The two candidates in Madison’s mayoral race on Monday discussed a vision for the city that had similarities but they talked about different ways they’d guide the city.
In a debate at the Central Library, longtime Mayor Paul Soglin said his record of adding affordable housing units and bringing jobs to the city is proof that he deserves another term. His challenger, former alder Satya Rhodes-Conway, said she would accomplish more through a collaborative leadership style that embraces progressive ideas.
The debate was occasionally light-hearted and included jokes from the emcee and trivia about Madison for those gathered in the library’s large community room and overflow space.
The candidates shared different visions for the future by addressing topics such as police oversight, mass transportation, the school system, leadership styles, renewable energy and ways to increase affordable housing.
“It’s one thing to espouse progressive values, it’s another thing, it’s another challenge, to make them work,” Soglin said. “I’m here ... to continue finishing the job.”
The themes and candidates’ answers in many cases were similar to ones from a debate last week.
Soglin answered a question about his perceived acerbic communication style by saying he made a choice early in his career to be forthright and act on behalf of his constituents, even if that meant not appealing to everybody.
Rhodes-Conway said she’d do a better job of appealing to a broad group and would make an effort to be collaborative.
“I see everyone as a potential ally,” she said. “We don’t have to like people to work with them.”
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When asked about the Madison Public Market, Soglin defended its purpose as a business and job creation tool, and as a place to buy food grown or produced locally.
Rhodes-Conway, while acknowledging that she likes the idea of a public market, said she worries about its sustainability.
“I think it would be a great asset to Madison,” she said. “Basic needs like affordable housing and transit are more important.”
Soglin said any money saved by not pursuing the project “is nothing” compared to the high costs associated with creating more housing or rapid mass transportation.
When asked about how to prevent floods like last year’s, Soglin said the city can’t address problems such as water flow or weed congestion in parts of the Yahara watershed outside of Madison. But, he said, the city has taken steps, like installing better culverts, in flood-prone parts of Madison like the West Side.
While acknowledging that the impact may not be significant, Rhodes-Conway said the city should change its approach to stormwater management by better capturing rain water or allowing it to naturally be absorbed by the ground.
Rhodes-Conway frequently mentioned the importance of better mass transit, like Bus Rapid Transit. Soglin, while not disagreeing, said Madison can’t do much more because it is limited by federal support and state bans on Regional Transit Authorities to raise revenue.
At least six more debates or forums are scheduled before the April 2 general election, including one at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Madison Concourse Hotel, 1 W. Dayton St. Monday’s event was sponsored by Isthmus, WORT 89.9 FM, The Progressive Magazine, Downtown Madison Inc. and Capitol Neighborhoods Inc.