An Interview with Madison Mayor Paul Soglin
By Jonathan Gramling
As Paul Soglin was sworn in as Madison’s mayor for the third time last April, he faced some
disturbing trends that could pull the city apart. One was the lingering effects of the Great
Recession and the slow economic recovery.
“From my standards, the neighborhoods are as bad off as ever. We’ve never had so many
households below the poverty line. We’ve never had such high unemployment and
underemployment. That, to me, is the real challenge. There probably was a period of time, several
instances where crime was worse. And it continues to be of concern. But I don’t measure the
quality of neighborhoods just by an absence of crime. I measure the quality of neighborhoods by I
think the common standard we all like. Are my children going to be living a better life than the one
I had or the one my parents had? It doesn’t look so hot in a lot of city neighborhoods these days.
The second trend is declining revenues due to the budgetary measures that Governor Scott Walker
is proposing. Less state revenue and property tax ceilings will result in less money available for
the city to provide services.
“Before you and I got together, I was having a meeting dealing with the budget gap that the city
faces for next year,” Soglin said. “Past years for the city, any time since the 1950s-1960s, the
budget gap for the city of Madison would be $2-5 million. Now we’re talking over $25 million.”
|Mayor Paul Soglin plans to fight poverty in
Madison despite the declining state
revenues — and new spending caps —
that will be at his disposal.
Yet Soglin is committed to fighting poverty in Madison despite the challenges ahead. While poverty is a citywide problem, for Soglin, it all boils
down to the individual.
“I see it in terms of each individual child and the lost opportunity that they have as each day goes by. In terms of looking at entire neighborhoods,
it’s trying to conceive strategies that create gainful employment. The interesting thing about all of this is poverty isn’t necessarily a defining quality
in terms of success. It simply is a matter of percentages. But one of the things that we know in terms of our neighborhoods is that what accounts
for success, the ultimate determining factor, is not wealth of a community, nor is it the values alone of that community. It is a combination of those
values and the desire to fight for those values. What we need to do in the public sector is support the people who are fighting for those goals,
supporting the people who are working to see that each kid gets an education, supporting the folks who are working to develop quality job
training programs to make adults employable and employable with decent jobs.”
In focusing on the individual — especially those who are most in need of assistance — Soglin plans to continue an initiative that the Madison
Police Department started during Dave Cieslewicz’s tenure.
“I give Dave Cieslewicz credit for this because it started under his administration,” Soglin said. “We’re really going to focus on some of the repeat
offenders, the adults in our community who we believe can be approached and given some very tough choices. But instead of just choosing
between which ways to go back to prison, there is an option for them to straighten out their lives and get gainful employment. We see a win-win in
that. It’s going to be a win for the individual and it’s going to be a major win for our society if we can take some very expensive offenders and
remove them from the judicial system. It’s going to save everyone money. This will take cooperation with the county and it is going to take
cooperation with the non-profits, which hold a lot of the keys in regards to counseling and substance abuse, job training and services like that.”
The cornerstone of the city’s stability and quality of life are its neighborhoods. During his second term in office, Soglin started the Neighborhood
Resource Teams (NRTs) that brought city services directly to the neighborhood, providing services to individuals in order to shore up the stability
of neighborhoods. He plans to continue and enhance them.
“The Neighborhood Resource Teams would identify areas of concern,” Soglin said. “And we used to always tell the Neighborhood Resource Team
leaders, ‘You’re not there to run the neighborhood. You are there to serve the neighborhood. You are a resource for the neighborhood leaders.’”
For Soglin, the City’s quality of life is dependent on the vitality of the city’s neighborhoods. And it is dependent on the involvement of its citizens in
“There are a number of things that citizens can do to fight poverty,” Soglin said. “First thing they can do is get involved in their own neighborhood
and make sure that their own neighborhood has solid values respecting work, encouraging education, supporting the neighborhood school and
the library. Then there is a next step, getting involved in mentoring. If their own neighborhood is in good shape, they should offer their services to
Madison will face many challenges during the coming year. And it is up to the citizens of Madison to work and fight for the high quality of life that it
has traditionally enjoyed.