City of Madison

Former City of Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz

Former Mayor Dave Cieslewicz's Blog

Absence of Malice

April 9, 2009 10:56 AM

There's been a lot of discussion about the meaning of Tuesday's city council races. Some have characterized the results as a move to the center or a move toward a council that is more cooperative. I think both things are probably true.

What isn't true is that cooperation somehow means lack of scrutiny over city policies or not asking tough questions.

One of my political heroes is Gaylord Nelson, a man who enjoyed a joke or two and a cocktail or two. Nelson believed in fighting it out on the campaign trail or on the floor of the Senate and then putting it all behind him and having a drink with the opposition. His approach - and the approach of a lot of politicians of his generation - was that political differences didn't rule out personal connections.

That's important because when people get along they can often find common ground after all the arguments have been made. Not always. Sometimes you just can't work it out and then it comes down to a vote. But more often then not, if the people who work together making public policy understand one another and maybe even like one another they find a way to make better policy.

And for the most part this current city council was pretty good at doing exactly that. This council resisted falling into factions and getting personal in their arguments. They asked a lot of good questions, and I've seen more than one alder take a bad political vote because they thought it was good policy.

It seems to me, based on what I know about the new alders who will be joining us in a couple of weeks, that the new council will only become more collegial. That doesn't mean they'll all agree with each other or with me. That doesn't mean they won't ask lots of tough questions. And that doesn't mean that there won't be the occasional controversy or tense moment. What it does mean is that the tone, temperament and atmosphere of the council will be about finding the best solutions for the city.

What I'm looking for in city government is not the absence of accountability but the absence of malice.


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