Narrator: Paul Soglin
Interviewer: Skye Doney
Date: 17 March 2023
Transcribed by: Teresa Bergen
Duration: 3 hours, 3 minutes
Paul Soglin Biography:
Paul Soglin was raised in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois. In high school, he was active in the Civil Rights Movement, participating in boycotts of the F. W. Woolworth Company store on 53rd Street in the spring of 1959. In the fall of 1962, he enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as a pre-med student, eventually obtaining a Bachelor of Arts in history with honors in 1966. He then spent three years in UW’s History graduate program before obtaining a law degree from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1972.
During his time at UW, Soglin remained active in multiple protest movements. In 1962, he was elected treasurer of the UW-Madison chapter of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). In 1963, in one of the earliest demonstrations against U.S. military involvement in Vietnam, he joined 200 classmates at a rally on the steps of the Memorial Union protesting the presence of U.S. “military advisers” who were suspected of active participation in the conflict. In 1965, he and a dozen other college students set out in the suburbs of North Shore Chicago with open housing petitions calling for real estate agents to show and sell homes to “Negroes.” Before the summer was out, he and the other volunteers had contacted over 600 home sellers and more than 1,500 other residents. As a student, Soglin also famously participated in the demonstrations against the Dow Chemical Company to protest their recruitment efforts on campus because of Dow’s role in the manufacture of napalm used in Vietnam. Beaten by police during the demonstrations, Soglin was elected to lead the subsequent student strike.
Beginning in the late 1960s, Soglin became a fixture in Wisconsin electoral politics. In 1968, while still a graduate student in the UW History Department, he was elected to Madison’s Common Council. He was re-elected in 1970 and 1972. In November 1972, he announced his candidacy for mayor of Madison and was elected on April 3, 1973. He served for three terms, from 1973 to 1979. After returning to private practice as a lawyer for nearly a decade, he then sought public office again in 1989 and served for three additional terms as mayor until 1997. After launching an unsuccessful bid for the United States House of Representatives in 1996 he resumed his duties as Madison’s mayor in 2011. He served in that role until April 2019, when he was defeated in a reelection effort.
Soglin’s administrations were noted for his focus on equity, building a tax base that could support human services, developing a better sense of place for Madison neighborhoods, and eliminating racial and ethnic disparities in educational achievement, income, and incarceration. Among the many changes and accomplishments on Soglin’s watch:
• He led the project to construct the State Street Mall and the Concourse around the Capitol Square.
• He sponsored the amendment to Madison’s Equal Opportunity Ordinance, to include sexual orientation as a protected class in 1976.
• Under his guidance, the city started its first daycare program, providing certification for independent daycare centers.
• During his first administration, the city coordinated renovation of several buildings on State Street to build the Madison Civic Center. That center was later renovated and is now the Overture Center for the Performing Arts.
• He led reforms in the city’s hiring of women and minorities leading to the appointment of the city’s first female firefighters, first Black police chief, the first woman Latina/Native American fire chief, and numerous other department heads of color or women, including Human Resources Director and Fleet Supervisor.
• He led the successful effort in the 1990s to construct Monona Terrace, a building conceived by architect Frank Lloyd Wright in the 1930s.
• He became the first U.S. mayor and only the fourth politician from the United States to meet Fidel Castro, in 1975.
• His administration secured record amounts of senior, affordable and low income housing, utilizing a variety of financing mechanisms, most recently low-income housing tax credits and Tax Incremental Financing.
• He helped Madison become the fifth U.S. city given platinum recognition by the League of American Bicyclists in 2015, overseeing the construction of the city’s first bike paths in the 1970s and their expansion on old rail lines in the 1990s.
• He introduced—and the city council then adopted—his plan to set a minimum wage for all city employees at $15 per hour, in 2016.
• He led a revival of the city’s public transit system resulting in one of the highest per capita bus ridership levels in the country for a system without rail. (In 2017, Governing Magazine ranked Madison 13th for Best Cities for Public Transportation; most of the other cities included on the list are located in much larger urban service areas than Madison.)
• For the US Conference of Mayors, he served on: the Transportation and Communications Committee, was Vice Chair for City Livability/Bicycling and the Advisory Board, and he chaired the Task Force on Food Policy and the Urban Economic Development Committee.
• He served on the Project for Public Spaces (PPS) Place-making Leadership Council and on numerous committees for the National League of Cities focusing on equity, education, and combatting opioid abuse.
• He presented the key to the city of Madison to Fidel Castro, Jerusalem Mayor Teddi Kolack, musicians Charlie Mingus, Steve Miller, Johnny Cash, Arlo Guthrie, Alice Cooper, Bonnie Raitt, and Star Trek creator Gene Rodenberry, as well as Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda.
Begin Track 1
Soglin: Yeah, Paul. I got four readers. And curiously, I don’t know if you know Todd Gitlin (1943–2022).
Doney: I don’t.
Soglin: Todd passed away last year. Todd and I had pretty similar trajectories in terms of political views from the 60s to the present. Todd wrote some wonderful books about the 60s, and Todd was influenced by Mosse, even though he didn’t go to school here.
Soglin: Particularly both of us had a lot of similar thoughts about what to do with the, what we now call “the crazies” in terms of the extremists within the left. So, Todd was a reader. Paul Buhle’s a reader. Ellen Jacobs, who went to school here and took Mosse’s class is a reader. Pam Gardiner, who went to school here and took Mosse’s class, is a reader. So of the five people reading the book, three of them took courses from George and one was influenced by him.
Doney: That’s great.
Soglin: That’s going to come through in the book —
Doney: Are you —
Soglin: Because of the emphasis I put on culture. That’s really George’s greatest influence on me.
Doney: Have you, are you close to the end, do you think? Every author hates that question, of course, but…
Soglin: Right. Right. The book is going to be either 22 or 23 chapters. I’m on, I’m finishing chapter 20 right now.
Doney: Yeah. That’s amazing.
Soglin: The majority of the work is over.
Soglin: And, are we recording? This is fine, this is fine.
Doney: I’ll give an opening, I can give an opening spiel in a sec.
Soglin: All this is fine. So where was I, what was I going to mention? The three chapters to go, now it just right went out of my mind. Undergraduate, graduate. Oh. So, there’s this conflict in — and it’s reflected in this movie Trading Places (1983) — are we influenced by genetics or our environment? Which is it? And I’m of the conclusion that it’s a combination of genetics and culture. And culture is the predominant determinant of, in every organization in the world, whether we’re talking religious, businesses, and government, whatever. So.
Soglin: That’s the start.
Doney: Yeah. Well, all right. So today —
Soglin: Oh, and the other thing about the book.
Doney: Yes, please.
Soglin: So I did three years of the work here in the graduate school.
Soglin: Then I went over to law school. I never got my degree. So what I’m counting on is when the book is published that the History Department is going to go back and say, okay, we’re going to take your book, you can have your doctorate.
Doney: Yeah. You’ve done the work.
Soglin: That’s my dream.
Doney: Yeah. So today is Friday the 17th of March 2023. I’m sitting down with Mayor Paul Soglin who entered the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1962, finished a bachelor’s degree with distinction in history in 1966, and got his law degree from the UW-Madison Law School in 1972. This is part of the George L. Mosse Oral History Project, which is part of the UW Archives Oral History Program. Mayor Soglin was elected to Madison’s Common Council in 1968, 1970, and 1972, and he’s been mayor of Madison for 22 years over three terms since he was first elected in April of 1973. We’re just going to start today with some real basic background about where you were born, what kind of milieu you grew up with, and sort of what your childhood was like in Chicago. The trajectory of your younger years.
Soglin: Sure. So, I was at the very leading edge of the baby boomers. By some demographics I’ve been thrown out. I was born in April 1945, ten days after President Roosevelt died, and on the day that the Allied Forces entered Berlin. My dad was in the Signal Corps. As it turned out, he was so good at mathematics and radio technology, he stayed stateside as an instructor for Signal Corps and did some special projects at Palo Alto. And I don’t think he met me until I was about six, seven months old.
My mother, at the time, when my dad returned, we lived with my grandparents, her mother and father, in the heaviest enclave of Jewish residents in Chicago, in West Lawndale. And after the war, my dad returned to get his master’s degree in mathematics and he taught in high schools for a while.
After the housing shortage eased up a little bit, when I was four, we left my grandparents and headed over to the Hyde Park, the Woodlawn and Hyde Park neighborhoods of Chicago. My mother’s goal and objective in determining where we lived was that we be close to the lake — she loved the lake — in an integrated, racially integrated neighborhood and also around a university. So that’s why we ended up in Woodlawn and later Hyde Park.
Dad actually did teach at Hyde Park High School for a while. Eventually he ended his career teaching at the University of Illinois Chicago Circle in their math department.
My parents were both very progressive politically. It would not be a misnomer to call me a “red diaper baby.” Before I was five, my mother was pushing me in a buggy around Fifth Army headquarters, which was at 51st and, 51st close to the lake, protesting nuclear armaments. Growing up was Pete Seeger (1914-1919) concerts at Mandel Hall, being in a very integrated neighborhood. One semester I was the only white kid in an elementary school class.
Hyde Park was interesting because we had a lot of Asian students, particularly Japanese. Because Hyde Park was one of the neighborhoods within the entire United States where the Nisei Japanese who were interned were, in effect, housed after their release at the end of the war.
There was a lot of political stuff going on, and I have to go back and look at my notes now. I think it’s the summer of 59 and I would have been a high school freshman. There were a number of us who did a sympathetic boycott of the Woolworths on 53rd Street in support of the sit-ins that were taking place in the South.
My dad and two other people refused to sign the Boyles Oath — I think this is 1953 or 54. The Boyles Oath was the loyalty oath that Illinois had passed. Interesting how it worked. You either signed the loyalty oath or, if you didn’t, you could continue teaching but you wouldn’t get paid. So refusing to sign did not mean you were fired. So for about a year and a half, we were supported with help from friends, some loans from my grandparents, and big support from the American Friends Service Committee in Philadelphia.
When they lost the case, my dad reluctantly signed it. And then about two, three years later, was very disappointed with himself when a similar loyalty oath went before the US Supreme Court and they were ruled unconstitutional.
My mother’s father, Grandpa Sentry, came here, I’m trying to remember the year. I think it’s — oh, I need my book now. (laughs) Anyway, he and some friends had thrown leaflets, political leaflets, over the balcony of a theater in Warsaw. There was an informer in the group who had marked the back of their coats with chalk. My grandfather got away. He and my grandmother managed to get to Hamburg. And they took a ship from Hamburg to New York, not traveling as husband and wife, but traveling as brother and sister, figuring that that would make it less likely that they’d be spotted by the authorities.
They were in New York for about a year. Word came that because he’d failed to be inducted into the tsar’s army — because what the government immediately did with his being a fugitive is they drafted him, which made him in effect a deserter and criminal, he’s already a criminal — they imprisoned his father, who was blind. So he was really put in a bind and decided he had to return. He crossed back to London and got word that they’d bribed the right officials. His father was out of prison and so came back to the United States. By 1910, my oldest uncle had been born in Brooklyn, and then the family moved to Chicago.
My other grandfather, by the way, was also a draft dodger. Aaron, and the correct spelling of the name is T-S-O-G-L-I-N which, of course, got screwed up. He lived in a small village in what’s now Belarus and he was a second son. First sons were exempt from the army, because they were needed to take care of their parents in their old age and so what happened in these small little villages is if there was a family, an elderly family who was not going to have children, that did not have a son, when Grandpa Tsoglin was born, he was registered as Yankl Katzoff in the birth registries, the son of the Katzoffs. And of course the whole village kept these secrets because everybody in the village was culpable.
Soglin: So his immigration papers, Yankl Katzoff, arrived here, and he, too, made his way to Chicago eventually. His real name came out when he filled his applications for naturalization. And that’s when and how we discovered what was going on was his naturalization papers. So, I guess I come from a long line of draft dodgers, felons, and whatever.
Doney: Yeah. An American story.
Doney: So you’re steeped in this milieu, you come from this political background. Your parents are engaged politically. Your great-grandparents are engaged politically. Coupled with that, do you have an early interest in history?
Soglin: At Hyde Park High School, I took a course with, he changed his first name to Barak, Barak Rosenshine (1930-2017). I can’t remember what his first name was. And he was our American history teacher. And one of the things he did within the classroom is he showed us these movies, Why We Fight (1942-1945). These were the propaganda movies that the Defense Department had produced during World War II. And that along with family activities gave me a real interest in history, which I was doing all sorts of stuff in those days. I was writing away to the House Un-American Activities Committee, getting all of their publications. We’d been involved in the picketing. I had done a number of projects about the history of Chicago and Illinois.
And so when it came time to choosing a university, my choices were, really it came down to the University of Illinois and the University of Wisconsin. I considered Colorado, decided it was a waste of time to apply for Stanford, because it was just impractical in terms of the cost of going back and forth. My dad wanted me to apply to the University of Chicago. I wanted to go away for school.
And the big appeal of the University of Wisconsin was Gaylord Nelson was governor (1916-2005) and had this outstanding reputation as a progressive. I knew the legacy of the La Follettes. And the University of Wisconsin had, even before the Civil Rights Movement, a history of progressivism. And it was reflected in the fact that this was the only university, public land grant school, that did not have required ROTC.
You had to take a five-hour introduction to ROTC. I think it was Tuesdays and Thursdays the first and second weeks and Tuesday the third week of school. And that was it. And I just could not see myself walking around at the University of Illinois campus wearing an ROTC uniform. That was what sealed the deal.
Doney: Okay. (laughs) So maybe before we come to Madison, you mentioned one teacher in US history in your high school. Were there any other influential teachers or individuals that got you interested in history?
Soglin: I think Mr. Rosenshine was the key one.
Doney: Was the, yeah, is the key. Okay.
Soglin: That and just the environment.
Doney: Yeah. Okay. So you arrive, you arrive in Madison in 1962. Is that correct?
Soglin: Yeah. And the first three semesters were a disaster.
Doney: Okay. Can you talk about that? Before you become a history major—
Soglin: My dad and I don’t see eye to eye. And he’s determined that I’m going to be a doctor. And I wasn’t in much of a position at that point to argue. So my first year, I took a pre-med agenda. I had my freshman English. I took a course in calculus and analytical geometry. I took German. And I took chemistry —not ordinary chemistry, no, Paul, you’ve got to take chemistry for chem majors and pre-med students. So, by the end of my first year, I don’t even have a two point.
Sophomore year, first semester, I get here all excited, ready. I’ve got to retake the calculus course that I had flunked, which was horrible, given that my father is a mathematician.
Doney: Oh, yeah.
Soglin: I’m taking biology. I’d signed up for a lit course, whatever. The point is this: about three days before classes started, I jump out of bed, I hadn’t been feeling well, and my pajama bottoms literally fell off of me. Turns out I had lost eight pounds and I had mononucleosis.
So what I do is I go to the health center. I get hospitalized immediately. I’m in the hospital for the first two weeks of school. I end up dropping a couple of courses. I should have dropped out of school. I remember that as late as Thanksgiving, I was still going to sleep as early as seven and eight o’clock at night from the mono. But I didn’t want to drop out of school, fearful of the draft. So I stayed in school that semester and I got a 1.5. So I’m already in the red zone. A 1.5 is the lowest grade point I could have gotten that third semester without being flunked out of school for two years.
Soglin: Barely made it. And it was even worse than that because one of my grades was mis-entered and instead of being a C, it was entered as a D. And so I spent 24 hours getting that grade corrected because they wouldn’t give me registration papers, because technically I’d flunked out.
Second semester, my dad says, “Yeah, do whatever the hell you want. It’s your life.” So, second semester I took American history with the newly-arrived Stanley Kutler (1934-2015). And even though he was not may major professor in grad school, he really became my advisor. Undergraduate, graduate, and we even, when I got elected mayor in 73, sometime in the next year or so I appointed him to the library board, which he’d been asking for.
Soglin: And then he immediately turned and resigned. Because he was too busy with the Nixon tapes.
Soglin: So I took Stan’s American history course. I took a course in heredity, which I thought was interesting because of Professor James Crow (1916-2012), who had a reputation that went beyond the Genetics Department. Took an English lit course, took an anthro course, and I took Professor Mosse’s European and Modern World History: 1815 to the Present. I was sold. Between Kutler, I mean, we were to say, I was to say in later years that from this point on, through my graduate years, the History Department of the University of Wisconsin was like the 1927 New York Yankees.
Murderer’s Row. I mean, the depth of the department in all areas — US, European, Asian, everything — was just incredible, and if you look at me as in 1964, 65, nineteen, twenty-year-old kid, and I’m starting off with a course with George Mosse and Stanley Kutler. And I could feel it at the time, the insight and what they brought to the classroom. Yeah. So from that point on, for my last two years, basically all I took was history and political science, and many of the courses were cross-listed. [Alfred] Senn (1932-2016), who was teaching Soviet history, [Michael] Petrovich (1922-1989) was teaching Russian history, and I believe both of their courses were cross-listed between history and political science. There were a couple other courses I took. So almost every semester for the next two years, I was changing my major back and forth from history to political science because I wasn’t sure which, what I was going to do afterwards. Did I want to go to law school? Did I want to go to graduate school in history? Did I want to go to graduate school in political science? And so as the needle shifted, I’d go into the registrar’s office and say, “Could I change the listing on this course from history to political science?” Or vice versa.
So, at that point, I’m also engaged in political activity on campus. The first semester I had immediately gotten involved with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee [SNCC] and became the treasurer for SNCC, which was mainly hanging onto, depositing the nickels and quarters that we collected either going door to door in Madison’s East, Near East, and Northeast sides, or cookie sales, if we could muster up the time and the effort.
October of 1963 was the month before President Kennedy is assassinated. There’s a demonstration on the steps of the Memorial Union opposing the presence of US military advisors in Vietnam. And that was the first campus antiwar demonstration, mostly an assembly of people who were involved in SANE (National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy), the antinuclear movement, Women’s International Movement for Peace and Freedom, and some campus peace organizations and socialist clubs. And that was obviously to continue for the next several, for a decade, really. We made a lot of accusations. That they weren’t just military advisors, that US troops were involved in combat. Little did we know how right we were. Congressman Bob Kastenmeier (1924-2015) sent a telegram in support which was read. And soon after that, the Committee to End the War in Vietnam, which Frank Emspak played a major role in, was organized. And despite an active presence of SDS, the Committee to End the War in Vietnam was really the major antiwar vehicle.
And I should mention here, jumping ahead, one of the things that occurred in Madison as we get into the late 60s and we start getting the sectarianism and the real ideological battles, while we had different factions in Madison in this period up through 70, we didn’t have the splits and the violence internally that was seen in Chicago, in Berkeley, with the breakoffs of progressive labor, SDS, Rim 1, Rim 2 and so on. And the reason for that is we had, and Paul Buhle accounts for this a lot, a united front. Every peace organization, every political activist group on the left, had representation at the table where decisions were made. And the Committee to End the War in Vietnam was sort of the glue that held the whole thing together. But that made Madison very different when we get into that post-68, post-Democratic convention period.
Doney: Well maybe before we get to 68, let’s stick with these four years you have on campus. You mentioned some of the faculty that you worked with: Senn, Mosse, Kutler. Maybe you could talk a little bit about those courses?
Soglin: Well, I took both American history courses with Kutler, as well as his constitutional history class and I enjoyed it and I enjoyed what he did with me. It was a large lecture. And he would stop sometimes and he’d ask questions of students, really tough ones. And he frequently called on me, which was obviously an honor in a large lecture to have that happen. And he, with, particularly with the background in constitutional history, he, like my dad, had plans for me, only Stan’s plans were that I get my doctorate and I go to law school. And he was influential in all of my letters of recommendation.
I took one very boring course from a professor who was more traditional. That was [William] Sachse’s course in English constitutional history. He sat there at a table, at a desk. There were thirty of us or so in the class. And he had these yellowed, three-by-five index cards, several inches thick. And his lectures were looking at an index card, telling us something for three, four minutes about the Magna Carta, taking the index card, putting it at the bottom of his stack and reading the next one. He is, as far as I can remember, and that’s why he stands out, the only professor who basically read his lectures. Others worked off of notes.
Solgin: But he stood out for that reason. In American history, there was just absolutely brilliant. I mean, there’s professors there like [J.] Rogers Hollingsworth (1932-2019) who didn’t get the kind of attention but I think were just a major, major factor in regards to giving us a perception of what happened in this country in that very critical period following the Civil War to the beginning of the twentieth century in terms of understanding that being opposed to slavery does not free one of being a racist and that the South diligently worked to, in effect, reinstitute slavery through the Jim Crow laws.
The other thing was taking us into the debate — and now I’m blanking out on the author that everybody read on the subject — the debate was the opposition to slavery driven by moral issues or was it driven by the economic competition between the North and the South. So he and Professor [Richard] Sewell (1931-2020), not the one who was chancellor in Soc, but the history professor, they really took us down that path which really has not been seriously embraced in this country until the past decade.
[William Appleman] Williams (1921-1990) and foreign policy, I mean, my goodness. Talk about a course that completely understood the nature of Manifest Destiny and the hypocrisy of American foreign policy — we’re going to keep everybody else out of the America because we’re going to control the Americas and in doing so, we have to have outposts all over the world. We’re not there as imperialists; we’re there to save democracy.
Let’s see. Who else have we got here? I took another course that a lot of the people, the political activists didn’t take. And that was J. Austin Ranney’s (1920-2006) course on state parties and politics, which is basically the history of Wisconsin politics.
Soglin: That was a very important course, learning about everything from the splits within the traditional Republican Party and the progressives to — there’s certain stuff I’m not sure where I learned it, but I’m pretty sure what I’m about to recount came from his course.
One was the history of the University of Wisconsin being very different from other land grant schools, not just ROTC, but the admission of out-of-state students. Wisconsin was very different in that regard, going all the way back to [Robert M.] La Follete [Sr.] (1855-1925), the idea of being, we want to have a heterogenous academic environment because that is going to bring out in effect the best, and so we have to bring in diversity from our faculty and our students. And it seems to me that by the time I got here, if I remember the numbers correctly, a third of Wisconsin’s undergraduates and half of its graduate students were out-of-state. If you compare that to other Big Ten universities, most of them were in the 2-3 % range. Michigan and Ohio State may have been at about 8% or 10%. But Wisconsin, going back to the 20s, brought in out-of-state agitators. And I think that’s all well documented in Buhle’s book. And that had a profound impact on the university.
So, we’ve got the out-of-state presence, we’ve got the diversity in the faculty, which we obviously see then in the history department because at that point in the 50s, we bring in [Harvey] Goldberg (1922-1987), we bring in Mosse. And that’s where [Fred Harvey] Harrington (1912-1995) a bold, courageous academician. I don’t know that that’s exactly how he would term it properly, I would suppose that’s where Harrington was not politically intimidated, where he was going to bring in the best minds. Oh, and [William Appleman] Williams, obviously.
And by the way, that gets to a very central point to me as a historian, which is — and this is a theme that comes throughout the history department — are major catalyst events a result of the act of one person or are they something that is in the collective that is going to continue? If there’d been no Hitler, would there still have been a Nazi movement in Germany?
And I went from believing that it was events and movements that shaped things to finally coming to the conclusion, no, they may be the base for individuals making decisions and having a profound impact, but it’s individuals, and so Harrington’s presence — and obviously he had more influence on the history department than the other departments in the UW — Harrington’s influence had a profound impact on the nature of the history department faculty, which in turn had a profound influence on the politics of the campus.
After the first, after the Dow demonstration in October of 67, the faculty met, I believe it was at the law school, the large law school lecture room. And I’m outside. And believe it or not, my three favorite professors are all standing together: George Mosse, Stanley Kutler, and Kenneth Dolbeare (b. 1930) in the political science department. And I said to them — we were discussing the events — and I said to them, “Well, all we’re doing is putting into action what you’re teaching us.” And all three of them had this ashen face. I said, “No, no, no. You didn’t teach us to get involved in violent demonstrations. You taught us the role we could play in terms of impacting events.” They looked a little better after that. So, I’m jumping ahead.
Doney: No, it’s fine. Yeah, so let’s —
Soglin: I’ve got to tell another, one more thing about George.
Doney: Yeah, please do.
Soglin: And this is in my book. So we’re in the large lecture hall in cultural, I think it was cultural history. 272 Bascom, is that the right number?
Soglin: We’re in 272 Bascom. George is lecturing. I was very good at taking notes and so I’m furiously taking my notes and casually looking around. And every one of us, couple hundred students in the lecture hall, are all in the same physical position, hunched over, furiously writing our notes.
And I don’t know what came over me. I decided for a moment to stop taking notes. And I just look up and I stare at George. And his eyes is wandering around the room, looking at his students, and all he’s seeing is the tops of everybody’s heads. Until he sees my face just looking at him kind of smiling. And he is so stunned that somebody is looking at him, he loses his place in the lecture and stutters for a moment. (laughter)
Doney: That’s great.
Soglin: I immediately go back down looking at my notes. But that was his lectures. Everybody just furiously taking notes and that’s preventing us from directly engaging with him.
Doney: Yeah. Wow. Let’s maybe stick with Mosse. Well, and with all of these other faculty. Because you’ve mentioned this moment of sort of activism and the classroom coming together right after Dow and your conversation with three faculty. What is the, what’s the interplay you see between the books you’re reading for class, the essays you’re writing, and then the Committee to End the War in Vietnam and the work that you’re doing outside of the classroom? How are these things intermingling?
Soglin: All right. So let me just go back to Dolbeare for a second.
Soglin: Dolbeare’s teaching American intellectual political — wait, what was the name of the course? History of Contemporary Political Thought (U.S.). It’s important. Contemporary American Political Thought was one of the courses and the other one was Introduction to American Political Thought, or the history of it. First day of class, he’s got two stacks of books on his desk. One stack is probably, it’s less than a foot. Maybe eight, ten inches high. The other stack is two feet high. He says, pointing to the higher stack, “This is what you read if you take a course in European political thought. This is what you read,” he’s pointing to the smaller stack, “in my course in American political thought. And it’s real simple. There’s not a lot written about American political thought.” But what comes out of these books is that most of the American political thought is very conservative.
It’s focused on the individual. And it’s a very different body of work that you get from Mosse’s course because Mosse’s course, the literature in it, covers not individuals as much as it covers movements. Masses. People coming together. Antisemitism is not a decade old when Hitler comes to power in Germany, it’s a thousand years old. It’s in the culture. It’s in [Richard] Wagner (1813-1883).
So, what we were sharing with them is that they were showing us the ability to influence events. There are people who have influenced events by coming together, by trying to go into the culture and the social history. And I’ll give you one classic example. When we did political organizing in the Lakeshore dorms, which I think have been replaced by a newer set of dorms. When you go in there, you don’t talk, if you want to talk about oppression, you don’t talk about Vietnam. You talk about the quality of the food in the cafeteria. You reach people on the basis of something they can relate to. And so they didn’t tell us to go out there and demonstrate, but the content of the courses showed us how political change takes place.
And when Nixon — when Kutler was working on the Watergate papers, actually, this is before that. No, no, no, it’s after Watergate, because that’s the point of the story. He said to me, he said, “You guys didn’t understand how powerful you were as a movement.” And he said, “You brought down two presidents: Johnson and Nixon.”
I said, “Wait a minute. I understand Johnson. But Nixon?”
He says, “Oh, yes, Nixon.” He said, “It was in response to your demonstrations that Nixon went outside the constitution of the United States, engaged in criminal activity, because it was the only way he knew how to deal with you. And consequently, that’s what led to his impeachment.”
There’s one person who anybody listening to this is going to say, “Wait a second. You have not mentioned one of the most influential members of the department.” And that’s Harvey Goldberg. I never took a Goldberg course. I went, like many people who weren’t enrolled, to his lectures. And there’s a lot of discussions about the dominant influence of Mosse and Goldberg, and their differences. Goldberg did not influence me for the very reason that George did. And that was, I didn’t see Goldberg as being scientific. Goldberg, who was driven emotionally. Goldberg, unlike Mosse, did not give an intellectual understanding of history. It was all through Goldberg’s eyes as a social historian. Mosse, when you look at what Mosse had us read, Gustave Le Bon (1841-1931), [Georges-Louis] Le Clerc [Comte de Buffon] (1707-1788), whoever, the Freudians. Mosse to me gave depth and an understanding as to why people did what they did. I didn’t get that from Goldberg.
Now another person that I hadn’t mentioned who had the same impact as Mosse was Professor [William R.] Taylor (1922-2014), who taught American, what was the title of his course?
Was his the History of American Thought? It was some kind of intellectual American history. I can remember reading Norman O. Brown (1913-2002). What was the title of his book? [George] Santayana (1863-1952). And so I do have to mention Professor Taylor because he, too, I saw him, in fact, aligned intellectually with Professor Mosse. I don’t know if a historian who reads their works would agree, but that’s where I’m coming from.
Doney: Yeah, yeah.
Soglin: So we come out of 63, 64. The war is building. And George is now reminding us, and I’ve been sloppy about this in our discussion here, that there’s a difference between a protest and a movement. Because we weren’t really a movement, we were a protest at that point because we had not formulated a vision of society, a coherent one. So, our protests are moving from picketing into the world of civil disobedience. And the civil disobedience comes to a head first in the antiwar, the draft protests of May of 66 in the administration building. And of course, that is one of the saddest events because it could have been such a great moment where one of our favorite professors comes in, and that’s Williams. And he’s drunk. And it was a rambling, incoherent statement to us. It was sad, which didn’t change our opinion of him in the classroom, but at that moment, it’s not one you want to go back and recapture.
I write a note to Harrington as it’s resolved, which is going to have an impact later on, telling him how proud I am to be a UW student. And the police were never brought in. We eventually dispersed.
Now how that took place is a bit manipulative. Because the night before the occupation, a large crowd of a couple of hundred people, which diminished as the night went on to maybe forty or fifty, voted not to sit in. And so after the successive votes not to sit in, another vote is taken to gather on the lawn outside the administration building the following morning and make the decision again. Well now only twenty or thirty people show up. Those are the most militant who want to sit in. They take a vote and we sit in. So it’s just, you know, outlast everybody.
Soglin: And that’s how that took place.
Doney: We’re at a bit of a fulcrum here, I think. Because you’ve talked about the courses that you’ve taken. We’re moving toward political events that I think happened right after you graduate, or shortly after you graduate.
Soglin: So I graduate two weeks later after the sit-in.
Doney: After the sit-in.
Soglin: The administration building sit-in.
Doney: Okay. Should we talk about then this, what happens after you graduate? This is in 66, and —
Soglin: So, we finish the semester. I’ve now switched for the last time all the mixed courses to history. And so that summer I make about a half a dozen applications, which include applications to the University of Illinois history and political science departments — excuse me, history and law schools, and the UW. I eventually neglect the University of Illinois, saying, I’m going back to Madison. There’s no question about it. That’s where my political comfort is. That’s where my friends are.
On the day of registration, I have two registration packets — one for history, one for the law school. I kind of look at myself and I say, history is where I’m at.
It’s more fun, that’s where I’m comfortable, and so on. Kutler’s class, by the time I make the decision, his seminar was filled. So, I get the newly-arrived Paul Glad (1926-2018). And now I embark on my graduate work in history, mostly focused on the Hollywood Ten, because their papers are here, and the House Un-American Activities Committee. That takes me into, and the paper is gone. Thomas Amlie (1897-1973) represented this congressional district in the 1930s in Congress for a couple of terms. His brother fought in the Spanish Civil War. And I thought that he was grossly overlooked. And maybe that’s in a direction I want to go. His widow was still alive living in the Vilas neighborhood. I met and interviewed her. Like I said, the paper’s been lost in time. It just bothers me no end especially because it turns out some of the people I know were relatives of hers. (laughs)
Soglin: Tracy Nelson (b. 1944), the folk singer from Madison, blues singer, country singer, she’s an Amlie. So anyway, it was tough balancing graduate work and all the political stuff that was going to take place now from the fall of 66 through 69.
Doney: Do you want to take a break?
Soglin: No, I’m doing fine.
Doney: Ok. Let’s get into that, then. Although I had one sort of question under academics which we didn’t really get into,
Doney: which is if you had a favorite history book from your undergraduate years, if there was a title that really stands out.
Soglin: There are two books that I use to this day, and I used extensively in my research, though there’s more. And that is Cultural History [The Culture of Western Europe: The Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, 1961, 2023] and Williams’ Tragedy [The Tragedy of American Diplomacy, 1959]. In the course of writing my book, because I was an idiot like everybody else, I’d get rid of my textbooks when I was done with them, I reacquired both of those books. I also, what’s the Leclerc book that Mosse kept referring to? It’s probably in this room.
Soglin: Well, one of his books, two of Professor — well, Mosse’s biography I already had. But I also picked up another one of his books. Oh, Nationalization of the Masses. So, I spent about $100-$150 on about a half a dozen books that came out of — yeah, there we are (laughs) — that came out of, principally out of Williams’ and Mosse’s courses, though I also did—this is why the book’s taking so long, because I start writing about Mosse and Williams and then I’d have to get their books, and then I’d read their books, and I’ve ended up reading several papers and books about the, what is the subject called? The histography?
Doney: Yeah, the historiography.
Soglin: About the Wisconsin history department.
Soglin: So, I’ve got quite a, several of those. That’s why this book is taking so long. It’s their fault.
Doney: Yeah. It’s a deep dive. Yeah. Well, you know, books always just lead to more books. That’s the slippery slope of reading. So here we are. All right. So you are now enrolled in Paul Glad’s graduate seminar and I think that the political events on campus are about to escalate.
Soglin: Yes, including what happens in the graduate history collective.
Doney: You want to talk about that?
Soglin: And that is the most militant of the history RAs and TAs. At that point, we’re somewhere in around 68. I’m pretty sure it’s 68. There’s already been clashes between [E.] David Cronon and Stanley Kutler about the direction of the department. And Cronon becomes chairman.
So we’re having a meeting with the history department faculty and I unceremoniously call David Cronon an asshole in the meeting. Even Kutler told me afterwards that was not appropriate. The reason that’s important is in 69, 68-69, Glad goes on sabbatical and Cronon takes over our seminar. So here it is. Seminar, American history, where is it? Anyway, I got a C. Now, several things happened in that spring semester of the 68-69 school year. One is in April of 68, I’d gotten elected to the city council so from that point on, I’ve got that. There’s been major demonstrations. I was involved, and we have to talk about Dow, and we’ll go back to that. So I’m involved in the Dow case on free speech against the university, Soglin v. Kauffman as the lead plaintiff. And in May of 69, at the Mifflin Street block party, I get arrested twice. So you take all that and the C in the seminar and I’m getting married…maybe it’s time to go to law school.
So I very quickly — I only had like a week to take the law school exams — I take the law school exams, apply, and I get a call from the secretary of the dean. I don’t get a letter. “Would you come in and see Dean [G.W.] Foster (d. 2002)?” And again, Stanley helped me with a letter of recommendation. And George may have, too.
So I go in there, and he looks at me and he says, “We’re not sure if we’re using our best judgment. But you are going to be admitted to the law school, and I want to tell you you got in by the skin of your teeth, and there’s a lot of us who are very concerned about how you’ll do because of all of your outside activities.
We want to point out to you that you have to devote yourself to your law school studies and —and this was icing on the cake — we are afraid you may turn out like Gaylord Nelson and never practice law. Well, I’m feeling pretty — (laughs)
Doney: Not bad company.
Soglin: I’m feeling pretty well-complimented at that point. (laughter) And I very politely say, “I hear you. Thank you,” and all that. And that’s how my history career ended and I ended up in law school.
Doney: So Kutler—
Soglin: That summer of sixty- — and Kutler says, “You’re going to come back and get your doctorate.”
Doney: Okay. You do JD first and then come back to PhD.
Soglin: And finish it. Because I had enough credits even with a C. I was on a, at that point we had a program where you went straight through to your doctorate and sort of along the way, you got your master’s. So I never even got my master’s.
Doney: Oh, wow.
Soglin: I am without degree. So let’s go back to, we’ve got to go to the Dow.
Doney: Yeah, sure.
Soglin: So after the administration building materializes, a series of demonstrations, and then we get to Dow in October of 67. The plan was very simple. The instructions were clear. Don’t carry any sharp objects. No pencils, no protractors. Don’t, women, don’t wear your earrings. And we are going to peacefully sit in. So I’m about two-thirds of the way back in the hall, the east-west corridor with everybody else. That’s when the police made their first assault on the doorway. They regrouped and then came back in. The big issue at that time was how were the police confronted in that doorway? The doorway is recessed, so when you’re in that hallway, you do not have a view of it because it’s to the left of the wall. And for years the argument was did they come in swinging, busting the glass, and immediately attacking people who fought them?
Or did the students hang onto the doors trying to keep them out and when the police managed to get in, did they just start swinging at people? And since I never saw it, I always explained to folks when asked to recount this, I always said to folks, we don’t know. I could not visually see it. I only know what happened when they brutally came down the hallway beating people, including me.
Then, I can’t remember the year, I want to say 2006. So, David Maraniss (b. 1949) has published They Marched into Sunlight. And at the auditorium in the Historical Society building, there’s a presentation and there’s a lot of people present, including some police officers who were present that day. And the question comes up, did the students attack the police or was it the other way around? One police officer gets up in that part of the discussion and there’s one sentence that was very clear and answered it all: “They told us to clear the hallway. They did not tell us how.” And for me, when you take that and all the documentation of what happened that day, it is very clear to me that they came in swinging, never had an intention of meeting our sit-in by peacefully dragging us out. And what I’ve pieced together in terms of what happened in the preceding hours is this — and I don’t know if you’re aware of this — I had wrote a column for the Cardinal when [William H.] Sewell (1909-2001) became chancellor in effect predicting and saying he was going to fail when this stuff happened. And this goes to management and leadership and something else that I’ve learned over the decades: just because you’re the best person at fixing a computer for the organization doesn’t mean you’re the best person to manage the IT department.
Just because you’re the best person, the most efficient at mowing the lawn in a park doesn’t mean you’re going to make the best park superintendent. And just because you’re a great professor in your subject does not mean you can manage a university.
So, in those hours preceding what happened after noon on that day in October 67, Sewell knew, with advice from [Ralph] Hanson in the university safety and protection department, or whatever it was called in those days, he knew that he could not allow a repeat of the draft sit-in of May of 66. The corridor had to be cleared. And when they called in the Madison police, they failed to tell them how they wanted to do it. The Madison Police Department, still motivated by their being ignored in May of 66, knows exactly what they want to do to efficiently clear the building, and that’s to come in swinging clubs and drive us out of there.
Of course, the other important thing that happened at that time was that the 1:20 classes were just letting out. Those students were just leaving their classrooms. The 2:25 students were just arriving. And where is the greatest assembly outside of Camp Randall of UW students? It is in the pathways around Social Science, Commerce, and Bascom. So thousands and thousands of students not in any way involved are tear gassed and some beaten. And that’s how it happened.
After I’d gotten beaten, they took me to old University Hospital. I got stitched up. I returned a couple hours later. By that time, there’s some police guarding stuff.
There’s some police guarding stuff. I go back to Commerce, I explain that my books are still there. They let me in. I grab my books. I go around Bascom and I run into two people simultaneously: Dean [Joseph F.] Kauffman (1921-2006), who was the defendant in our free speech case in the federal court, and our lawyer, Percy [L.] Julian [Jr.] (1940-2008). So I start screaming at Kauffmann, “You lied to us! You lied to us!” referring to if we peacefully sit in, we’ll be peacefully taken out. I’m so angry, tears start flowing. And Percy pulls me aside and comforts me, and then I head down the hill, and of course we all reemerged that night in the giant meeting that took place, which I think was in 272. I’m not sure. I think it was in 272.
Well by that time, all of the main organizers are gone. All the people with the mass. Evan Stark (b. 1942) is gone, Bob Cohen’s gone. Everybody’s gone. There are no leaders. And somehow I become co-chair of the strike committee, along with Ira Shor (b. 1945). I think Ira was in sociology. I can’t remember.
And so for the next couple of days — and this is something that actually goes back to Mosse, and what I learned about protests and movements — it’s either Saturday or Sunday following all this, we’ve been at it for three or four days. Everybody is physically and emotionally spent. So we’re having this giant rally on the library mall. And I believe it was Frank Emspak who was up there with me. And the question is do we do a peaceful march down State Street or with all the keys that all the RAs and TAs in the history department have, do we go take over Bascom Hall? Because we can get in.
So we take a vote and we do it by having the crowd separate: those in favor to one side, those opposed to the other. And it’s evenly split. Frank and I are the only ones up there looking down and my feeling at this point is we are disorganized. Unless we want to end up in the French commune, the Paris Commune, we had better not go take Bascom Hall. Let’s declare victory and end it now. So even though there was no clearcut majority for marching up State Street, we declared that the majority has voted to go up State Street and post our demands on the doors to the state Capitol.
But that decision, even though I was at that point among the most militant — I mean, after all, I had sat in three days earlier — I knew we were done. And I knew that we didn’t have the structure, that we didn’t have the resources to continue this. So that’s how we faded out at that point.
Doney: Yeah. Yeah. Still doing okay?
Soglin: All right. Yeah.
Doney: All right. Let me stop this.
End Track 1.
Soglin: So let’s, all right, so politically, in 67, in 67, I, or 68, I can’t remember now. Let me just think this out. In the spring of 67, I’d gotten elected — I’d been in student government — I got elected as a delegate to the National Student Association. And NSA has got a lot of, National Student Association, had a lot of connections to Madison. It was founded here. Ed Garvey (1940-2017) was intimately involved as a student. Margery Tabankin (b. 1948) eventually became one of the most important leaders in NSA history in 68-69.
So 1968, the NSA convention is in Manhattan, Kansas and I was actually asked to be president. We had an elect vote. I lost by 30 votes because by the spring of 68 I’m on city council. And I said, I’m not giving up my city council seat. NSA was based in Washington. And I said, I’ll commute. And so, I don’t know, of 800 votes cast or whatever, I lost it. Minnesota delegation, which made the final decision, said if you promise to go to Washington, we’ll vote for you. Well, no.
So anyway, so it’s 68. We’re back here — excuse me, so I’m with a guy named Mike Rossman (1939-2008), wrote a very interesting book called The Wedding within the War (1971). So Rossman and I drive with a couple other guys to Chicago — oh, while we were there, Tom Hayden (1939-2016), on his way to Chicago, stops to recruit people to come to Chicago for the convention. And as I’ve told other people, if I had been called as a witness at his trial and if I was asked the question did Tom Hayden encourage people to cross state lines to commit acts of violence against the government of the United States, I’d have a very hard time saying no.
(laughs) So. So, anyway. And Tom and I would become friends over the years.
So, anyway, we drive to Chicago. We get to Lincoln Park. We park the car and we go and we look at everything. I’ve got my bag with my clothes, and — oh, we run into, we run into Jerry Rubin (1938-1994). Jerry Rubin is with a young woman from Madison, Julie Maynard, who it turns out is an FBI informant. She was kind of what we’d call staffing him at the time. She’d worked her way into Rubin’s trust.
So I haven’t seen my family for a while so I head home. So that night, I drive back and I’m there for a couple of hours. I kind of look around and I say, you know, I’ve already been beaten once. This is not going to end well. (laughs) I go home and then the next day I come back to Madison. And then that night, all hell breaks loose. So that’s Paul and the Democratic convention.
Doney: Democratic convention, yeah.
Soglin: So, the next big event is the Mifflin Street block party, a couple of arrests. But we’re now into 69 and 70. I’m in the city council for one term. I’m now in law school having my own struggles there because of doing political stuff. I participate in the TA strike, not going to classes for God knows how long it was. Fortunately they allow us a pass/fail option for some courses without taking exams.
And by the time I graduate from law school in the spring of 72, there’s still protests. A lot of the stuff revolves around Karleton Armstrong. But 00:06:00 the bombing of the Army Math Research Center in August of 1970 really does take the winds out of our sail. And demonstrate, demonstrate that we are a protest and not a movement. At that point, I am determined to build a movement. And really throw myself into city government and organizing around that. That’s the story in my book. And people don’t realize it, but up until my election of mayor in 1973, if you go back over the previous decade, half of the people elected mayor of Madison were Republicans. Half were Democrats. This was not the city that we are today. It was profoundly different.
But what goes on at that point, and we see it in so many different ways. The women’s movement. Focus on racism. Mostly the vehicle at that point was organizing around affirmative action. Though as mayor, one of the things I was very adamant, very successful in doing, was taking all the city committees and boards that I could control and they were no longer dominated by white males. Sophie [Klausner] Zermuehlen (1933-2020) was a, there’s two very important people who are immigrants from Germany that have an influence. One is Jack von Mettenheim and the other is Sophie Zermuehlen. Both of whom were anti-fascists in Germany. And I never understood this till I met them, because I was always very suspicious of Germans who had immigrated to the United States after the war. The reason they left Germany was they were not comfortable. Even though the Nazi government was gone, they were outcasts because of what they had done.
Jack von Mettenheim got arrested several times and 00:09:00 was in concentration camps. And only because of his family’s connections did he avoid execution. Sophie’s father was a farmer. And so he was very fortunate in getting released from the German army because he was needed to produce food. And that kept her family in effect out of the politics, which means this young teenage girl is thinking for herself. And she comes here, Sophie comes here, some, oh, I can’t think of the name of it. There’s some German academic exchange program.
Doney: Yeah, the DAAD. The German Academic Exchange Service, yeah.
Soglin: Okay. So I think that’s what brought her here. She does some graduate work. And she becomes a language instructor or something. Well, she ends up in this enclave out in Crestwood of very progressive, liberal people. And I meet her and these other folks while I’m campaigning for mayor in 1971 as well as 73. So the city plan commission, city plan commission, was all white male bankers and developers and real estate people. I appointed Sophie to the plan commission. She said, “What can I do? What do I know?”
I said, “Sophie, you’re thoughtful. You’re thoughtful and analytical. That’s all we need.” And that’s the kind of appointments I started making.
Jack von Mettenheim, he asked me of only one thing. Make Madison an antiwar, make Madison a peace city. He said, “I don’t care what you do about the sewers. I don’t care what you do about Monona Terrace. Just do that.” And he and—I’m trying to remember the name of this Jewish businessman. They two were the original founders of Businessmen Against the War. Where were we? Where did you want this to go?
Doney: No, it can go any direction that we want to take it. 00:12:00 But I’m curious about the decision to run for mayor. Was that, that was in the works for a while, then. Because you’re going to finish law school?
Soglin: In 71, I run for mayor as a protest candidate.
Doney: Still in law school?
Soglin: Still in law school. And I do well on campus. Seventy-three’s election approaches. And I say to myself, okay. This is a chance to change something, to build something. And it’s a longshot. So here’s the dynamics of what happens. There are three credible candidates on the left for mayor. It’s a primary, non-partisan. We know that Bill [William] Dyke (1930-2016) is the incumbent, conservative, is going to finish one of the top two spots. The other three people are Leo Cooper, a wonderful guy, railroad worker. Had run unsuccessfully and lost to Dyke two years later in 71. Then there was Dave [David] Stewart, lived in the University Heights area. Was an administrator here at the UW. And of course what everyone’s concern is from the left, is that I can’t beat Dyke while the other two, clearly the city is moving to the left. Clearly the city is going to reject Bill Dyke. But I am the worst possible candidate to do that.
So because of the enormous student turnout in a very close race, I finish second. And Stewart and Leo finish third and fourth. So now we have a, and I have a very enormous responsibility. I’ve knocked those two guys out of it, I have to beat Dyke.
My campaign manager is Judy Sikora. And what happens with Judy is emblematic of what needs to be done. Judy had worked, I found her, as a campaign manager, she’d never managed anything political. But she was a major organizer for the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. The night of the primary, a lot of the leaders of the Cooper and the Stewart campaigns suck it in and come to my 00:15:00 campaign office. Led by Susan Herbst (1930 – 2012), the wife of Jurgen Herbst (1928 – 2013), my good buddy from educational policy studies. He was another of my favorite professors. Because I loved just one thing I learned in his course. And that was reading the documents from Bologna, I think it’s the fifteenth century, about the townspeople complaining about the, what’s the word? I want to say cruising?
Doney: Of the students?
Soglin: Of the students keeping them up all night on the weekends.
Doney: Yeah, yeah. That’s great.
Soglin: That’s why history’s so important. This has been going on for almost a thousand years. Sounded familiar. So anyway, I have to make a decision. The structure of my existing campaign will not win this election. I have to show to get enthusiasm and momentum. And so I have this very difficult conversation with Judy Sikora. You’re no longer campaign manager. Sue Herbst is going to be campaign manager. We make all these other changes. And you can imagine how that deflated all these people who loyally and fanatically stayed with me, building to the point where we win the primary. And now—they’re not out, they just don’t have the same authority that they had before. And it’s got to be a bigger tent. You can blame George Mosse for that decision. In terms of understanding the difference between protests and movements and how they work. And so that’s probably the first really memorable time that as shall we say an administrator I make one of those decisions.
And we win. And yes, we go on for six years as mayor. Appoint Stanley Kutler to the library board because he wants to fight censorship. Then he abandons me because he thinks Richard Nixon’s papers are more important. But I bring in people like Sophie into city government. And what’s so important—and Sophie 00:18:00 was among the older ones—is I brought in a lot of people in their early thirties, late twenties. And if we go back, let’s go forward from the 70s into the 80s and 90s and so on, they end up having a profound impact on the city. What happens with their exposure on city committees and boards and that sort of thing ends up giving them the experiences and the resumes to do a lot of good works.
Doney: Well, do you want to talk about your first term? You mention like this is one of the initiatives that you undertake. What are some of the other—
Soglin: Well, the first term, the first term, there’s only one thing I’m really pushing and not taking no for an answer. And that is the construction of the State Street Mall. Why? Because with that, we have a big enough political base, not just on the campus and among progressives, but people in the business community. A larger tent. But I do very little in those first two years. I want to first prove I can manage.
Soglin: Don’t do anything to create a reaction to throw me out. so I get reelected in 75. And now we’ve begun to make some very important changes in city government. We’ve set up, and this is another initiative that moved along because we had several Republican women on the city council who were supporting the childcare initiative. So that was another, shall we say radical initiative that I was able to start in the first two years because Betty Smith and others seen as moderate Republicans could give us majorities. And this becomes very important in these first four years or so as mayor because I don’t have solid legislative majorities. The base keeps on shifting in terms of getting to a majority on the city council. We’ve got the left. We’ve got the labor people. And every time there’s a critical decision, State Street Mall, the childcare 00:21:00 program, the affirmative action program, the civic center, changing Madison metro, the bus system. If you look at the roll call votes, they’re never the same. So, one of the highlights, which becomes very important, Judith Pederson was very active in women’s rights, was very formative in moving women into the workforce. And I wanted to appoint her to the police and fire commission. Dave [David] Cooper was already making significant changes in the police department. I want to come back to that in a second, because that is a story of culture.
So, Judith’s appointment to the police and fire commission was made with very stiff opposition from the firefighters union. A lot of the labor people on the city council won’t follow with her. And then the downtown campus alders oppose her appointment. It was stunning.
Doney: Yeah. Why?
Soglin: Because of the pressure from the firefighters. Why are the firefighters so adamant? Because their wives have told them, “You’re not going to be a firefighter if there’s women sleeping in your fire station.” I eventually found out why. I mean, that was why they were so adamant.
So a couple of the downtown alders come up with an excuse as to why to oppose her. Somebody says to her, “What are your credentials as a demonstrator? Have you ever been arrested in a demonstration?” So that’s the criteria as for her to be appointed to the police and fire commission. Well, Judith had never been arrested, if I remember. Here I need my notes on my book. I think she’d never been, I know she was involved. She gave an answer that wasn’t good enough for them. maybe she’d been arrested but not clubbed. Whatever. She didn’t meet the litmus test.
So Judith, with the opposition of the leftwing campus radicals on the city council, and organized labor, 00:24:00 it ends up with a tied vote. And I break the tie as mayor. That’s how she gets appointed.
The Cap Times, Rosemary Kendrick (1940-2020) wrote a scathing piece taking on both the labor leaders and especially the student alders. Judith is now there with Mary Berryman Agard who I appointed to, she had been the one who helped me orchestrate the creation of the childcare program on the recommendation of the moderate Republican Betty Smith (1925-2022). That’s how I came to know Mary Berryman Agard, which historically she’s now, and at that time was, married to Steve Agard. But previously she’d been married to Peter Berryman, focusing [her local?]. So, they then play a very important role in, and it takes a while. It doesn’t happen until after I leave office in 79, in getting women on the fire department and making Madison one of the leading departments in terms of having women firefighters. So that’s how this shit happens. And it’s individuals.
Doney: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Soglin: Yes, there’s a movement to make this happen, but there’s certain key individuals. Because then she worked very carefully with the fire department in the recruitment and getting the women. And the first class of women all get flunked out. And so on.
Now, Cooper and the police department. So, Cooper comes into the police department. There’s not one African American. Women police officers are relegated to dealing with juveniles and sensitive crimes. Sexual abuse. Cooper comes in and makes Morlynn Frankey a lieutenant. First woman to be promoted to that kind of rank within the normal structure of the department. He calls an African American who quit the department over racism, asks him to come back. And he does. And he starts his hiring processes. And before you know it, his hiring and promotional practices are really changing the complexion of the department. 00:27:00
At one point here in the 70s I said to him, “When are we going to have control?”
And he said, “Only after I’ve hired a majority of the police department.” Which was pretty accurate. And by the time we get into the mid to late 80s, the culture of the department has changed.
Now, when you look at all the city departments, and you look at the advancements in the demographics, the complexion of the workforce, nobody has done the job that the police department has done. So you ask the question. You’ve got the same mayor, you’ve got the same city council. Why did this happen in the police department, and wasn’t as effective in other departments? Now, naturally as you’d expect, civil rights, equal opportunities, has diversity. But the rest of the public works department, the fire department, all the rest of them, do not have that success. There’s a reason. It has to do with leadership and the culture that the leader brings to the organization. And when I examine all the other departments and I ask the question why didn’t this happen as well, as quickly, it’s clear. They didn’t have the dedicated leadership, the unwavering commitment, that Cooper had to change the culture of the department and the individuals who are working there. So that’s probably the most profound thing that comes out of the 70s.
Doney: That’s great. Seventy-nine, you go to practice law.
Soglin: I practice law for a decade. Nineteen eighty-eight, I discover that the streets are dirty and I have to come back as mayor.
Doney: Prior to that, though, what type of law are you, what are you interested in as a lawyer, I guess, as a litigator?
Soglin: Well, I was doing what would be called the general practice. Except as the years went by in that decade of the 80s, I just could not do what’s referred to as family law, divorces. The fighting, the disagreements, were just making me crazy. So, I basically was moving into what’s referred to as administrative law. Working on government regulation and things of that sort. Doing some civil rights cases. I had a great case, which we ended up losing at the state supreme court. 00:30:00 But it was to foreshadow what was to happen. I was representing a guy who got fired because he had an affair with a woman working in the company. The company had a policy of only firing men who were having affairs and not women. Bizarre. So, we brought a gender discrimination case. Won and prevailed till we got to the state supreme court and lost.
But anyway, Madison was changing significantly in the late 80s. People didn’t want to talk about it then and they don’t like talking about it now. A lot of poor African American families were leaving Chicago and coming to Madison. And the city was not addressing it. And the demographics were clear. In my tenure as mayor in the 70s, Madison’s school population was never more than 5, 6% African American. There were five Black kids at Memorial High School in the 70s. By the late 80s, by 88, 22% of the student population was African American and similarly 22% was getting free and reduced lunches. Where both of those numbers were down under 7% less than ten years earlier. Somebody had to deal with that issue, and nobody was. And that’s what brought me back.
And I won. And I went directly after that issue in the 90s. If you were to ask people to describe my administration in the 90s, they would probably say, “Oh, well, the 90s? Monona Terrace. That’s the big issue.” But what really changed was building on our 1970s community services budgeting, expanding the work we were doing in healthcare and access to housing and transportation and childcare and that sort of thing. That’s what motivated me back and that’s what I spent a lot of time doing.
Doney: That’s great.
Soglin: Now there’s one other thing that happened in the 90s. About a year before he passed away, I get a call from Fred Harvey Harrington (1912-1995), wants to come pay a visit. He comes in, he smiles. He says, “You know, all these years, I’ve never been in the mayor’s office.” So we have 00:33:00 a discussion. We have a discussion about the letter I wrote him following the 65, 66 draft demonstration. My experiences in the history department. And how proud he is of me and a discussion about the influence that the history department has on what I’m doing. And that was really nice. But he still couldn’t give me a doctorate degree. So.
Doney: (laughs) Did you have contact with Kutler, with the other faculty? With Mosse?
Soglin: Yeah. Yeah, I stayed in contact with Kutler. And in the 90s, there’s only one letter between George and myself. His, I don’t even know if I’ve got, I think it might be in my box at the historical society, my papers. I know I’ve got a copy of his response to me. But it was prompted by Buhle’s book. And then there used to be a history department reception in the historical society at the beginning of each academic year. And those, I was always invited. The history department was still claiming me as one of theirs. And I’d see George and whatever. I’m trying to think if there was anything else along those lines.
But Stanley and George and I kept in contact over those years. Stanley invited me, I can’t remember, this is back in the 70s. I went to his son’s bar mitzvah. Things like that.
Doney: Yeah. That’s great. So you mentioned that there were a couple of issues that bring you back in 88, one of them being shifting demographics of the city.
Soglin: Principally race and poverty.
Doney: Yeah, race and poverty. There’s also the Monona Terrace vote. For race and poverty, where do you see the advancements in the city? Or how does your administration I guess address—
Soglin: This is something that’s real interesting. Because when you look at the data when it’s available, it shifts significantly for African Americans based on the national economy. So in the 90s, two things happened. One, I’m now very much influenced by 00:36:00 a Northwestern University professor, John McKnight, who philosophically goes to an extreme in offending people. McKnight believes that you do not retrain people. You don’t change. What you do is you build on their assets. And he called it the ABC system, asset building communities. That if you’ve got a low-income neighborhood, yes, you’ve got to deal with what’s wrong. But you look for the community leaders, you look for the business leaders. You look for the institutional, religious leaders and so on, and you build on the assets.
Examples. Women who are immigrants from Southeast Asia. They’re old. They’re in their fifties and sixties. Very difficult to retrain. Very difficult to cross the language barrier. A lot of experience in food production and in sewing. So instead of getting them a job at McDonald’s, build on their experiences and help support the buying of sewing machines and Singers so they can do sewing. And start little businesses in that regard, which is why some of the tailor shops in Madison are owned and run by Southeast Asian immigrants.
Food production. It may not be a college education, but you can accumulate wealth by owning a restaurant or a food cart. Or a food cart and then a restaurant. So we meet with a group of women in Madison Southside and we ask them what should be the focus of our work. They say five things: housing, access to transportation, quality childcare, healthcare and the whole basket of education and job training.
While we’re meeting with them, somebody drops off, and I don’t have it, I lost it a long time ago in my filing system, a graduate student here at the university does a paper and comes to the conclusion that those same five items 00:39:00 are what are critical for building a healthy family. I say, that’s it. We are going to develop in these five areas a response to the growing poverty in Madison.
So, from when I leave office in the 70s till I come back in 89, 22% of the kids in the schools are African American and in the free and reduced lunch program. When I leave office a few years, in 97, it’s up to 28%, but it has stabilized. And it stays stable for another half dozen, dozen years.
So one of the things we did, for example, is we founded the South Madison Health Clinic on Park Street which is now through community access a major healthcare provider. We were basically looking to provide healthcare for folks within, say, a mile radius of Badger Road and South Park Street by the Beltline. We were having people from Green County coming to the facility as their only access to healthcare.
So anyway, we continued doing that work. And all the data shows that things went really well up until 2008. Two thousand eight, the great recession hits. And another wave of migration comes from Chicago. Now we’re at 50% of the kids in the public school are African American and on free and reduced lunches. Fifty percent in a city where the African American population is 7%. Now part of that is because the school district also serves the town of Madison and Northern Fitchburg, which has high concentrations of African American residents. And so that in part accounts for part of the difference between city population and school district population.
Well, the Great Recession proved the old adage “last hired, first fired.” And while by 2011, 2012, 00:42:00 white middle class Madison is doing fine, not unlike the Great Depression. Because as long as the state government is in business and the university is in business and the healthcare providers are in business, Madison is pretty well recession and depression-proof. But if you’re not part of that economy, as is the case with a large segment of the African American population, it’s a whole different world.
So witnessing that, first I made a failed attempt to come back in 03. But I win in 2011. Now the dynamics of 2011’s elections are very interesting because it goes to one of the books in Dolbeare’s course, which was Richard Neustadt’s (1919-2003) book on presidential power. So I’m running against the incumbent, David Cieslewicz (b. 1959). The campaign starts in January. And by Valentine’s Day, we know about Act 10 and we know what’s coming from Scott Walker. And that, of course, is the focus all the way through the election in April.
Dave Cieslewicz believes that the Scott Walker-imposed issues of Act 10, anti-labor, are distracting from his message of being a great mayor and he deserves reelection. I am looking at it, very different lens. Because I know from Richard Neustadt’s book that in a time of crisis, whether it’s Nazi Germany in the 1930s, or it’s David Eisenhower, Dwight Eisenhower in the Suez Canal, or it’s Dave Cieslewicz dealing with Scott Walker. I know that the people are going to gravitate to the leader. And that hurts me and helps him. He’s got it all backwards. I’ve got to get the discussion off of Act 10.
So in the last two weeks of the campaign, we run what’s called the women’s ad. It’s three highly visible women speaking about poverty and race. And dealing with these challenges. 00:45:00 And that’s what moves the election. Thank you, Richard Neustadt, Ken[neth Marsh] Dolbeare.
The other point of this is that we still have the remnants of a movement here in Madison. Because deep down when we get to basic values, what’s important to people in Madison, something I had learned going back to the 70s through the 90s was that the majority of Madisonians are willing to pay more taxes, are willing to be inconvenienced, if they know that what they’re doing is assisting the wellbeing of those who are impoverished, those who are the victims of racism. And that’s why I get reelected in 2011. We’re able to make it clear that—now, there’s another factor here which you can figure is part of all this. So we had hundreds of thousands of people marching around. Were you in Madison at that point?
Doney: Yes, I was.
Soglin: Okay. So we had hundreds of thousands of people marching around the square. Everybody’s marching.
Soglin: When it comes time to sign contracts with the unions, Dave Cieslewicz gets in front with the union leaders. And they all march around the square and up to Overture Center to sign contracts and all that shit. I never marched. I was one of the handful of people who stood on the curb and cheered the marchers. If you march around the square, nobody sees you. If you stand on the inside curb of the Capitol and wave and shout to everybody marching by, those hundreds of thousands of people see you. So that was another difference in campaign strategy that goes to studying mobs and crowds and how they interact.
Doney: Yeah, it’s [Gustave] Le Bon (1841-1931).
Doney: Yeah. That’s great. (laughs)
Soglin: Thank you, George.
Doney: Yeah. What then, so in this not third term, maybe—
Soglin: Third tenure.
Doney: Third tenure. What then 00:48:00 are the central issues? There’s Act 10. There’s the stuff happening at the state level, which is affecting the university, obviously.
Soglin: So the major issues are what’s going to happen to the unions, and my issue, which is the poverty. So, we do two things. One is, as a discussion, not with a city union leader but with John Matthews, who’s the head of the Madison Teachers Incorporated, we cannot have labor contracts with anybody but the firefighters and the police officers. They’re the only ones allowed to have unions. So what we do is we introduce a series of ordinances codifying as law what was in our union contracts. And give protections whether it’s grievances over dismissals or it’s wage package, we put it all in ordinance form. The county subsequently does the same. School district cannot adopt ordinances the way the city and the county can. But they adopt rules as best they can. So that was the first thing that we did.
Then as a footnote to that, we undid the labor contracts. The reason is this. When Dave Cieslewicz and the union leaders in March went around the square and then signed the contracts, nobody had ever figured out what the real costs were. So I come in there and the first thing I discover in the first two months is how badly the city finances are. And that these labor contracts are going to create greater expenditures than we could afford unless we’re going to cut some significant city programs and lay off workers.
So I meet with all the unions. And I lay it out to them. I say, there’s two ways or proceeding. We can honor these contracts that you’ve signed, and I can pretty well assure you there are going to be layoffs and we’re going to make significant cuts to the community service budget. I said, that’s the only way I can figure it out. Cut city services, which will result in your layoffs, and cut community services. Or renegotiate the financial packages, postpone your wage increases. We’re still in the window where we can renegotiate labor contracts. 00:51:00 And I can guarantee you this: There will be no layoffs. And we will not have to make changes in the community services budget.
Now, if we went back ten or twenty, certainly twenty years, the union leaders never would have agreed to sacrifice their own benefits for the community services budget. But since the late 70s, again, the university, TAA, the rise of—oh my God, I’m too old. So anyway, the guy who was the head of TAA, who eventually becomes the head of the state AFL-CIO. I’ll come to his name in a second. The unions, unlike what they did in opposing Judith Pederson in the fire department, for the police and fire commission, I mean, the unions are now more aligned with our societal goals. It’s not just about them. That’s another example of building a movement and changing the politics of a community.
So they agree. We’re able to keep our promises as a city government. Nobody gets laid off. Two, three years later, they get their salary increases. We don’t cut the community services budget. Newby, Dave [David] Newby. Newby’s evolvement out of the TAA into organized labor locally and the state comes out of our UW experiences. Frank Emspak, what he does with his radio programming. Now George, we’re no longer a protest; we are a movement.
Doney: With goals and organization.
Soglin: And it’s not just one place; it’s within all of society. It’s not just city government. Then the race to equity study comes out, showing all these very profound disparities between the white and the African American communities. And that just reinforces. Now the one thing which I take exception to, and part of it is because of my own legacy, 00:54:00 some people look at the race to equity report and they in effect say, “Paul, you’re responsible.” This has been going on for generations. It was a very recent phenomenon. One caused by the great recession and the movement of more low-income families here to Madison. And the fact that our economy was so vulnerable for people of color in terms of the jobs they were in.
So now we set off, going back to our five areas—health, transportation, housing and so on—and we, housing construction takes off. We start getting approvals from the state for thousands of units of subsidized, affordable housing through WHEDA that we had not been doing and things of that sort.
I think what’s important to realize about all this is that the white community found it very difficult to talk about these things. They’re fine with talking about the documentation of the disparity. They have a very difficult time figuring out what to do about it and how to implement the changes.
Maybe a year, less than two years after I’m in office, I go to a classroom. Mayor meets the third graders. So they’ve got a cutout of one of the noticeable Green Bay Packer players of the time. I think it was Jordy Nelson. And whenever they have a visitor to class, the whole class and the visitor gathers around this giant cutout and they take a picture. So they asked me if we could do a picture. I said of course. And the teacher said, “Mayor, you’re a Packer fan. Aren’t you?”
I said, “No. I’m from Chicago. I’m a Bear fan.”
This class is about two-thirds African American. All these third graders start jumping up and down raising their hand saying, “Me, too! Me, too!” Which for me, within the context of that classroom, was reinforcement that I was right about the recent immigration of low-income African American families.
Now, to go back to that subject, when I was in Boston, I had a meeting with the superintendent of schools who had come from Minneapolis. African American woman. 00:57:00 We were discussing this. She had better documentation than I did. I only had sort of rumors. As the Chicago Housing Authority was taking down all the awful stuff—not just Cabrini-Green, but the Robert Taylor Homes, Ida B. Wells, all that stuff was coming down—they were encouraging the residents to leave Chicago. Take their Section 8 housing vouchers. And if you look at everywhere from Milwaukee to Madison to Minneapolis to a number of small cities in Iowa, Des Moines, Dubuque, Cedar Rapids, they were moving Black families anywhere they could, as long as they weren’t in Chicago. And that is, because it’s been discussed in this recent Chicago mayoral election, is one of the reasons for the depopulation of African Americans from the city of Chicago.
Doney: Fascinating. There are, I think, two other directions maybe to reflect.
Soglin: Make sure I don’t walk off with those.
Doney: Yeah. Maybe three.
Soglin: Okay. Be that way.
Doney: Two are reflective and one is pretty specific. Which is I just wondered if you wanted to talk about meeting Fidel Castro.
Doney: And whether, I’m just curious—
Soglin: Let’s talk about Castro.
Doney: I’m just curious if there’s an intersection with your history studies and the decision to—
Soglin: There’s no question about it. You can’t read Williams, you can’t read Williams without wanting to go to Cuba and meet Castro. So here’s what happened. The US and Cuba were having secret talks in 74-75. In part, over the hijacking of airplanes. Both countries wanted the matter resolved. The US did not want the dangers of an armed hijacker taking a plane to Cuba. The Cubans did not want the United States to have an excuse to invade Cuba. So there were little things going on as signs of goodwill. One of which was having George McGovern (1922-2012) go to Cuba in 01:00:00 May of 1975.
So, George goes and his family’s accompanied. That includes daughter Susan, husband Jim [James] Rowan, who is my chief of staff. While they’re there, Jim says, “How about a mayor?”
So, they return. In June, I get a request from an interview from a Russian journalist, from Izvestia. So, we do an interview for an hour or so.
Then a week or so later, anyway, the trip’s not finalized until like the first week of July. Who would turn that down? So now the question is, what do we do with the State Department? And this is that old thing, don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness.
Doney: Okay. (laughs)
Soglin: So we tell the State Department we are going. I ask for an import letter to bring stuff back. I get it. We fly from Chicago to Kingston. Kingston we get the one weekly flight, it’s only on Wednesdays, back and forth, from Kingston to Havana. And they’ve got a whole itinerary for us all week. We go to a dairy farm in Matanzas province. We learn all about the desire of the dairy industry in Cuba to have contact with American milk producers and dairy equipment. They’re doing some work with India, but they really need the breeding of a cow that will be a great milk producer and survive in their climate. We go to several other places in Cuba, including Santa, it was a cruise, again, I’d need my notes, but for the anniversary of the revolution. Because we’re there July 26th. 01:03:00 And we’re now—oh, we get a day or two at Varadero Beach, which was very interesting. Because we were up till two in the morning arguing and arguing about politics with them. We were making the point, the Americans won’t recognize you because no free press, no democratic elections, and the taking of property. And our point was, at least on the elections and the press, Castro is so popular. And they would give us the ideological response, no, that is not what Marxism says. There has to be the dictatorship of the proletariat, da da, da da, da da.
Oh, and we also got into a discussion about homosexuals, the imprisonment of gays and basically poets, musicians, writers.
So we’re at the last night in Cuba. And we’re out to dinner at a famous little bodega La Bodeguita del Medio there. If you look carefully on the walls, you’ll find the signatures of [Ernest] Hemingway (1899-1961), [Salvador] Allende (1908-1973) and everybody in between. Up in a corner hanging is a chair. There’s a famous story about a guy who was sitting in a chair—this is like decades ago, decades before we were there—he says, “Save my seat. I’ll be right back.” He never returned. So they took his chair and they saved it and they hung it on the wall as high as they could towards the ceiling.
It’s about seven, seven-thirty. They say, “We have to go back to your hotel. You’re leaving on the seven AM plane to Kingston tomorrow morning. You can’t be late.”
We’re saying, what the hell are you talking about? We’ve been here for a week. You have never cared one iota about whether or not we got enough sleep. That was the last thing you cared about.
So we go back to the hotel. We’re in our rooms. I’m with Daniel Rodriguez, who is the, you call him the head of the US desk in the Cuban State Department. He’s their foreign guy in charge of the US. And Elena, whose last name I cannot recall, 01:06:00 but Elena was one of the translators, interpreters. But there’s no interpreter/translator who isn’t a political operative. They’re more than that. So we’re in the hotel room. I’ve got a little suite. I say, “Come on. You’ve said all week that Fidel may join us. Is that why you’ve rushed us back here?”
They said, “Yes. Fidel’s coming.”
I said, “We have drinks that are here. We have no ice. So let’s call down to the desk and see if we can get some ice.”
We call down to the desk. “Sorry. The elevators are all broken. Nobody can come to your room.”
So, I’ve got a gigantic map of Madison as big as this table laid out on the bed. Because for the first time we’re having an opportunity to explain Madison. I’m showing the state capital. Here’s the university. These are the lakes and all that stuff. And we’re standing around the bed. I’m at the far end of the bed. No, no, I’m at the front of the bed. I’m at the front of the bed. The door opens. Castro walks in.
Doney: Just like that.
Soglin: Just like that. He walks right by me. Gives Elena a hug. Shakes hands, embraces Daniel. And he says, “Where’s the mayor?”
Well, these two are absolutely horrified at the faux pas of going right by me. And they explain, “That’s the mayor. That’s the mayor.” Turns out he thought I was one of their assistants.
So we go into the little suite room that we’ve got. And we sit down, we have a conversation. It goes about two hours. The first thing that struck me about the entire conversation was how quiet and reserved, because everybody’s image, including mine, of Castro, are these fiery speeches on July 26th, which I’d seen in person. And yet in these conversations, he’s very subtle and very quiet.
And the other thing that we knew was that he understands English perfectly. But he uses Elena two reasons. One is that because there are so many different dialects 01:09:00 in Spanish in Cuba. He speaks a Castilian. He wants to make absolutely sure that he misses nothing. And the second thing is that it gives him time to formulate an answer. He knows what we’re saying. But it gives him time if he’s dealing with somebody who speaks English to come up with something.
So, what did we talk about? We talked about energy. And Cuba’s lack of any natural resources which is why nuclear power was important to them. He had questions about the dairy industry, which, in our visit to Matanzas, and what could be done. Because among other things, here in Madison we not only have the genetics of the university but we’ve got ABS, American Breeder Service. And then we’ve got over on East Washington Avenue, Dairy Equipment International, I think it was called which produces dairy equipment. Which for them is very expensive because it’s coming from the Scandinavian countries. We exchanged presents. He was very appreciative of the snorkeling equipment that we gave him.
The awkward moment came with the baseball. We gave him a baseball autographed by Hank Aaron (1934-2021). He picks up the ball and he looks at it and he looks at the signature. And he says, he says, “What is this? Why is it important?”
We explained to him that Hank Aaron has just broken Babe Ruth’s (1895-1948) record for most career home runs. And in Spanish he turns to Danielle and Elena and he says, “There are all these important things happening in the world that I’m missing. I have to pay more attention.” (laughs) So that was the human part of him.
Soglin: We had more discussions about, well, most of it was centered on the economy. And discussions about how horrible, there was no denying among the Cuban people the impact of the embargo. And how hard it was on them. On the other hand, and we had seen this from the very first day we arrived, 01:12:00 if a pair of Levi’s go to Mexico and someone in Cuba makes a visit to Mexico, they come back with a pair of Levi’s. So, there was a lot of American things for those that could afford it that got around the embargo. And the more modern cars were coming from a Ford plant I think in Argentina. Maybe Ford had a financial interest in the plant, didn’t completely own it. So, it wasn’t subject to the embargo. But there was a lot of discussion about that.
And then we got into the question of reparations from those injured in the embargo financially. And there the discussion evolved over from our previous discussion at Varadero Beach, which is what Americans have to understand. Two things. One, if you want reparations for what was confiscated and taken by the state, you were going to have to repay us for the illegal effects of the embargo. And secondly, this is really critical. You have to understand that while some Cuban may have legitimately personally owned something, a business, resources, that it is very likely that they came about it, whether it was in the 1920s, the 1930s or the 1950s, from corruption. From the taking of somebody’s, some farmer’s land, and giving it to United Fruit or to Dole. And that’s where Williams registers, in terms of his work. About what goes on and how Americans decide what is within our purview, our destiny. All the discussions about the desire prior to the Civil War to bring Cuba in as a slave state. All of the post-Civil War discussions about, which lead up to the [USS] Maine (1898), in regards to trying to economically control Cuba. And all of the corruption between Cuban leaders and American businesses. In effect, the question was put to us, who’s going to pay for that? You want reparations? 01:15:00 Who’s going to pay for that? Which we didn’t argue with, but it was a point well made.
Let me just think if there’s anything else out of that conversation. There’s one other thing. We got into a discussion about our treatment as a nation. We got into race and stuff. They admitted there was racism against Black humans. But that obviously with the slavery here in the US and Jim Crow laws, we were far worse. And then came the subject of the treatment of indigenous people here. And there’s something that they acknowledged, which is that they as Cubans did not have that problem because when the Spaniards came, they exterminated the native population.
And then, there was one other thing that went into my mind for a moment. Oh. So my favorite baseball player as a child, my favorite baseball player was Minnie Miñoso (1925-2015). I think he was born in Santiago. And he was—so here’s how the conversation went. I said to Fidel, “Can Minnie Miñoso return to Cuba?”
And Fidel says, “Minnie is not a friend of the revolution. But he is a hero of the Cuban people. And he will always be welcome here in Cuba.”
Now this gets to two other stories, which have nothing to do with in Cuba. In August of 1978, and we can verify the date very easily, it’s the day that, and the day after Elvis died (16 August 1977). I’m in Ketchum, Idaho, Hemingway’s home, for a mayor’s meeting. So out of curiosity, I open up the local phone book. We’ve already seen Mariel Hemingway at a restaurant. And yup, there’s Mary Hemingway (1908-1986). 01:18:00 So I call her. And I explain who I am, that I’ve just recently been to Cuba. I’ve been to the family home. And would she like a report?
So she invites me for a cocktail at five o’clock. So at five o’clock, I’m at the Hemingway home. The famous picture of him, the original, in the turtleneck sweater, is hanging there on the wall. There’s Mary Hemingway, a friend of hers. And we sit down to talk. And I want to share with her what I saw in Cuba, what I saw in the restaurant that he was famous for hanging out in. Talk about the home, which is a museum.
All she wants to talk about is, as she put to me, “Why are these people going so crazy over the death of Elvis Presley?”
Soglin: So we talked about Cuba and Hemingway. And we talked about Elvis Presley and my generation and that sort of thing. Then there’s one other fallout from that visit, besides Mary Hemingway. And now I’ve lost my train of thought on that. At least I remembered Dave Newby’s name.
Later on, we had cultural exchanges with Cuba. I went back two more times, one for a New Year’s holiday and secondly in June of [19[78, a delegation of mayors. We did another trip which is very interesting. We went by, on our schedule, but not to the Bay of Pigs. And when we found out we were headed in that direction, we asked our Cuban leaders, our hosts, could we the mayors see the Bay of Pigs? And they had a little conference and a discussion. And eventually we did go to the Bay of Pigs. The reluctance to take us initially to the Bay of Pigs is they did not want to insult us because this is where the American effort to overthrow the government had taken place. There were memorials to the dead Cubans noting the defeat of the American mercenaries, American-sponsored mercenaries. And again, they were just afraid culturally it was inappropriate. 01:21:00 And they took us there and everything was fine. But I thought it was very interesting that they initially didn’t want us to see it. And that’s why on my first trip we didn’t go to Bay of Pigs. They were concerned about the insult to guests. I don’t think I have much more.
We did meet Castro again on the third trip with the mayors. Coincidentally, that very day, the night before, one or the other, the great Cuban ballerina was performing for the first time since the revolution in New York City. And by coincidence, the gift that the conference of mayors gave him was a beautiful glass sculpture of a ballerina. It wasn’t of her. I can’t remember her name. That’s another—anyway. Is there anything about Cuba that we need to know? Long lines at the ice cream stands. The food was marvelous. The beach at Veradero was spectacular. They took us out on a boat. And we dove off of it. We went swimming. While we were swimming off the boat, I noticed that there was someone with a high-powered rifle. Got back on the boat. Asked what was that for. Turns out that some giant stingrays were frolicking near us. They didn’t want us to panic, so they didn’t yell out for us, “Watch out for the stingrays!” They just decided that the solution was the high-powered rifle in case they’d have to shoot one if it got too close.
The other thing, I don’t know to what degree we had an impact. But about ten, fifteen years later, the Cuban government announced the shift in policy on gay rights. And in an interview at the time, Fidel acknowledged that that was a mistake.
Oh, that’s the point I wanted to get to was the cultural shock of the revolution to the Cuban people. So we’ve got gay rights, we’ve got the church and we’ve got gambling. So they explained, so we were asking about, in effect, the hypocrisy. As we went through these tiny villages, 01:24:00 we saw Cuban men gambling, playing dominos. You can’t gamble in Cuba. Then there’s the question of gay rights, and so on. Oh, and the church was functioning. And then there’s all these words, all these accusations about oppression in the Catholic church. They said, we won the revolution. We had to be very careful about what we did to change the culture of the country so that we did not ferment opposition. So while we made it illegal for commercial gambling and the American mob, no we do not stop gambling in small towns where people gather and play dominos. The church. We didn’t ban the Catholic church. And yes, we did go after some religious leaders. And that is if they fermented counter-revolution. But the churches are still here.
Cuba has always been a homophobic, macho nation. And so we didn’t change the policies on homosexuality until later when it became, it was just so wrong. And we were in control. So, they had accountings for all these, shall we say, inconsistencies within the government.
Doney: Mm hmm. Interesting. Hmm. Thank you for sharing. I guess I just have one last sort of—
Doney: It’s a reflective question. Which is, with all your experience in the mayor’s office, what do you see as the challenges to Madison now, the challenges going forward as a city? What would you advise, I guess?
Soglin: Unfortunately, I’m not going to join the rightwing. And I know a lot of people move from the left to the right because of what I’m about to describe. But we’ve got to deal with the political correctness. And I’ll give you a couple of examples here. If we deal with that, then we can do the right things. So, in Seattle, they did an analysis. And they found that disproportionately African Americans received more tickets for not wearing a bicycle helmet. Way more. So, they decided that it was important for them to 01:27:00 ban the ordinance requiring bicycle helmets. That’s underlying the disparity. My way of thinking is, excuse me, but if you’re going to do that, there’s going to be more serious head injuries to African Americans. You’re not helping people. Maybe the solution is to figure out if bicycle helmets are a good idea, how you get people bicycle helmets. That’s what I would have done.
All right. Here in Madison right now—
Doney: Absolutely. Let’s take a break.
End Track 2.
Soglin: Here’s this. There’s a habit among political movements to capture great and innovative things that are happening by their colleagues in other places. This is true of the left and the right. So, if Florida’s banning certain books, somebody in Texas is saying oh, they’re doing this great thing in Florida banning these books, we’ll do the same thing. Or in terms of a woman’s choice, they’re doing something in South Dakota, we’ll do it in Mississippi.
So, in dealing with the housing problem, there’s not enough housing. So in Minneapolis, somebody decided, what if we changed the definition of “family” and allow multiple groups, families, to come together to rent. And so they did. And so about three, four months ago, somebody in Madison heard about this and said what a great idea. A radical solution. End single family housing categories in terms of definition of family. Let’s do it here in Madison.
Nobody ever asked Minneapolis, what’s the effect of this? What’s the consequence? Does it work? Is this going to have externalities that have impacts in other places?
There’s a new phenomenon worldwide right now, which is companies like Blackstone which are going around, right now in the US it’s mostly in the states in the South, buying up apartments. But most importantly, single family houses, and renting them. They did this when things were really cheap following the great recession and all the people lost their homes that were in bankruptcy. One other outfit did it in Milwaukee.
So here’s the consequence of that happening. If you’ve got a unit, whether it’s an apartment or it’s a single family home that a family could afford to rent for say 1200 dollars a month, if you can put three people there unrelated with their own incomes, you can get 2,000, 2,500 dollars a month rent. Which means that very family you want to help is going to be priced out of the market. 00:03:00 The home that a homebuyer would have paid $400,000 for, Blackrock will now pay $500,000, because when you do the math and you work out the economics, you can make a fortune in terms of renting it. Of course, Blackrock, not to appear as an exploitive company, builds, about 1% of their portfolio is new housing. They do that specifically so that they’re not seen as, well, we’re adding to the housing market, we’re not just buying.
So here in Madison, we adopted this ordinance which all the data, all the evidence says–and we didn’t look at the evidence from Minneapolis—this is going to increase the price of housing.
The solution is to build more housing. It’s not to rearrange the economics of existing housing. And unless you can control a marketplace, if you impose something in one segment of that marketplace and not the other, it’s going to have an effect.
So, in the first decade of this century, Dave Cieslewicz and what is considered to be one of the great housing spokesperson in the city, Brenda Konkel, hit upon the concept of inclusionary housing. You want to build housing in Madison, 10% of it has to go to low-income, subsidized housing. There’s a wonderful model: Montgomery County in Maryland. It’s an entire county. So if you’re a developer/builder and you want to participate in that housing market, it’s the entire county.
When they imposed inclusionary zoning here in Madison, what happened is housing construction, both single family and apartments, came to an abrupt halt. Yes, if I’m a landowner, that hurts me. But landowners don’t build housing; it’s developers. What do developers do? Developers went to Fitchburg, to Verona, to Sun Prairie, to the town of Middleton. And so what you have in that decade is when Madison now becomes of the 100 largest cities in the United States, the one with the worst vacancy rate. We stopped building housing. Not only that, but if you analyze it from an environmental standpoint, we created greater sprawl. 00:06:00
So now we’ve put in a series of new ordinances, one of which includes this definition of family in Madison. We’ve done another one in terms of energy consumption. Like inclusionary zoning, well-intentioned, but it ignores the reality of the marketplace so that now, whether we’re talking housing development or we’re talking energy regulations, building’s going to take place outside of Madison. It’s going to depress the market in Madison from the standpoint of new construction, but it’s going to inflate the balance, inflate the price structure.
When I raised this point a couple of months ago with some of the people involved in the decision, they said, “Oh, yes. We looked at Blackrock and we looked at these companies and asked this question, will they—but when we did an examination, we weren’t concerned because they only operate from Florida to the Southwest.”
I said, “Did you ever look at the economics of what they’re doing and ask the question, if we make these changes, are we going to give them an incentive to come to Madison?” So, to me, the greatest concern about the future of the community is making these decisions, not looking at the externalities and not understanding all the unintended consequences of what we’re doing. That’s the greatest danger. Along with, on the question of race, the challenge of moving the discussion from acknowledging the disparity to finding effective ways of doing things.
I’ll give you one more example because we’re in the middle of this mayor’s campaign. There are three present members of the city council, African Americans, one former member of the city council, African American, and one candidate who’s never been in the city council who’s African American. There are five people, African American. And the mayor has endorsed their opponents on the basis that all five African Americans are not progressive enough. And the mayor points out that she’s endorsed two other incumbent African American candidates.
To me, the premise of the endorsements is this, and I think I’m accurate. If you agree with my positions on certain key issues—body cameras for police, the bus rapid transit rerouting, and so on, you get my endorsement. And if you don’t, I support your opponent. That’s very logical, very reasonable. I support my friends. I oppose my enemies. The problem I’ve got is the optics of it. It’s the optics of it and there’s a cultural element. Which is you’re saying, in other words, that you as a white person should tell the people of these districts that these five African American candidates are unacceptable, even though separate from elections they are recognized as community leaders and they have taken positions contrary to yours on matters that affect the African American community. Such as the changing of their bus routes. Such as their position on body cameras and so on.
And to me, I’m in a conflict here because when I’m asked is Madison a racist city, I say no, it’s not. There is racism. There is institutional racism. And there are some—not a lot—of racist people. But there are well-intentioned white people who believe they are not racist who are doing things with racist consequences, particularly in terms of institutions like government. That to me is the big challenge that our city has. That’s number one.
The rerouting of the bus system is premised on this. It’s premised on getting the most number of people to the most job centers. Excuse me. If I’m a 23-year-old African American, if I’m a 50-year-old Latino, did anybody ask me is that where I need to go?
And then they misuse the data. And since you got me on this, I’m going to go after the one that really gets me. Are you familiar with the apartments on Sheboygan Avenue by the Hill Farms?
Soglin: Okay. 00:12:00 That strip up and down Sheboygan Avenue from Whitney Way to Segoe Road, has two predominant demographics: retirees, Asian students, mostly grads. There’s one thing they have in common: household incomes under $35,000.00 a year. That area has been designated as one area of low-income communities of color that is benefiting from bus rapid transit. The senior retirees are not looking to get to job centers. And that large population of Asian students—and I’ve got the census track data—they are coming to the university. They are not, when we think of a community of color, low-income, what comes to mind for me might be a Latin, a Hmong, an African American family with two, three kids, with a household income under $35,000.00 a year.
And it’s this kind of ignorance of what’s right in front of your face that I think poses the greatest danger. It’s another variation.
Doney: Yeah. Great.
Soglin: You got more questions—
Doney: Yeah. It’s fine.
Soglin: —give me a call. I will come back. And you can give me a couple more books and I’ll sing for my supper.
Doney: Sounds good.
Soglin: This is really great.
Doney: This is Friday, the seventeenth of March, 12:36PM in the afternoon, concluding an oral history with Mayor Paul Soglin for the Mosse Oral History Project.
End Track 3. End Interview.
Total time = 183 minutes