Posts Tagged ‘Michael Schumacher’

Is it possible the Edgewater will fail?

January 19, 2010

If you want evidence that people in Madison, Wisconsin are much nicer than people in Washington D.C., just look at our city’s top political issues. How about the Edgewater? Although some Council members have expressed concerns about the debate being less civil and friendly than usual, I think that those of us accustomed to Hardball’s version of politics are surprised at the tolerance people on both sides of the issue show towards one another.

First the project was denied a certificate of appropriateness by the Landmarks Commission. Then the Council narrowly upheld the Commission’s findings because two potential (emphasis on potential) supporters of the plan were absent. Only five alders voted to thwart the plan (per se), but so far they have avoided the typical scorn that surrounds an irritating legislative minority.

And then the Council agreed to re-schedule the vote! So that the two absent members could get a chance to vote. No complaints from those who voted to uphold the Landmarks Commission’s findings. In fact, I talked with Ald. Marsha Rummel, who voted against the project in December, and she said she had nothing against re-scheduling, and that she understood why members were absent sometimes. This coming from an alder who has never missed a Council meeting in her life, and has never missed a committee meeting unless there was another committee conflict.

Then the re-vote was postponed again. It was agreed upon unanimously, and it seems as if supporters of the plan are going to be working behind the scenes to make the project more palatable for skeptics. But why, I’ve wondered aloud many times? The rumor is that Alds. Michael Schumacher and Judy Compton, the two who were absent at the original vote, intend to vote in favor of the project. Why not just get their votes and pass it quickly?

Three possible explanations:

1. The rumors are wrong. Compton will not vote to over-turn Landmarks. In an email to me, she said she could not tell how she will vote yet. I tend to assume she’s just being safe with those remarks, but I could be wrong.

2. Supporters of the plan want to change some things to make sure that the project is approved at later stages as well. Remember, the Landmarks Commission is only one of the many necessary steps for approval.

3. Policy makers in Madison are serious people who take each other seriously. They care about democracy, they don’t want to screw each other over, and they care deeply about the concerns of the community.

What do you think?

Why didn’t they refer it?

December 16, 2009

At Dusty Weis’ Edgewater Drinking Game last night, there were whispers that the Edgewater vote would ultimately be referred to the next meeting. With 54 speakers scheduled, the idea that the Council would nod off at around 2 a.m. sounded plausible. But what interests me is why supporters of the plan didn’t push harder to refer it so that Alds. Michael Schumacher and Judy Compton, who both supported the project, could be present to vote.

The Edgewater needed 14 votes and it got 12. It lost solely based on their absence. I can’t make this stuff up.

Does anybody know why Compton was absent? When I asked Schumacher several weeks ago he tersely replied that he had planned to be out of town. Fair enough – on just about any other day. But a $100 million project of the decade? How is this not being discussed? How did Mayor Dave let this stand? If anything, the absences of Compton and Schumacher seem to indicate that the mayor does not have the meticulous control over Council members that some allege he does.

UPDATE: Schumacher says he plans to ask the Council to reconsider its vote. I don’t understand how that would work, and the State Journal article doesn’t seem to know either.

University Square bar dies in ALRC

September 4, 2009

There is a grocery store coming to University Square.

But not a bar. Or a restaurant. What to call it was exactly the source of the controversy that ended developer Scott Acker’s hopes of a gigantic Badger-themed eatery/watering hole next door to Lucky apartments. Cardinal writer Todd Stevens seems to suggest that the Alcohol License Review Committee rejected the plan because it didn’t believe the bar would be able to provide a non-alcoholic environment for underage customers as well as be a bar.

That may be partially true, but that’s not the story city officials I’ve talked to have been pushing. Ald. Michael Schumacher, an ALRC member who voted against giving Acker a second chance to present a restaurant plan, was very straight forward in explaining his opposition: the project violated the downtown alcohol density plan. He didn’t believe it would be a restaurant and he was convinced that the place would ultimately derive most of its profits from alcohol sales. This matters to Schumacher not only because his German heritage instilled an obligation to follow the law (his words), but because if the place becomes a bar late at night it means hundreds of drunks leaving at 2 AM, which inevitably causes problems for cops trying to keep an eye on bar-time exodus.

Ald. Bridget Maniaci voiced the same concern – does the city want to deal with a bar with a capacity of 900?

So what is the real tragedy of the death of the new bar? Is it the lost investment or the lost opportunities for fun? Proponents of the bar say both. Ald. Bryon Eagon was openly disappointed with the dismissal of the plan by some of his colleagues, and sent me the following:

This was surely and opportunity lost and has brought up the need for discussions about downtown business investments and general alcohol policy, specifically about changes to the density plan so we don’t scare off potential good investments. Speaking of scaring off applicants, I was also disappointed that there were some votes against referring the application, which not only seems to be unprecedented, but sends the wrong message to this and also future applicants and investors.

Ouch. A good, above-the-belt knock at Schumacher. Stevens uses the same arguments – stupid Madison is being anti-business. Granted, his assertion that we have an anti-business reputation isn’t so true – Madison was recently rated one of the best places to find a job. Of course that’s largely due to the public sector…but I digress.

However, business be damned, the sad end to this story is that yet another door to underage entertainment is closed and many of the anti-bar crew aren’t proposing alternatives. Ald. Shiva Bidar-Sielaff seems to be an exception. A supporter of the density plan which restricts the number of bars downtown, Bidar-Sielaff nevertheless is a vocal proponent of expanding social opportunities for 18-20 year old students. When I asked her if the city lacked entertainment for underagers she was blunt: YES! “We need more live music, more movie theaters, more places to dance.” She spoke eloquently about the issue when voting in favor of adding a student voting member to the ALRC the other day (proposed by Eagon). Why not have an underage member of the ALRC, who could push for establishments that have liquor licenses as well as non-alcoholic options?

If Madison city officials make it known that they welcome such places, prospective developers would be eager to put forth plans that integrate drinking and non-drinking better. There are way too many concerts, for instance, that you have to be 21 to get into. It’s unacceptable.

Council rejects student voting rep on ALRC

September 1, 2009

The Common Council Organizational Committee approved adding two new voting members to the Alcohol License Review Committee, one alder and one citizen. In the process it rejected an amendment by Ald. Bryon Eagon which would have replaced the citizen appointee with a student representative. Currently there is a non-voting member of the ALRC, Mark Woulf, who you may remember as Eagon’s vanquished opponent in last spring’s 8th district aldermanic election.

The debate was long and confusing. The Council president, Tim Brueur, had to ask the members to re-vote on the various issues several times because some of them did not quite understand what they were voting on at times.

In summary Eagon won the support of Alds. Marsha Rummel and Shiva Bidar-Sielaff. That’s all I can say for certain. It was hard to understand who was voting against, although I do know that Alds. Michael Schumacher and Judy Compton, who asked that the issue be referred to the mayor, voted against.  Later Eagon explained that he was happy to see members support the “concept” even if they aren’t ready to commit to adding a student vote right now.

Among concerns raised were the age of the student rep who would be voting on alcohol issues. Would he or she be expected to be of legal drinking age? While Compton said that should be the case, and Eagon said he would expect the person to be 21, Bidar-Sielaff voiced skepticism of the legality of such a restriction to public office. After all, an 18 year old can serve on the council, how can there be more stringent restrictions on one committee?

Bidar-Sielaff also emphasized the potential of having an underage student representative, who could be a voice for the thousands of 18-20 year olds who often feel left out of the entertainment planning in the city. I expect she was implying that having an underage rep could be useful in pushing for liquor licensed establishments that also allow underagers in for non-alcoholic entertainment.

It was disappointing to see no presence from the Herald or Cardinal at the meeting. This would make a great story for the start of the school year. Whether or not people find Eagon’s request legitimate, this could have been a very important moment for students to increase their clout on city alcohol policy.

Another voting member on ALRC?

September 1, 2009

The Alcohol License Review Committee – easily the most politically important committee in the Council. No, it has nothing to do with approving the $100 million renovation of the Edgewater Hotel or the development of “car light” neighborhoods or city trolley systems, but alcohol is the only issue to a fair number of voters, especially if city elections don’t take place during spring break.

Today the ALRC is considering adding another voting member, which would bring the total number of votes on the committee to eight. Currently there are two alders, Michael Schumacher and Mike Verveer, as well as five “residents,” some of whom have technical expertise on the issue, and some of whom are selected by the mayor because…well, he thought they would be chill additions.

In another discussion with Schumacher about alcohol policy, my favorite German on the Council expressed tentative opposition to the proposed plan, mainly because he believes eight voting members would be harder to manage than seven, considering the likelihood of tie votes. Nevertheless, he did indicate support for an alternative plan, which would replace one of the resident members with an alder but keep the overall number at seven. His point is that although many like the idea of resident members, and see their participation as evidence of a keen sense of civic activity in the city, they are still appointed by the mayor, meaning they are less democratic than alders, who are elected officials and are held accountable by their constituents.

But here’s another idea that may be thrown around – how about making Mark Woulf, the non-voting student rep on the committee, a voting member? It’s an idea Bryon Eagon has thrown around. Add Woulf and an alder and bring the number up to 9? That way students get a vote on their favorite issue (I guess some care about book theft) and the committee has an odd number of reps to prevent ties.

Is that possible? No, at least not according to Schumacher, who says he fought a tough political battle just to get a non-voting student rep on ALRC in the first place. Despite that success, the student rep is still only a temporary position that must be re-approved in three years.

What is most surprising about the alcohol politics in this city is the opposition to student participation from, of all places, the bars! It’s the alcohol industry that doesn’t appreciate the presence of a policy maker who represents but mere customers (students). Does that make sense? Why would bars shun a reliably pro-bar vote on the license committee? Schumacher doesn’t quite understand. Would they rather have an anti-alcohol soccer mom?