April 18, 2011 9:44 AM
People have been asking me what my favorite moment was from my eight years as Mayor. It's hard to pick just one. Opening the Goodman Pool is right up there and so is having the President of the United States mispronounce my name (four times).
But I'd have to say that my very favorite moment happened just a few weeks ago. It was a snowy Saturday, and there were 100,000 people on the Capitol Square protesting Governor Walker's move to end collective bargaining for public employees. Madison Firefighters Local 311 invited me to march with them, as they often did, starting from Station One and going down State Street around the Square and then into the Capitol building. It was always great to march with the Firefighters because you got to walk behind bag pipers and drummers, and the crowd goes wild.
So we marched into the Capitol and there were maybe 6,000 people in the building, banging their own drums and cheering on the Firefighters. People reached out to shake our hands from every direction. Then we got to the center of the rotunda, and the bag pipers and the drummers formed a circle and began to play "Amazing Grace." The big, boisterous crowd went silent and began to sing, "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me..."
It was like being in a church where the whole congregation is a choir. The words and the music floated up into the high rotunda and circulated around and down the corridors of the Capitol as if to reclaim it from the very anti-Wisconsin divisiveness that had brought us there. It was as if we were reclaiming our building for the ideals that our state was founded on.
Then the bag pipers started into the second verse, and because no one knows the second verse to "Amazing Grace," the crowd fell silent and the drummers fell into syncopation behind the music. And I thought to myself at that moment that I was never more proud to be Mayor of this city. Stark adversity had erased our relatively small disagreements and reminded us of our shared values as a community. I didn't give a speech or even say a word. I just took it in, looking up at the crowds on the balconies above as the late winter afternoon light streamed through the rotunda and fell on us, all of us, together.
The thing to do now is to stay together as we take on the challenges ahead and to remember what Emerson wrote.
"What lies behind us and what lies before us matters little compared to what lies within us."
We're a great city not just because of the university or the lakes or the seat of government. We're a great city because of our citizens. I loved being the Mayor of Madison, but before that I loved just being a citizen of Madison. And so I am again.
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In all of my writing in this space, I have rarely mentioned my wife, Dianne. That's because she's an intensely private person and, anyway, she has her own identity as Chief of Staff to Sen. Fred Risser. But she gave me more wise counsel, more stability and more good humor than she knows. In a very real sense, I owe what success I've had as a mayor and as a man to her. And now that I leave this job, I understand that what I lost at work pales in comparison to what I still have at home.