When she ran for Madison mayor, Sue Bauman was genuinely puzzled.
“I was handing out literature in front of the Willy Street Co-op when a man said to me, ‘I’m not voting for you because you are a woman.’”
Later, during the opening celebration for the Monona Terrace, a pregnant guest ask for a photo with Bauman as the first female mayor of Madison.
“I never thought of myself in those terms,” she says, recalling her work as a Madison alder and as mayor. “When you perform your job well, that you happen to be a girl goes away.”
Except, that is, in the media where she was closely scrutinized. Although day-to-day accountability is part of the job, mayors have feelings, too. The Isthmus published an article called “100 Reasons to Hate Your Mayor” that highlighted her gender in ways that male mayors did not have to address. “That was hurtful,” Bauman said.
How did she deal with this kind of public criticism? “You just put your head down and keep delivering,” Bauman said.
After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from U.W.-Madison, and a master’s degree in chemistry from the University of Chicago, Bauman worked at the Forest Products Laboratory. She then worked in the Madison Public School District as an eighth grade math teacher when she joined Madison Teachers Incorporated (MTI).
Julie Lewis, Minnesota 1988, owns Lewis Law Office, Madison, where she concentrates her practice on benefits and compensation plan design and legal compliance.
“I was standing in the hallway with a friend, and the union rep asked my friend if she would join the union. She said she had to ask her husband. I said, ‘I will.’”
A few years later, MTI Executive Director John Matthews asked Bauman to run for president-elect. Successful in her bid, she led the union’s crisis committee that led the Madison teachers in the 1976 strike.
“The strike motivated me to go to law school,” Bauman recalls. “I was teaching, so I could do union work after school.”
Bauman earned both her law degree and a master’s degree in industrial relations in just three years. “Jim Jones (U.W.-Madison professor of law and international relations) told me no one had ever finished both degrees in three years, which was just a challenge to me,” Bauman said.
Bauman went into private practice after law school, but did not have the full-time labor law practice that she wanted. After working on several local political campaigns, she was drafted to run for Madison alder on the Madison City Council. “I knew that there would be some concern about my candidacy – after all, I led 2,600 teachers on strike.” Bauman met both with community leaders who supported her campaign, and those opposed, to convince them that she was committed to the city. In the end, she ran unopposed.
Madison City Council Alder
Bauman knew many of the (then) 22 alders. Flying in the face of traditional protocol, five of the newly elected alders formed a rookie caucus. This made some city elders unhappy. “We did things like confer on substantive issues,” Bauman said. “We called senior alders to get information and to collaborate. It was very successful and made us more effective.”
During her service as an alder, Bauman worked on the city’s affirmative action ordinance, which involved collaboration with several interest groups and divergent perspectives. “We reached a compromise that everyone could live with,” she said.
For example, some coalitions wanted full salary reporting requirements but “we knew we couldn’t get that,” she said. Instead, Bauman and her fellow committee members worked a compromise for salary reporting in the aggregate.
Mayor of Madison
Bauman’s influence as a coalition- and consensus-builder carried her to the Mayor’s Office from 1997-2003.
In 1996, Paul Soglin ran for Congress and lost. He resigned as Mayor in December of that year. After being on the Madison City Council for 12 years, running for mayor made sense. Bauman came in second in the primary in a field of eight or nine candidates, and won the closest race in Madison history by just 57 votes.
She took two weeks to shut down her law practice and appoint her staff. As she walked into the Mayor’s Office, she received a binder of current projects from the Planning and Development director, and jumped in.
Bauman said she ran for mayor to improve life for Madison’s citizens and that, with her experience, she could do that job better than others. Bauman excels at the day-to-day tasks of municipal government. She likes talking about the minute details of city sanitation – recycling refrigerators, what to do with fluff. Ask her husband. Garbage is a topic they discussed for hours over breakfast.
The Overture Center and Monona Terrace
Bauman recalls working with visionary arts philanthropist Jerry Frautschi to develop the Overture Center. “He pledged $1 million, and ultimately donated much more” to realize the world class performing arts center in downtown Madison.
For her part, Bauman used her best political skills to bring those who wanted to use the city’s resources for other worthy causes into the fold. “Housing the homeless is a very worthy cause, but we had this amazing gift for the performing arts … so we used it.”
Shepherding the Overture Center into existence required financial vigilance. “City development projects are like puppies. They can grow into Great Danes overnight,” she said. Budget priority No. 1 was future sustainability, which required ensuring that the city’s debt levy was subject to an annual limit so that citizens were paying for city services and not for debt service. Bauman made sure that the city would continue its commitment to the Overture Center but the additional cost of its operation would be covered through private development funds.
Similarly, development on Lake Monona was fraught with divided interests. The history of Monona Terrace predates Bauman’s tenure as mayor, but she brought the project to completion. Environmentalists objected to pilings in Lake Mendota, the fishing community opposed any construction that would hurt the fish population, some people disapproved because they thought Frank Lloyd Wright’s personal life was disreputable – pointing to a trail of unpaid bills. Then there was the role of various governments, including Dane County and the state, to sort out.
There is no sign describing the critical importance of the work of bringing these groups together and achieving the compromises that allowed the city to realize Monona Terrace at the edge of the lake. Yet, the project may not have been achieved, or may not have been achieved so smoothly, without Bauman’s quiet work listening, negotiating, and bringing people to the middle and finding common ground.
Sue Baumann as Madison's first female mayor in 2003.
Lead in the Water
Not everything concluded with a ceremony dedicating a beautiful building to community use.
In the early 1990s, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) threatened litigation against the city after Madison’s water quality showed that lead was getting into the drinking water. While the lead levels were too low to be harmful to humans, the possibility of future health risks was acknowledged.
The EPA insisted that the city had to use a phosphorous-based chemical additive in water supply to dissipate the lead content in the water as quickly as possible. The EPA’s chemical solution would solve the problem “tomorrow” but the chemical would end up in the lakes, leaving them vulnerable to future algae blooms. Bauman had another plan. “We worked with many good people to solve the lead problem,” she said. “We had great local experts who told us that replacing the pipes was the best long-term solution for the city.”
Once again, competing interests had to come together to solve this problem. Pipe replacement would take three years. Homeowners’ yards would be dug up. Contractors would be working their way around downtown digging up the streets. And because the problem was caused by homeowners’ lateral pipes, the homeowners would have to pay for the replacement.
Bauman used the common interest of sustainable lake water quality to bring people together. “We had to convince people that it was better to replace the pipes over three years than to fix it tomorrow,” she said.
She needed to find a solution for the homeowners who did not want their lakefront property affected by construction and for those who could not afford to replace their pipes. Bauman talked algae bloom with the property value coalition, and her administration set up a long-term forgivable loan program through the city for the homeowners affected by the replacement cost. Bauman recalls that the city council was not fully aware of the issue. “We had to educate the council and the affected citizens” on the three year plan, she said.
This effort repaid the city many times over in sustainable water quality for Lake Monona.
Sue Bauman currently practices as an arbitrator and mediator.
Arbitrator and Mediator
“The best job I ever had was WERC commissioner,” Bauman said.
As WERC commissioner from 2003-11, Bauman practiced labor law. She was able to choose her cases, and often worked in northwest Wisconsin, mediating and arbitrating cases. “I just loved it,” she says. Describing herself as an “activist mediator, not a messenger,” Bauman’s perspective as a mediator was shaped by her experience on both sides.
As alder in the caucuses, she had listened carefully to each side and incorporated those conversations into the resolution. As a former union leader, alder, and mayor, she understands how to achieve consensus and get things done. “There is a process people have to go through. You can’t just jump to the end.”
Advice from Experience
Now a labor arbitrator in private practice, Sue Bauman shares the following advice for new lawyers presenting cases before her:
- Don’t defer on the opening statement. Tell me your theory of the case at the start. I want to have your perspective in my head when I am listening to the case you put in.
- Stop objecting to evidentiary issues. I will probably let the evidence in anyway.
- Don’t call me “Your Honor.”
- If you have relevant evidence, put it in. I will decide whether or how it fits. I won’t use it if I don’t need it.
- Making objections where appropriate signals your concern but there is no need to repeat the objection every time the issue comes up. Put an ongoing objection on the record if the issue repeats itself.
- Don’t assume knowledge on the arbitrator’s part. Don’t skip the basics – tell me your name, what the company does, the names of the witnesses and what they do as employees for the company.
A Quiet Person with Great Impact
Bauman’s impact is overwhelmingly positive on the City of Madison and its citizens, on the practice of labor law in Wisconsin, and on the lawyers who work with her.
Although it sounds simply like the day-to-day work, Bauman accomplishes a great deal by listening, letting people tell their stories, and finding common ground for the greater good.
“Madison is a great city,” Bauman says, “I am happy to make the city work well for the people who live here.”
And Madison is lucky to have her.