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Thursday, June 13, 2024
Top Ten: Madison's most influential figures, the full list

Dave Cieslewicz

Top Ten: Madison's most influential figures, the full list

The Daily Cardinal Editorial Board lists its most influential figures in Madison's 77 square miles surrounded by reality (apologies to Tammy Baldwin and Scott Walker, you'll have to wait for our state list).

1. Mayor Dave Cieslewicz

Let's face it, Madison just wouldn't be the same without our old pal Mayor Dave. Whether he's busy biking with Lance Armstrong or adding a new post to his blog, Cieslewicz has found a way to connect with the liberal Madison crowd he serves. His reputation as a cool-headed leader stems from practical budget proposals and a strong commitment to neighborhood development.

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But it's not all leaf collectors and bike boxes for Mayor Dave. As of late, he's trended more and more toward the political center. His heavy emphasis on capital investment is a tough sell in times of economic hardship, but Cieslewicz has proven to be a good salesman. Between plans for a $98 million Edgewater hotel renovation and a completely revamped Central Library, Cieslewicz has shown he's willing to spend the big bucks to make Madison more mainstream.

Yet it seems his biggest financial test still awaits him. With only a few weeks remaining to settle the Overture Center's $29 million debt, the city is scrambling to find a solution before the performing arts center threatens to ""go dark."" After several proposals ranging from city ownership to a multi-million dollar subsidy failed to find approval, Mayor Dave and the Common Council are under growing pressure to come up with a plan to save the Overture.

And although a Republican takeover of the Governor's office and Wisconsin legislature has threatened to put an end to high-speed rail in Madison, we were always proud to have such a staunch supporter of smart transit. Cieslewicz knows what investing in infrastructure means for our city and the entire state of Wisconsin.

We'll see how much staying power Mayor Dave has as he battles for reelection next year. Cieslewicz announced earlier this week that he will seek a third term as Madison mayor and if all goes well, that might mean another opportunity to hold the title of Madison's most influential.

—Dan Tollefson

2. Biddy Martin

Mayor Dave Cieslewicz might control all 77 square miles of Madison, but around campus one woman's influence might be even greater.

As UW-Madison's chancellor, Biddy Martin is at the head of one of Wisconsin's biggest employers and the university that made Madison the city it is today. Between the students and employees of UW-Madison, Martin's decisions likely influence more people than Cieslewicz—both within the city limits and beyond.

And while some of Martin's power comes from determining university policy, her decisions about what to do with millions of dollars of university funding is even more important. With revenue from tuition, donations and taxes coming into the university system each year, Martin has the power to decide where to allocate this money.

Over the next few years, Martin will need to increase her influence as she battles a Republican legislature that will likely look to decrease funding for the university. With Governor-elect Scott Walker's administration set to take over and Republicans controlling the legislature, Martin's influence in Madison and beyond will be put to the test.

—Nico Savidge

3. Barry Alvarez

It hasn't been a bad year to be the Director of Athletics at UW-Madison. Barry Alvarez oversees an Athletics Department that has experienced widespread success, as revenue increases, facility enhancement and stronger competition against other schools brought the UW Athletic Department to the national forefront.

A national championship appearance in men's hockey and a return trip to the Rose Bowl not only boosts UW's profile, but also adds value to the university's pocketbook.

Alvarez delayed approval on a new women's hockey facility in March due to a lack of funding, but has since found the $27.9 million necessary to break ground in the spring of 2011.

This past week brought even more good news for Alvarez. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, UW's athletic department ranked tenth in earnings at $93.9 million. That marks a 4.5 percent increase from a year ago and was announced the same day Alvarez was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame—forever immortalizing him as one of Madison's most influential.

—Parker Gabriel

4. Mark Clear

The Common Council can be a dangerous place to tread. Meetings covering topics like the Edgewater Hotel and the Overture Center can run all night, angry citizens constantly harp at alders and the inquiring eyes of council critic Brenda Konkel are always watching over.

But anybody who can effectively manage the council holds the legislative agenda of Madison as a priority, and that is just what Mark Clear has done as Council President.

Thanks in no small part to his close ties to Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, Clear has been able to direct the council without serious opposition. This is most recently shown through the deliberations on the Overture Center proposal, where his 201 State ownership model seems to have the most traction. More so than any other alder, Clear can push Madison where he wants it to go.

—Todd Stevens

5. Mark Pocan

As District 78's assemblyman and one of few Democrats securing office after the Republican takeover, Mark Pocan's progressive voice gains the title of one of Madison's most influential figures. Representing downtown Madison and the capitol area, Pocan will remain one of the loudest democratic voices in the legislature. His new position as a minority in office will give him a dissenting voice among the Republican majority throughout his upcoming term.

Through his tenure, Pocan has been the Assembly Chair of the Joint Finance Committee and been an active member of the Legislative Council. His strides in office have given him a leftist reputation for state budget and correctional reform, making him a strong advocate for the allocation of stimulus money toward criminal justice programs.

Pocan's progressive work in office has successfully filled the shoes his predecessor, U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin D-Wisconsin, left for him. And while Pocan will not hold the majority seat throughout his next term, the opportunity to speak out against the Republican legislature and stand up for Democratic policy lays ahead of him.

—Samantha Witthuhn

6. Ken Goldstein

As a national leader for political research and one of UW-Madison's most prominent political science professors, Ken Goldstein warrants recognition among the city of Madison's most influential figures. Goldstein is a well-respected and liked professor throughout the campus community, not only for his spicy one-liners but also for his extensive background in politics.

Goldstein's career has gained political stride as a correspondent to ABC's political unit and as a consultant for CBS and CNN—making his non-partisan opinion a valuable asset to UW-Madison. His work in political advertising and campaign finance research make him a credible expert who UW-Madison is lucky to have. Goldstein's prominence is highlighted through his participation on the University of Wisconsin Advertising Project team along with his Big Ten Network show ""Office Hours.""

Despite his national recognition, Goldstein continues to connect with students through his strong teaching style, while capturing the interest of students by relaying his knowledge. Goldstein weaves in jokes and never fails to lay the smack down on students dozing off in class. But through it all, his accomplishments and continued research grant him the respect he deserves throughout campus and the political community as a whole.

—Samantha Witthuhn

7. Noble Wray

Think football games, Freakfest and Friday night bar fights. Now pretend you're Madison's chief of police. To say the very least, Noble Wray does not have an easy job.

Wray has been the city's head honcho at the Madison Police Department since 2004. During his six-year tenure as chief, a stunted economy has left the police department with little financial wiggle room. Faced with constant media scrutiny and an overextended police force, Wray has had to fight hard to bring a sense of security to Madison.

Over the past decade, one of the easiest measurements of police success has been Freakfest. Since taking over as chief, Wray—along with some help from the city's Planning Commission—has exceeded expectations in keeping Freakfest safe, with only 43 citations issued this Halloween.

Wray makes our list for stepping up to the challenge year after year. Madison would be a lot scarier without him.

—Dan Tollefson

8. John Nichols

John Nichols has become both a household name for Madisonians and an esteemed political blogger on a national scale. As both an associate editor for The Capital Times and a beat writer for The Nation, Nichols has opined on topics ranging from WikiLeaks to Sarah Palin. As the author of eight books and contributor to The New York Times and The Progressive, Nichols has come into the national spotlight as an authority on the future of print journalism and new media.

However, Nichols makes our list because of his loyalty to reporting on local issues Madisonians care about. Nichols constantly reminds his readers of the history behind the stories making headlines and often uses his columns to act as the sole watchdog on issues many journalists avoid. Nichols' commitment to taking a tempered liberal stance on both local and national issues has made him one of the most notable voices of reason in Madison and the national political sphere.

—Hannah Furfaro

9. Brenda Konkel

If anyone truly cares about Madison, it's Brenda Konkel. After serving four terms as alder for Madison's 2nd district, Konkel lost her bid for re-election to Bridget Maniaci in 2009. Today she is currently the executive director of Madison's Tenant Resource Center.

While she was on the council, Konkel was known as Mayor Dave Cieslewicz' biggest critic. Since then, Konkel's continued this role through her blog, Forward Lookout. Besides covering nearly ever city-sponsored meeting or event, Konkel also investigates Madison's behind-the-scenes action through continual open records requests to various public officials.

In perhaps her most revealing story, Konkel took aim at Mayor Dave's 2010 European bike trip. Six months and many city ethics discussions later, Konkel is still hard at work.

With spring elections on the horizon, it would be interesting to see Konkel take her criticisms of Cieslewicz to the next level and run for mayor. Either way, she deserves a spot on our list.

—Dan Tollefson

10. Ann Althouse

In Madison, Ann Althouse is known primarily as a constitutional law professor who has taught at the UW Law School for 26 years. Outside Madison's city limits, however, Althouse is largely known as the smugly inscrutable blogger with a platinum bob.

She founded Althouse, her eponymous and nationally popular blog, in 2004. Today, the blog garners an average of 500,000 readers each month. On her blog, she opines on everything from constitutional law to her repulsion for men who wear shorts. Last year she married a regular commenter on her blog after four years of Internet courtship.

Althouse is regularly featured on, which pairs up bloggers for debate, and has written for The New York Times along with prominent law journals. Rush Limbaugh even blamed her for the ""chickification"" of society on his radio show.

- Emma Roller

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