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Paul Soglin reflects on 22-year career, offers advice for Madison’s future

MADISON (WKOW) — As a new mayor takes office, Madison is saying goodbye — once again — to a fixture in that post.

Paul Soglin wrapped up his tenure as mayor for the third time on Tuesday. He’s served a total of 22 years over the past 46 years.

“There’s always a regret that we didn’t do more and that we weren’t perfect, but I’m pretty proud,” Soglin told 27 News as he prepared to leave office.

Beginning of a legacy

His political career started in the 60s, as the UW graduate student turned activist in a defining moment for the city, the Dow Riots.

Soglin quickly became a popular figure in Madison, serving three, two-year terms starting in 1973. He says in that decade he focused on building up the city for a growing population.

“Madison, like every other major city, was in a decline in regards to its downtown. It was struggling with its expansion geographically in terms of population coming out of the post World War II period. And so those kinds of issues, reestablishing public transit, which was dying in the city. That was the the era of the 70s.”

He left office in 1979 and took a decade off to work as a lawyer, then returned as mayor in 1989. The next eight years were defined by his work to eliminate racial and economic disparities, which is something he’s still working on now.

Recent progress to end violence

Soglin says each of his stretches as mayor had a unique focus, but he’s most proud of the more recent progress.

“The last two years of this eight year tenure have been the best, where we really got the demonstrable proof, in regards to closing economic gaps and dealing with the issue of violence and reducing homicides,” he said.

Soglin points to work by Deputy Mayor Gloria Reyes and the Focused Interruption Coalition to stop violence in our community by taking action. He says the last homicide in Madison was last fall, a drastic turn from previous years.

“That is extraordinary for a city of our size. We went from 14 homicides involving young African Americans in about 14 months to four such homicides over 17 months,” he said.

But Soglin hopes to see real change continue, criticizing council and community members who he says talks about wanting results, but doesn’t take meaningful action.

“There are people who talk and complain, but then there are people who get down to work and make things happen and bring about change,” he said.

Soglin hopes the city’s new leaders, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway and nine new alders, will work together to keep the city on the path to social justice and equity reform.

“Closing the gaps in unemployment, closing the gaps in household income, the tremendous work that’s been done in terms of building housing,” Soglin told 27 News.

Transitioning to a new administration

While saying goodbye to his supporters after losing the election didn’t come easy for Soglin, he says he’s ready now. He spent his final days in office this time around helping the new mayor get settled.

The longest-running mayor in Madison’s history has a lot of experience to share. He passed along his work on ongoing issues like Judge Doyle Square, the new equity business plan, the 2020 capital budget and the city’s stance on immigration and relations with ICE.

“I’ve tried to give them all the insights I’ve had,” he said. “And just sort of continuing matters that are confronting every municipal administration in this country.”

While the next phase of the city will move on without him, Soglin says he has hope for the future.

“I think the next stage, development, in Madison is focusing on entrepreneurship for communities of color, African Americans, women, veterans, immigrants, and building intergenerational wealth, building the kind of wealth that leads to home ownership, that leads to a feeling of welcomeness in the city of Madison. That’s the next level,” he said.

Soglin’s future still uncertain

But looking to his future, he’s not sure what comes next. “Gonna be talking to a lot of friends over the next couple weeks.”

Soglin has not said whether he’ll run for office ever again. His political career has included two failed runs for larger office, a Congressional race in 1996 and an attempt at governor last year.

He’s passing the baton to a new generation, the city’s first openly-gay, female mayor. Plus, Satya Rhodes-Conway is just the second woman to hold the office.

The last time Soglin left, he welcomed the city’s first female mayor, Sue Bauman.

Jennifer Kliese

Weekend Anchor and Reporter, 27 News

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