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High-speed rail fuels Madison mayoral campaign

By James Briggs

The high-speed rail debate is trudging into a new campaign season.

Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz on Monday announced the start of his re-election campaign, and in doing so set the stage for a two-year battle between the city and soon-to-be Republican-controlled state Legislature.

Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz

Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz

Cieslewicz faces a Feb. 15 primary and April 5 general election. If the mayor wins a third four-year term, he said, it will be spent fending off state lawmakers from controlling Madison’s way of life.

“We’re going to have to do nothing less than defend Madison and defend, really, a modern economy in this Legislature,” Cieslewicz said. “We’ve got a Legislature that’s gonna talk about killing high-speed rail; gonna talk about ending (Wisconsin Regional Transportation Authorities); that’s gonna talk about rolling back domestic partner benefits; it’s gonna talk about attacking stem-cell research; they want to weaken our smoking ban; they want to cut funding to the (University of Wisconsin System); and they want to roll back investments in locally produced fuels.

“And that’s,” Cieslewicz added, “just getting started.”

Calls made to Mark Jefferson, executive director of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, were not immediately returned Monday.

The list of Cieslewicz’s challengers is still taking shape. Among the opponents is Ken Golden, a senior policy analyst for the state Department of Health Services who spent 18 years on the Madison Common Council, ending in 2007. Brenda Konkel, a former alderwoman and frequent Cieslewicz critic, has said she’s considering a run for mayor.

Opting not to mention potential challengers Monday, Cieslewicz spent much of his time talking about the proposed high-speed rail line that would connect Madison to Milwaukee. The mayor said he still has not had direct contact with Gov.-elect Scott Walker, but added he would continue to lobby on behalf of the city.

Cieslewicz said he would take the fight — for rail, as well as other issues — two blocks from his office, to the Capitol.

State Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, a supporter of Cieslewicz, pledged in an interview to help the mayor at the state level, but he cautioned it would be an uphill battle.

“The Legislature will be controlled by Republicans,” Risser said, “and if Republicans move in lock step, there’s not much we can do.”

Still, Risser said, it’s important to continue pursuing the rail project because of the jobs it would bring to Wisconsin.

“I don’t think it’s over until it’s over,” he said. “While we don’t have the political clout now, we do have the ability to express ourselves and rely on the public, so I’m not totally pessimistic.”

Cieslewicz said he remains confident high-speed rail will come to Wisconsin when Walker realizes his other options are dead ends.

“I don’t think he’s gonna change his position on a dime, but I also don’t think he wants to let $800 million in federal money go to New York, just so they can build the same system there and put 5,000 people to work there,” Cieslewicz said. “It’s gonna have to be a longer conversation.”

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