Szarzynski Lit Scorecard: Two Legit, One Disappointing, Two Just Awful

[Originally a blog post on the Badger Herald. Comments are off here]

District 8 Alder candidate Kyle Szarzynski has drawn some coverage in response to a campaign flyer comparing himself to his opponent, Scott Resnick. I haven’t thought much of it, because it’s campaign silly season for both ASM and local politics, and blog and opinion pages will be filled with exaggerations and quotes out of context, fake blogs and parody Twitter accounts, front groups popping up, and a general effort to lead the public away from rational discussions and towards a particular framing of reality. So I just quickly flipped through by the piece by Lukas, or the Young Progressives, or the several posts by North Park Street (here and here), and even today’s piece by Sam Clegg. Without seeing the original lit piece, I just wasn’t interested to make a real decision

However, on Monday, North Park Street posted again, this time including a scanned copy of the lit piece. If you have read any of the previous pieces, I’d encourage you all to go look at this post and the actual lit piece quickly, and consider the five comparisons that Kyle has made.

In my opinion, two of them are fair to mention, one of them is disappointing, and two of them are flat-out distortions.

I’ll start out with what I think is fair: the Social Justice portion of the platform, and the endorsement by Downtown Madison, Inc. On social justice, it is true that it is featured prominently on Kyle’s platform page, and it is not articulated in the same form in Scott’s platform page. You could argue that social justice does appear in Scott’s platform through his landlord accountability section, cleaning up the lakes and environment section, and cleaning up city processes section, but as “Social Justice” is understood in the Madison political environment: racial disparity, undocumented immigrants, universal sick leave, et cetra – these are all things that Kyle talks about and Scott doesn’t. It doesn’t mean that Scott doesn’t necessarily support or not support them, but only Kyle decided to place them front and center. There’s a value judgement there, and it’s fair to point it out.

Similarly, if endorsements matter, you need to be prepared to stand with the good and the bad that your endorsors bring along if you decide to accept their endorsement. And true, DMI is good on ALDO. But there are plenty of things that they’ve not been good on, particularly with regards to development processes. Now, I think it’s a dumb argument to try to make to Joe Q. Witte, and I think the simplified version that Kyle went with is probably unfair to DMI, but at least conceptually I think it’s in-bounds to question if DMI’s actions and positions are in fact good for downtown residents and how closely will Scott stand with DMI. Scott (who I believe is a member of DMI through his company) can chose to respond and defend DMI if he wants.

As an aside, while I’m in the “good things about Kyle” part of the post, it’s worth pointing out to Steve Hughes and the rest of the Young Progressives that Kyle uses the word “progressive” nearly as much as the Smurfs use “smurf.” If that came off pandering to you, well, that’s not going to be the only time that happens and you’re going to have to get used to sharing the word “progressive.”

The “is a student/is not a student” issue is, of course, technically true. But it’s very misleading. Kyle himself posted, as a Facebook status, “For the record, I’ve been eligible to graduate since 2009.” I also find it a bit disappointing – I called out an anonymous commenter for questioning Kyle’s student status because I didn’t think it should be in-bounds. Austin King was not a student for much of his career on the Council, and while Kyle can claim that student status is a positive attribute that he has and that Austin did not, I think it’s also a dumb argument to make. I’d also point out that I am as much a student as Kyle is, but that in terms of comparable recent experiences and concerns, a D8 resident will likely find more in common with Scott than me.

Finally, let’s look at the two comparisons that I find most problematic: student/city relations and public safety. Kyle writes that he “thinks the city council should be run with more input from students and others lacking a voice.” To ignore Scott’s entire section of the platform document on improving communications with students and present only “wants to run the council more like a business” as Scott’s “position” makes that comparison a flat-out lie. There’s really no other way to describe it. To then further simply repeat it on a followup blog post, without any elaboration or even so much as a link to put it in context, continues to be misleading.

Similarly, Kyle’s claim of “Wants Police Resources used to keep students safe, not crack down on underage drinkers and pot smokers” willfully ignores Scott’s entire section of his platform on safety and his long safety document on his website, including where he writes “Bar raids are used by the police department to discourage underage drinking inside bars….Bar raids are expensive to conduct and shift limited police resources away from the streets…bar raids reduce safety and I will continue to oppose them on the council.” Just as before, where there is not really a substantive difference in policy between the two of them, Kyle substitutes another statement and then passes it off as some sort of differentiator. Under the framing Kyle is trying to establish, that’s a lie.

In full disclosure, I’m supporting Scott because I think he’ll be a more effective Alder. To be sure, I have my complaints with Scott – his support for the Edgewater frustrated me, in part because the economic benefits were way oversold and he should have been able to see that, and in part because it was an awful process (the “Edgewatered” piece in this week’s Isthmus is fantastic.) Similarly, I’m supporting Sam Stevenson up the street in my own district, but I saw a lit piece by Sam that had some attacks on Bridget Maniaci that I thought were unfair. (It was in the snow a few blocks from my house so I didn’t pick it up, and if it got dropped at my place my neighbors got to it before I did, so I don’t have a scan.)

In the end, I don’t expect Kyle to correct or even address the lit piece any more than he already has. I also realize campaign lit is not long-form expository writing, meant to convey nuance and all sides of issue. So long as it fits some twisted version of the truth, campaigns can and I’m sure will continue to run questionable signs, lit pieces, and ads. But let’s put them up and examine them, and be prepared to dig into the claims they make.

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