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As the Feb. 19 primary approaches, three candidates — Mo Cheeks, Satya Rhodes-Conway and Raj Shukla — have mounted high-profile challenges to incumbent Mayor Paul Soglin. There are also two long-shot candidates — Toriana Pettaway and Nick Hart.

Madison will vote next Tuesday in a mayoral primary that has the potential to define the city’s future for years, even decades, to come. From a crowded field of credible contenders, two candidates will emerge and face one another in the April 2 general election.

The Capital Times does not generally make endorsements in primary races. There can be exceptions. If a candidate stands out as being heads and shoulders above the other contenders, we may weigh in. And, certainly, if we feel that there is a candidate who is so atrocious that they must be opposed and beaten, we will take a stand.

There’s no one so atrocious on this year’s list of serious contenders that we feel a need to warn against them. Nor is there a candidate who is so dramatically superior to the rest that we feel an endorsement is warranted.

We'll endorse before the general election.

For now, however, we'll offer some impressions of where things stand, and lots of encouragement to get out and vote.

At the heart of this year's mayoral race is a question about whether it is time to replace the incumbent. For 48 years, Paul Soglin has either been running for mayor and getting beaten, running for mayor and winning, serving as mayor, speaking up and speaking out as a former mayor, running for mayor again and winning, serving again as mayor, speaking up and speaking out again as a former mayor, running for mayor again and getting beaten, speaking up and speaking out again as a former mayor, running for mayor again and winning, and serving again as mayor.

It’s been a remarkable run. But there does come a point where even the most diligent manager finishes the job. Indeed, the ability to recognize when it is time to go is one measure of a good administrator.

Last year, as he was mounting a Democratic primary bid for governor of Wisconsin, Soglin signaled that his time had come. He announced that he would not seek re-election this year. That cleared the way for a number of able candidates, including former Ald. Satya Rhodes-Conway, current Ald. Mo Cheeks, and Sustainable Madison Committee Chair Raj Shukla.

Then, after losing the gubernatorial primary, Soglin decided that he was not finished as mayor and announced he would seek a new term.

Soglin certainly had the right to change his mind. However, his current bid must be viewed from the perspective of the different signals he has sent over the past year. He was done with the job and now he says he's not done. At the same time, there are a number of able contenders who are ready to replace him — even if he is no longer ready to go.

Rhodes-Conway, Cheeks and Shukla, along with Soglin, have run high-profile campaigns and are considered potential primary winners. (Two other contenders — Toriana Pettaway, the city's racial equity coordinator, who is mounting a write-in campaign, and comedian Nick Hart — are mounting what are generally viewed as uphill bids.)

We have backed Soglin in his past mayoral bids, and we could certainly imagine backing him again. The mayor has a reputation for being irascible, and he clashes too frequently with the City Council. But Soglin is a competent and caring mayor who has managed the city well in challenging times. He embraces his duties, takes charge when it is time to do so, and leads in ways that inspire confidence. His agile handling of the recent spell of intense winter weather and the flooding of this past summer offered reminders that he is still very good at doing the job.

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Could any of the challengers do the job? We think so.

Rhodes-Conway has the policy skills. She was an exceptional council member. And, for more than a decade, she has worked with mayors from across the country as managing director of the Mayors Innovation Project. She has also chaired the city’s Oscar Mayer Strategic Assessment Committee and served on the Madison Food Policy Council.

Cheeks has been a highly engaged council member for three terms. He’s worked closely with the Madison Metropolitan School District on a number of vital issues, and he’s a technology company executive who has displayed a knack for encouraging the business community to step up and help the city when it comes to addressing challenging issues.

Shukla has a history of focusing on environmental issues, as evidenced by work over many years with former Vice President Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project, the Wisconsin-based energy-efficiency nonprofit Cool Choices, the River Alliance of Wisconsin and the Sustainable Madison Committee. He’s energetic and visionary, and we think he could make Madison the leader it must be when it comes to addressing climate change.

With four strong contenders running credible, issue-oriented and high-energy campaigns, we know that voters have been pulled in many directions. We also know that voters have been pulled in other directions altogether. Madisonians are busy resisting the chaotic mess that is Donald Trump’s presidency, trying to sort out the fast-starting 2020 Democratic presidential competition, and celebrating the changing of the guard in the state Capitol with the welcome replacement of Scott Walker by Tony Evers.

That’s no excuse for sitting the primary out, however. The April 2 general election will be a vital one for Madison. But it is the Feb. 19 primary that sets the stage for April 2. So go vote!

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