On being 28 and running for mayor, Resnick said, “It’s a pretty humbling experience.”