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2019 year in review: Highs and lows in the Madison area in the last year of the decade
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2019 year in review: Highs and lows in the Madison area in the last year of the decade


Goodbye Soglin's 'stache. See ya later Kumbaya Koval.

2019 was a year of farewells, as several prominent Madison figures stepped away from public life, including a mayor, police chief, school superintendent and one very eccentric marching band director.

But the departures weren't limited to people.

"Nails' Tales" was lifted out of the Madison landscape — at least for now — temporarily ending the debate over what people saw in the statue meant to project power and strength. Is it a stack of footballs, an ear of corn, male anatomy?

The last year of the decade also brought new faces.

Gov. Tony Evers took office, bringing with him a boatload of "holy mackerel." But the Democrat also found ways to work in a few curse words, particularly when frustrated with the Republican-led Legislature as the conflicts of split government played out.

In Madison politics, Satya Rhodes-Conway rode a bus from the ballot box and into the mayor's office.

For football fans, the Packers and Badgers have put on impressive 2019 performances, turning around comparatively disappointing outcomes from the year before.

Former Badger Rose Lavelle became a soccer standout in the Women's World Cup, and the world's sport also got some local flair as Madisonians learned to go "full mingo" cheering on Forward Madison FC.

Today, the Wisconsin State Journal looks back at some of the most consequential and intriguing stories of the year.


Jan. 7: Democratic Gov. Tony Evers is sworn into office, ending eight years of Republican control of state government while also setting up a new era of split government, which produces its own set of conflicts and entanglements throughout the year.

Evers inauguration

Jan. 7: The Green Bay Packers offer Matt LaFleur the head coaching job, hoping to revitalize the team's offense after two back-to-back seasons of missing the playoffs.

Jan. 10: Jayme Closs, a Barron County teenager who was abducted from her home following the murder of her parents, escapes her captor, Jake Patterson, after being held in a cabin for nearly three months. Patterson is later sentenced to life in prison after he pleads guilty to kidnapping and murder.

Jan. 29: Arctic air hits the Madison area, creating days of bitter cold temperatures in a "polar vortex" that shuts down schools, closes government offices and even prompts the U.S. Postal Service to take a day off.

Polar vortex


Feb. 1: Making her return to Madison, Lady Liberty appears on ice-covered Lake Mendota — or at least her head, arm and torch. The inflatable, to-scale replica of the Statue of Liberty is set up for the first time on the lake since 2010, but the tradition of bringing a piece of New York to Wisconsin dates back to 1979 when a group of UW-Madison pranksters erected a replica of the statue as a gag.

Lady Liberty


March 11: Beating out bids by Houston and Miami, Milwaukee is selected to host the Democratic National Convention in 2020, bringing thousands of delegates, activists and politicians next July to a state Democrats need to win back after President Donald Trump captured Wisconsin in 2016.

March 31: Following a messy and public split, Dane County and its long-time operational partner at Vilas Zoo part ways over disagreements on how to handle the county-owned zoo's finances and concerns over maintaining critical accreditation.

Vilas Zoo


April 2: In a rout, former Ald. Satya Rhodes-Conway beats longtime Mayor Paul Soglin in the spring election, becoming the city's first openly gay mayor. The defeat likely ends the storied and colorful political career of Madison's "mayor for life." Brian Hagedorn, the conservative-backed candidate for an open Wisconsin Supreme Court seat, also narrowly beats his liberal-supported opponent Lisa Neubauer.

Rhodes-Conway wins

April 6: Forward Madison FC kicks off its inaugural season as Madison's professional soccer team, facing off against USL League One opponent Chattanooga Red Wolves SC.

April 12: Federal investigators announce no charges will be filed in a years-long investigation of alleged abuse by staff at the state's troubled Lincoln Hills youth prison, which has been beset with lawsuits alleging improper treatment.

April 23: Corey Pompey is named the director of the UW Marching Band following the 50-year tenure of legendary band leader Mike Leckrone.

April 25: Pope Francis chooses Bishop Donald Hying to lead the Roman Catholic Diocese of Madison, succeeding the late Robert Morlino. Hying is a Wisconsin native who led the Diocese of Gary, Indiana, before the announcement.

Bishop Donald Hying


May 8: After six years on the job, Madison schools Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham says she'll resign from the post by the end of August to take a position at Harvard University. A new superintendent is expected to be selected in early 2020.

Cheatham resigning

May 25: The Milwaukee Bucks lose Game 6 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals to the Toronto Raptors, dropping the series to the Canadian basketball team that goes on to win the NBA Finals.

May 25: Howard Moore, the University of Wisconsin men's basketball assistant coach, is seriously injured in a multiple-vehicle crash in Michigan in which his wife and 9-year-old daughter die. His son survives the crash with minor injuries, and Moore continues to recover from his injuries.

May 31: After 98 years, Madison Area Technical College leaves its Downtown Madison campus just a block from the state Capitol to lease the property to a developer that plans to convert it into a hotel. In September, the technical college opens a new campus on the under-served South Side of the city.


May 31: The family of a 26-year-old woman, Ashley DiPiazza, who was shot and killed by Madison police officers in 2014, settles a lawsuit with the city's insurer for $4.25 million. A jury had awarded the family $7 million in damages two years earlier, but the settlement is reached to avoid further appeals. 


June 6: Making his first-ever Madison appearance, legendary rocker and former Beatle Paul McCartney performs to a packed crowd at the Kohl Center, drawing from his many triumphs of the past six decades.

Paul McCartney

June 7: Evers orders a rainbow flag flown above the state Capitol for the first time in Wisconsin's history — a move praised by Democrats as promoting inclusivity but criticized by Republicans as a divisive act.

Rainbow Flag

June 9: Two unresponsive men are pulled from Lake Monona during the swim portion of the Ironman 70.3 Wisconsin triathlon. Cottage Grove resident Michael McCulloch dies the same day, while Madison firefighter Todd Mahoney dies two days later.

June 26: By a slim margin, Senate Republicans pass a two-year, $81 billion state budget, sending the GOP-crafted spending package to the governor's office. Evers later uses his broad veto authority to make 78 partial vetoes. Republicans argue some of the changes are unlawful, prompting legislative and legal attempts to rein in veto power.


July 7: Former University of Wisconsin athlete Rose Lavelle notches a goal in the championship match of the Women's World Cup, aiding the United States to a 2-0 victory over the Netherlands to capture America's second straight title in the tournament and fourth overall.

July 19: On the hottest day of the year, fires erupt at two Madison substations, knocking out power to thousands for hours and sending up plumes of black smoke across the central city. 

Substation explosion and fire


Aug. 2: A Dane County jury finds Quintez Cephus not guilty on two counts of sexual assault in a case in which two women accused the University of Wisconsin wide receiver of assaulting them in his apartment in 2018. Cephus is subsequently readmitted to UW-Madison and reinstated to the football team.

Aug. 2: The U.S. Air Force releases a draft report on the environmental impact of basing F-35 fighter jets at Truax Field in Madison, sparking weeks of debate among elected officials, opponents and supporters over the merits of the proposal. A decision on the basing is expected in March.

F-35 protesters

Aug. 20: State regulators grant preliminary approval for the construction of a controversial high-voltage transmission line, known as Cardinal-Hickory Creek, between Middleton and Dubuque, Iowa, despite opposition from local governments, conservation groups and farmers about the impact of the nearly $500 million project.

Aug. 21: "Nails' Tales" — the hotly debated sculpture outside Camp Randall Stadium — goes into storage to prepare for a renovation of the plaza where the 50-foot statue sat for 14 years. UW-Madison officials have yet to decide where to relocate the fiberglass obelisk of footballs, which has drawn unflattering comparisons since its erection.

Nails' Tales

Aug. 23: Almost eight months into the year, Madison records its first homicide of 2019 when a woman, Amanda Woods, is found stabbed to death on the East Side. Lew Jefferson, of Madison, is later charged with first-degree intentional homicide in Woods' stabbing stemming from what investigators say was a dispute over splitting a drug purchase.


Sept. 28: A 19-year-old man, Malik J. Moss, is shot and killed in the evening hours outside a North Side apartment building. Two men — Larence G. Thomas and Leearthur L. Taylor — are arrested in October and charged with having a role in Moss's death.

Sept. 29: In a blog post, Madison Police Chief Mike Koval announces he is retiring the next day, ending a five-year tenure as the leader of the police department where he held various positions for more than 30 years. Assistant Chief Vic Wahl is named interim chief while the body tasked with hiring the city's top cop conducts a search for a permanent successor.

Mike Koval

Sept. 30: A former UnityPoint Health-Meriter nurse, Christopher Kaphaem, pleads guilty to 19 felony counts of abusing or neglecting nine infants in the Madison hospital's newborn intensive care unit between March 2017 and February 2018. Kaphaem, who faces up to 148 years in prison, is scheduled to be sentenced in February.


Oct. 7: Evers issues his first pardons as governor, restoring some rights to those who have been criminally convicted in the state. It ends nine years of no pardons being granted, as former Republican Gov. Scott Walker refused to issue them.


Oct. 16: Marlon Anderson, a black security guard at West High School, is fired after telling a student who called him the N-word not to use the slur — while repeating the word itself. Anderson's termination sparks widespread criticism of the decision, prompts students to walk out of school in protest and even draws a rebuke from Cher. Anderson is reinstated to his job less than a week later.

Marlon Anderson

Oct. 25: University of Wisconsin System President Ray Cross announces he'll retire from his position overseeing the state's public universities and colleges. Cross, who began in the post in 2014, remains president until a successor is identified.


Nov. 5: Republican Senators vote to fire Evers' pick to lead the state agriculture agency, Brad Pfaff, marking perhaps the first time the Senate has ousted a member of the governor's cabinet since at least 1987.

Nov. 6: UW-Madison settles a wrongful death lawsuit for $850,000 to the family of Yu Chen, who was struck and killed by a UW Lifesaving Boat as he was windsurfing on Lake Mendota in 2017.

Nov. 7: Following through on earlier public statements, Republican leaders of the Legislature immediately open and close a special session called by Evers to take up gun control legislation.

Nov. 30: Following a one-year hiatus, Paul Bunyan's Axe returns to Wisconsin when the Badgers beat the Minnesota Golden Gophers 38-17 and earn a trip to the Big Ten Championship Game. The University of Wisconsin football team falls the next week in the title game to Ohio, but wins a spot in the Rose Bowl to face off against Oregon on New Year's Day.

Paul Bunyan's Axe


Dec. 9: At the request of Evers, Wisconsin National Guard Adjutant General Donald Dunbar says he'll resign his post at the end of December after a months-long investigation found a litany of failings in how the Guard handled sexual assault and harassment allegations.

Dec. 14: Gunnar T.G. Holum, 18, is shot and killed on the Near West Side. Madison police arrest Marcus T. Hamilton — whose father was shot to death in Madison in 2008 — on a tentative charge of first-degree homicide. 


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