May 18, 2009 5:30 PM
I've been reading here and there lately about what a mean guy I am. Apparently, I am grinding my opponents into the ground like the Packers' frontline in the glory days. To read some of these accounts, I am the Darth Vader (if not the Chad Vader) of Madison politics.
How am I trampling on democracy? I am appointing people to committees who I want on committees.
It just seems to me that when a guy gets elected mayor (twice in my case) he gets to do that. I know most of us certainly think that when a guy gets elected president he gets to do that. I don't think many of us would say that Barack Obama needs to appoint Newt Gingrich to the Supreme Court. So why should I be expected to appoint people who disagree with me on some of my most important policy initiatives to committees that could stand in the way of those initiatives?
Now to take the Obama analogy further, some might point out that he's famous for appointing a "team of rivals" to his cabinet. And I agree that a diversity of opinion is a good thing. That's why, for example, I reappointed three staunch opponents of the recent bus fare increase back to the Transit & Parking Commission. Ald. Brian Solomon was the leading opponent to the increase and I put him back on the TPC along with two other outspoken critics of my position - Amanda White and Margaret Bergamini. And former Alder Zach Brandon and Alders Jed Sanborn and Satya Rhodes-Conway have all voted against my budgets in various years only to be reappointed by me to the powerful Board of Estimates. I could give many more examples.
But while a diversity of opinion is a good thing, I do get to appoint a majority of members to committees who I believe share at least a general compatibility with my point of view on key issues and the tone I want to set within City government. In addition, some of the people I have replaced have served beyond a decade, which has been a rule of thumb for making a change.
So I don't think the record supports the view that this is about "retribution" as some have said. Rather, it's about moving government in a way that any elected executive should get to do. In a fundamental way, the people a mayor appoints both in terms of how they conduct themselves and the positions they take reflect directly on the mayor himself. So, I don't think it's unreasonable for the mayor - or any chief executive - to make appointments that will generally be in keeping with his point of view while also maintaining a diversity of opinion. I believe that's what I've done.