Neil Heinen

Heinen: My History with Hizzoner Paul Soglin

Soglin and Heinen's paths repeatedly crossed

My journalism career began in December 1978 in the news department of WIBA radio, then owned by The Capital Times. When WIBA news director Bob King needed to fill an entry-level position, he typically called University of Wisconsin–Madison journalism professor Jim Hoyt for recommendations. I was still in school as a 27-year-old “returning” student and Hoyt told me to call King who immediately hired me as part-time weekend anchor. Paul Soglin was mayor at the time. 

I made the move to WISC–TV in 1987 and two years later started the transition to editorial director by taking on duties as the host of the public affairs program “For the Record.” Soglin was the mayor then, too. Last year I marked 40 years in the news business. And yes, Soglin was mayor. And now he’s not. I feel a little disoriented.

As most Madisonians know (although some have to be reminded), Soglin was not the mayor for all 40 of those years. I enjoyed getting to know, interviewing and writing about Joel Skornicka, Joe Sensenbrenner, Sue Baumann and Dave Cieslewicz, all who made Madison a better city in ways large and small during their terms in the mayor’s office. But both the job and the city I love have been inextricably intertwined with Soglin. And I’m grateful for that.

It got a little complicated at times. Soglin became a friend during the years he was not in office and we had to negotiate and navigate that during the years he was back in office. Sometimes it was easy, such as in 1992 when we went to an Orioles baseball game at the brand new Camden Yards Stadium after a U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting. Other times it was tougher, like when I needed to write a column suggesting Soglin’s occasional dour attitude was sabotaging the city’s economic growth prospects. But mutual respect and history prevailed and we both kept doing what we did, he as mayor, me as a writer about the mayor. 

Soglin always had a close relationship with WISC–TV. He had a regular point-counterpoint-type segment on the news with Bill Dyke, another former mayor of Madison. He certainly holds the record for most appearances on the television version of “For the Record.” And he was accompanied by a WISC–TV reporter and photographer for his famous trip to Cuba to meet with Fidel Castro in 1975 — a visit recorded only in the minds of those present since the photographer had neglected to properly thread the film into the camera and thereby failed to capture even one frame of the entire three-hour interview. 

Soglin infuriated the late George Nelson, WISC–TV’s vice president, with whom he had worked closely on getting the Monona Terrace Convention Center built when his remarks at the ribbon cutting revolved around criticism of then-Gov. Tommy Thompson for inadequate revenue sharing. But his regular visits with the WISC–TV editorial board were always entertaining and typically included lively exchanges with former vice president and general manager Tom Bier.

But the memory I have of Soglin that best captures his contribution to Madison was of his news conference on Capitol Square after a rash of gun incidents maybe 20 years ago. It was a Saturday afternoon and Soglin had enough. Madison will not tolerate these dangerous criminal acts, he said. That is not who we are. We’re better than that. 

That Paul Soglin is my answer to all his critics. That was Soglin speaking from his heart, unafraid, strong — a leader on behalf of the citizens of his city. 

It’s my city too. And I’ll never think of living and working in Madison without thinking of Hizzoner Paul Soglin. 

Thanks, mayor.  

Side Notes

Honorable Name Change

In a rather remarkable show of respect and cultural sensitivity, Kickapoo Coffee Roasters of Southwest Wisconsin announced it is changing its name. 

The company’s founders and co-owners, TJ Semanchin and Caleb Nicholes, say that while they named their company 14 years ago after the Kickapoo River Valley, they now realize it is the name of a people, the Native American Kickapoo Nation. “We claimed a name that was never ours to take,” says Semanchin. “As a company committed to social justice ... we recognize that this work begins with us.” 

A new name will be rolled out early next year.

L.L. Bean Supporting Community

A longtime friend currently working at L.L.Bean at Hilldale recently sent us something we like a lot. Todd Allbaugh writes, “[Recently] I learned the company has decided to put an extra $30,000 into local sponsorship funds. Their goal is to target groups and events that are family friendly, promote outdoor activity and, perhaps most important ...  target kids and families from challenged neighborhoods.”

The Hilldale store is seeking ideas, Allbaugh says. “No long applications, just reach out and say this is what we do and here’s where we need help. That’s it.” 

Pretty cool.


Madison Magazine Subscription

Get Madison Magazine delivered to your office or home.

Gift subscriptions now available!

Subscribe Now

City Life

Sign-up for our event newsletter

This Week's Circulars