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Paul Soglin at Idea Fest

Cap Times Editor Emeritus Dave Zweifel interviews Mayor Paul Soglin on his time in office and the future of the city and state. 

Outgoing Madison Mayor Paul Soglin reflected on his more than two decades in office and the future of Wisconsin during a one-on-one conversation with Cap Times Editor Emeritus Dave Zweifel at the second annual Idea Fest on Saturday.

Soglin, 73, was first elected as mayor in 1973 and has served three terms in the position: 1973–1979, 1989–1997 and 2011 to the present. When asked if Soglin would be saying goodbye to Madison, he said he didn’t know but shared his travel plans. 

“There’s one thing I’m determined to do at some point and that is to get to the intersection of Jackson Boulevard and Michigan Avenue in Chicago and drive Route 66 to the Santa Monica Pier,” Soglin said.

In addition to a cross country road trip, the mayor said he wants to visit Barcelona with his wife Sara.

“I hear they have a great public market,” Soglin said, drawing some laughter from the crowd in the auditorium at the Pyle Center, 702 Langdon St. Creating a public market in Madison has remained a priority of the mayor, despite some disagreements with the City Council over funding priorities.

Since his first term in office, Soglin said he has been committed to creating a sense of place in Madison. He worked to make outdoor dining legal in the city during his first term to “try and give the city a little character.” Shortly after, he began work on creating the pedestrian-friendly State Street mall.

Coming from an activist background, Soglin said he realized during his first term that he and the city staff “had to deliver.”

“This was no longer holding up placards and demanding reform,” Soglin said. “We decided we were not going to be caretakers and at the end of whatever the tenure was, we were going to make a difference in life in Madison and that we were going to make changes.”

In recent years, Zweifel said Soglin has been described as “ornery” — vetoing liquor licenses, cracking down on panhandlers and taking measures to prohibit people from sleeping outside of the City-County Building.

But Soglin said he’s not a “changed man.”

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“I think all of it is very, very consistent and again goes to the sharing of space and who uses it and how do we create that kind of vitality,” he said.

Looking ahead to the future of the state, one without him at the helm of its capital city, Soglin said he is hopeful that recent polls show Wisconsin governor candidate and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers ahead of Gov. Scott Walker.

“I take great comfort that if Tony can get elected governor, we’ll have a veto pen and we’ll certainly have a veto enforcing the proper drawing of Assembly and Congressional districts,” Soglin said.

Soglin also ran for governor as a Democratic candidate. He cited fundraising challenges as his downfall, reporting that he raised about $200,000.

“We knew from the very beginning, I had to be in a range of about $600,00 to $700,000 just to be credible and really $1 million was needed to be possible,” Soglin said.

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Abigail Becker joined The Capital Times in 2016, where she primarily covers city and county government. She previously worked for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the Wisconsin State Journal.