I return from France to the good news that Gene Hexom's reign as mayor of Madison will end this year. Mayor Hexom told the Madison Daily Leader yesterday that he will not seek a third full term as Madison's chief executive.
Gene Hexom is a skilled local politician and effective public speaker. However, Hexom has left Madison with an unhealthy conservative and defensive attitude. He happily backs the good-old-boy network, handing out unnecessary tax breaks and other favors to the usual roll of businessmen and developers. He responds to criticism with brittle counter-attacks. He portrays those who point out problems in Madison as disloyal complainers and malcontents instead of acknowledging the possibility that the town he's lived in all his life might actually have problems that need fixing. And he spends too much time taking his ruler around town to measure how long folks' grass is growing instead of focusing on much more pressing problems of economic and cultural development.
Madison is showing signs of getting past Mayor Hexom's defensive attitude. After ousting the always-bluffing Dwaine Chapel last year, the city's economic development corporation has signaled a willingness to change direction and tackle obvious problems that Hexom and the city tried for too long to ignore.
With Hexom stepping down, now is the perfect time for a new, enthusiastic, and realistic leader to take the reins and lead Madison in a more open direction. But who will that new leader be? Hexom has run unopposed the last two times. Recent city commission races haven't brought forward a large cadre of new faces promising new ideas and active leadership. One exception that jumps to mind is Monica Campbell, someone slightly outside the circle of usual suspects who missed her chance to serve on the city commission five years ago by dumb luck. I'd suggest Ashley Kenneth Allen as another good prospect for the mayor's seat, but he might be too busy jetting back and forth between Madison and his super-cool computer job in Pennsylvania to handle the awesome duty of measuring everyone's grass. (Actually, maybe having a mayor who is too busy to worry about how long Dick Wiedenman's grass is would be a plus.)
The old guard must pass. Madison leaders-in-waiting, now's your chance to give Madison a good hard pull away from the status quo. Petitions should be available soon at City Hall; those running for mayor should have until the end of February to file.