Mayor Paul Soglin’s decision to run for re-election after previously announcing his plans to do the opposite did not surprise many of his opponents in the race, with some saying the announcement will energize the campaign.
Changing course from his announcement in July that he would not seek another term as mayor, Soglin publicly announced Friday morning that he is doing just that. He said he wants to finish ongoing projects and that he was encouraged by the community’s response to his leadership during major flooding follow storms in August.
“Madison needs a strong mayor with the vision to encourage growth and the experience to effectively manage it,” Soglin said in a video announcing his candidacy.
City Council veteran Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, said he suspected Soglin was re-thinking his decision for some time, particularly after dealing with flooding in Madison after late August rainstorms.
“He’s been much more invigorated by the future and continuing his work in city hall,” Verveer said.
Verveer suspects Soglin will do well in the primary election, especially if a crowded candidate fields splits the “anti-Soglin” vote. He recognized some may be looking for a fresh face in the post, but nodded to the mayor’s supporters.
“There’s a large segment of the community that still has a lot of faith in the mayor,” Verveer said.
Several candidates said it is time for a new administration. They expressed the need to bring people together, make changes that Madison residents talk about and a desire for fresh ideas.
“This race is a referendum on the status quo,” said Raj Shukla, the executive director of River Alliance of Wisconsin.
To Shukla, who announced his candidacy in July, the race is about “soaring” housing prices, a “broken” transit system and pervasive racial disparities. He said a leadership change could allow for progress in these areas.
“We have to decide if the way we've been doing things in the past is good enough,” Shukla said.
Satya Rhodes-Conway, a former alder and the managing director of the Mayors Innovation Project at the Center on Wisconsin Strategy, said she was not surprised by Soglin’s announcement, but noted it can be hard to predict his moves. Rhodes-Conway was the first candidate to enter the race, announcing in May.
“It both does and doesn’t change anything,” Rhodes-Conway said. “I’m running because I think Madison needs leadership. I think Madison needs someone who has a more collaborative style than the incumbent and a record of getting things done.”
Soglin pointed to Rhodes-Conway in his July announcement as an “eminently qualified” candidate, which came as a surprise to Rhodes-Conway.
Tenant Resource Center executive director Brenda Konkel, also a former alder, said she expected this turn of events. She worked with Soglin when she served on the council and said his candidacy will create lively debates and keep the candidates “on our game.”
Konkel, who entered the race in July, said Soglin’s presence in the race may make it harder to raise money “because people don’t want to openly oppose him.” Overall, Konkel said challenging Soglin will “invigorate” her campaign.
“People are going to have more reason to come out,” Konkel said. “I think it gives Madison a broad range of choices, which is good for democracy. But it will highlight the differences between the candidates.”
Ald. Maurice Cheeks, District 10, said in a statement that the race is “about the leadership of our changing city that offers fresh vision and a plan to promote economic opportunity for all." Cheeks, who works as vice president of business development at MIOsoft Corporation, announced his candidacy in July.
"I am excited to lead a discussion with all the candidates for mayor about a hopeful, forward-looking view for Madison’s future,” Cheeks said in a statement.
Toriana Pettaway, the city’s racial equity coordinator, was going to run for mayor whether Soglin was in the race or not. She always suspected Soglin would run for another term.
“His ego is too big not to allow anyone else to run,” Pettaway, who entered the race in September, said. “He thinks he is the only qualified candidate to run the city of Madison.”
Like Rhodes-Conway, Pettaway said the city needs to collaborate more effectively with the state, the county and the school district — something she feels Soglin is not doing.
With the news out, Pettaway is more determined in her campaign for mayor.
“It just makes me all the more excited and makes me more fierce,” Pettaway said. “It is my time to lead.”
Nick Hart’s campaign manager Matt Baier said the campaign has been running on the assumption that Soglin would likely join the mayoral race. Hart ran against Soglin and then-Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, gaining 2 percent of the vote, in 2011.
“Admittedly, we believe we would have had an easier time drawing attention to issues and conversations around those issues if we were still talking about a grassroots field of first-time candidates,” Baier said.
Baier reiterated Hart’s commitment to meet with all candidates, which now includes Soglin, for a one-on-one podcast to discuss the race.
Michael Flores, a former Madison School Board member, has also filed papers with the city clerk’s office to run for mayor.