Monday, February 16, 2009

Then There Were Deuce

Three of the candidates pursuing the second district seat on the Madison Common Council are going to sleep very well Tuesday night. One of them will dream of miles upon miles of museums stretching off into the sunset, and the other two will sleep the dreamless sleep of near exhaustion mixed with a few conciliatory drinks.

But knowing the people who are engaged in the race, the two winners of Tuesday's primary won't be going to sleep once the votes are tallied. Secure in the knowledge they'll be appearing on the April ballot, whichever pair of candidates emerges from the dogfight victorious will likely begin laying individual battle plans for the run up to the knock-down, drag-out mano a mano match-up.

Okay, I promise, that's the last of the boxing cliches I'll use today.

But in all seriousness, this has been an intense campaign, with each candidate logging untold hours of spare time trudging through Wisconsin's worst weather and banging down doors. The amount of campaign literature I've seen accumulated inside my front door and littering the gutters is staggering, and I've heard through the grapevine from a number of people who have met personally with one or more office-seeker on their own front stoop.

Though in hindsight, I ought to have pledged my support to whichever candidate could have cornered me on my own front porch, as it's become nearly impossible to find me at home during a reasonable hour of the day. Not a candidate came a-calling to my hobbit hole on Castle Place when I was around, and I'm a little disappointed.

With election day upon us, most of the measily six to ten percent of the voting populace who will turn out have a pretty good idea who they'll be voting for. There's not much left for the candidates to do that could sway their opinion, but I know of at least one who's planning a 4 AM wakeup call to distribute one last round of door hangers anyway.

So for the most part, there's not much left for any of the candidates to do but wait and hope. In terms of what they ought to be hoping for, other than enough people to turn out at election headquarters to help finish the cake and cash the keg (interesting sidenote, I personally excel in both areas), I've taken the time to compile a few suggestions.

Though there's no such thing as a sure thing, incumbent Brenda Konkel need only really hope that her supporters are as numerous as they are vocal, both in the community and on the forums. While it's no news that the four-term city council member has plenty of people, both in the community and the city government, who would like to see her figuratively offed in the primary, in all likelihood it ain't gonna happen.

Konkel could just as easily begin focusing on the next stage of her re-election bid, setting herself up for some kind of tortoise and hare scenario, but she's far too classy for that. She even told me that should the unthinkable happen and two of her opponents best her in the primary, "I'm not going anywhere. I would still be just as active in the community," and that's something of a comforting thought.

That much said, while four individual candidates don't pose much of a obstacle to her reaching the April election, one strong competitor backed by the other three (and their supporters) could create serious problems in the general election. Konkel ought to be paying keen attention to the other candidates in her race and rooting for a narrow defeat to beset the candidate(s) most likely to support her then in April.

As such, she's probably hoping to see attorney Adam Walsh fail in his bid to get that second slot on the ballot. He's been the least vocal critic of Konkel's performance as alder, and held up against Bridget Maniaci with her ties to the mayor's office that sought to have Konkel ousted and Sherman Hackbarth with his no-nonsense distain for Konkel's idealogical stands, Walsh seems the most likely to jump aboard a Konkel bandwagon.

But as one of the two candidates with a shot at challenging Konkel, Walsh has got his own plans. By centering his campaign heavily on homeowners and the Lapham Elementary School, he's taken a gamble in attempting to ignite his own unique base of support rather than siphon it off Konkel. Come Tuesday evening, Walsh will be hoping to have stoked those flames hot enough to drive unprecedented turnout among the district's non-rental denizens, pushing him over the top.

Maniaci, for her part, will be hoping for her own groundswell of voter turnout from the district's west end, where the concentration of the student population is heaviest. She's won endorsements from both student newspapers, with a blurb in the Daily Cardinal and an in-depth write-up in the Badger Herald, and at 25-years-old, is able to level with students on issues like alcohol density and nightlife concerns where other candidates come off as stuffy.

But it's well-known to anyone who's been a student at the UW that the papers' editorial boards represent the student body as well as the State Journal editorial board represents the city of Madison's populace. What's more discouraging for her is that students have a notriously low voter turnout rate for elections where there's no "George Bush" to vote against.

On the gripping hand, candidate Sherman Hackbarth is probably hoping for a particularly low turnout from newspaper readers, something on the order of the effect a plague of locusts. Hackbarth has caught more than a little heat from the press, not only for personally saying the least with the most words in the race, but also for his admitted lack of familiarity with one of District Two's most looming issues, the proposed demolition and redevelopment of a row of houses on East Johnson Street by Renaissance Property Group.

Maybe it was simple bad luck again that lead to his being picked first to answer the question at the neighborhood association debate, or maybe the question was a little poorly-worded, but the other candidates quickly jumped on his missing his chance to take a stand on the project, one way or the other. Maniaci was called on next by the moderator, noting, "I'm actually a little disappointed in Sherman," before proceeding to lambast the project.

Hackbarth's mantra of "I'll weigh each issue individually" is a position more properly staked out by a candidate for judgeship than a city leader, and Deucers likewise feel a little unsure of a candidate who doesn't come down strongly for or against the city's bus fare hike, the Alcohol Density Plan or proposals like RPG's.

So headed into the primary, it seems likely enough Deucers will want to give Konkel a chance to defend her seat through April that she will be one of the top vote-earners Tuesday. In terms of vocal and visible support throughout the community, Walsh and Maniaci have both run hard, effective campaigns, and now need to hope for an upswell of support to boost them into competition against the incumbent. Maniaci may have a slight edge, but Hackbarth is a wildcard with little shot at a berth in the general election and the ability to spoil it for either Walsh or Maniaci.

And for those bound and determined to vote outside the norm, there is, of course, a fifth option. Dennis deNure, who fell unfortunately from the radar screen after a critically-acclaimed appearance on the League of Women Voters' candidates forum, will still be appearing on the ballot, in spite of his campaign slogan, "Don't vote for me."

On a side note, I actually have one of deNure's buttons affixed to my backpack now, because I support the message, not the candidate. But it's the closest I've come in this race to making a political statement, other than saying I think Konkel deserves to be in the April race.

But as long as we're outlining what each candidate will be hoping for Tuesday, let's say deNure is pulling for...... cupcakes.


Critical Badger said...

"But it's well-known to anyone who's been a student at the UW that the papers' editorial boards represent the student body as well as the State Journal editorial board represents the city of Madison's populace"

I'm sorry, but what? The Herald is slightly idelogically more center and the Cardinal's board is perhaps more "in tune" but suffers from a lack of legitimacy. If anything, the UW student body "pulse" is an "Obama Democrat" mold which is close enough to the two papers this year.

Students weren't spontaneoulsy going out to cheer for the Green Party or Michael Steele.

I'd also say, both papers strongly support current D8 Alder Eli Judge and he's one of the most popular campus area politicos that I've seen in the last 4 years.

So I disagree with the premise of your statement. More accurate: how many students really give a damn and will vote in the D2 primary?

Not many.

Dustin Christopher said...

I'm sorry... maybe it's just the codger in me that allows me to remember back a few years to the Mac VerStandig days of the BHEB... And I was going to argue further, except you made my other point for me...

"More accurate: how many students really give a damn and will vote in the D2 primary?

Not many."

Line me up ten students, and I'll give you twenty bucks if four of them can explain alcohol density to me.

Not really.

Critical Badger said...

I don't disagree that the vast majority of students are unaware of local public policy and politics (and being in Madison, sometimes I think that's not all too bad).

Line me up 10 UW students and at least one will know alcohol density. 0 will know Mac Verstandig. He had his time and ran quite possibly one of the best years of a student paper in recent memory -- olympian in its comparison to the sorry state of today's Daily Cardinal.

But the major point where you're still off: the editorial boards do a good job on the whole. The Green Party (meaning, further left than either editorial board) just isn't what the UW-Madison student body identifies with, given the upper-middle make-up of the school.

Perhaps at this point splitting hairs with you.

Dustin Christopher said...

We're bloggers... I thought splitting hairs was what we did... :)