Madison's Leadership out of touch with our 77 miles

Published in The Cap Times, July 22nd, 2013

Dear Editor: Madison is all aflutter after Mayor Paul Soglin proposed to enshrine a tongue in cheek motto for Madison, “77 miles surrounded by reality,” into the law books recently. While some in the community reacted in deep horror to an identity that may turn away business investment, the real reality is that Madison's leadership is deeply out of touch with its 77 miles.

Yes I know, our great affinity for pink flamingos and "out of Iraq" resolutions seems to give us an over-quirky charm, but in general things like these are reflective of our shared social and/or cultural values more than anything. The truth is our political and civic leaders are generally of a mainstream liberal mold socially, with a strong belief in the all-mighty dollar fiscally, sans the occasional independent bookstore or food co-op owner. How else do we explain the determination to cull millions from our school and human service coffers to provide money for a hotel? A HOTEL.

Prestige and the projects that would acquire them are the real drivers of this economic consensus, where we always need just one more luxury hotel or central park or trendy apartment complex to reclaim our seemingly lost glory as a best place to live. This seems to ignore that the traditional measures of best places, outside of the networking set, are good schools; affordable, well-maintained housing; tight-knit neighborhoods; diverse family oriented entertainment options; and family supporting jobs. Instead, we are told that if we put just a little bit more of our community resources up for bid, the benefits will trickle down to us and raise all boats. I think most Madisonians know where that particular ride will take us.

What we really need is a dedicated plan and effort to tackle the issues quickly encroaching on our growing city, issues that often go unheralded or undervalued in Forbes and Money magazine. The only ranks Madison should be concerned with are lowest poverty, smallest achievement gaps, most affordable housing and tiniest racial disparities in criminal justice. Maybe this doesn’t make us a “best place to live” but it is far better than the reality.

Mike Johnson - Co-Chair - Progressive Dane