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He's running.

Reversing course from remarks he made in July that he would end his multi-term career as Madison mayor when his term expires next spring, Paul Soglin announced Friday morning that he will seek re-election in 2019.

He said entering the race is about looking to Madison’s future and cementing the city’s progress as “a city for imagination and innovation.”

“We’ve moved from being off the radar to being in a new league, but we are not established and we certainly can’t rest on our laurels,” Soglin said in an interview with the Cap Times Wednesday. “I’d really like to put us in a position where there is no relapse, that we institutionalize our ability to innovate and create, to be edgy.”

Soglin’s decision to run for re-election in 2019 follows his defeat in the Democratic Party primary for governor and will shake up a field of seven candidates, most of whom thought they were entering a race without an incumbent.

Soglin announced his re-election campaign in a video released Friday.

Soglin, 73, was first elected as mayor in 1973 and previously served from 1973–1979 and 1989–1997. If he survives the Feb. 19 primary and goes on to win the general election on April 2, he would be 77-years-old at the end of the next term.

Though he said in July that six to eight years is an appropriate time to serve in office at one time, Soglin is looking at several projects created under his watch that he wants to see completed.

“One of the things that’s happened is every time I’ve left office, there were major activities and projects that were completed in the next administration,” Soglin said. “Now, I see at least four or five significant items that I’d like to help finalize.”

Soglin, who was most recently elected in 2011, listed the redevelopment of Judge Doyle Square and the Madison Public Market, creating more employment opportunities, fixing State Street’s retail problem and continuing to address entrenched racial disparities in the city as priorities.

He gave the launch of the StartingBlock business incubator, a partnership between the Urban League of Greater Madison and the Park Edge/Park Ridge Neighborhood Employment Center and jobs-based tax incremental finance policy as examples of the initiatives he wants to see continue.  

When he announced he would not run for re-election as mayor, Soglin was campaigning as a Democratic candidate for governor. He said the thought of moving from an unsuccessful gubernatorial bid to a campaign for mayor was grueling. 

Soglin finished seventh in the eight-candidate Democratic primary with just over 28,000 votes, about 5 percent. Tony Evers won the nomination with over 224,000 votes.

In Madison wards, Soglin received 4,633 votes to Evers' 21,091 and finished in sixth place.

“But I’ve rethought it,” Soglin said. “I’ve had a couple of months off now and another mayoral campaign is not such a big deal, especially after running around the state for the past eight months as I did in the governor’s campaign.”

He was also swayed by old friends, supporters and Madison community members who encouraged him to get into the race following the primary and after August storms led to widespread flooding in the city.

“It was very gradual,” Soglin said of his change of heart. “It was the accumulation of these things happening.”

He said the thought of possibly working with a Democratic governor is also invigorating. Soglin was not mayor during Democratic former Gov. Jim Doyle's two terms.

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“Given the eight years of a Walker administration, the idea of working with a governor like Tony Evers while being mayor would make the job so much more enjoyable, fun,” Soglin said. “We could fix so much and really create the necessary partnership of local government with the state government.”

If elected, Soglin said he would be ready to pass on the torch at the end of the next term. He said he wants to implement processes in city hall to ensure that institutional memory does not fade and smooth the transition to a new administration.

Soglin is aware his decision will not be welcomed by everyone, however, he does not feel it will hurt him at the polls.

“Some people will not be happy, obviously, and some people will be put in a very difficult position because they may have decided to endorse one of the half a dozen announced candidates based on my saying I’m not running,” Soglin said. “That’s actually going to hurt me, but I’m confident I can win.”

The field of candidates currently includes:

  • Toriana Pettaway, the city of Madison’s racial equity coordinator
  • Maurice Cheeks, District 10 alder and vice president of business development at MIOsoft Corporation
  • Brenda Konkel, executive director of the Tenant Resource Center and a former alder
  • Satya Rhodes Conway, managing director of the Mayors Innovation Project at the Center on Wisconsin Strategy and a former alder
  • Raj Shukla, executive director of River Alliance of Wisconsin
  • Michael Flores, former Madison School Board member
  • Nick Hart, local comedian

Soglin said he expects a race “like the others” with “lots of debates.”

The mayoral election is April 2, 2019, with a primary scheduled for Feb. 19.

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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.