Raised in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago until the fall of 1960, and a graduate of Highland Park High School, Paul came to Madison to attend the University of Wisconsin in 1962. He received his Bachelor’s degree with honors in 1966 and subsequently became a graduate student in the History Department. In 1972 he received his law degree from the University of Wisconsin Law School. While in graduate school, he was elected to the Madison Common Council in 1968 and was re-elected in 1970 and 1972.
His years as a student anti-war activist and participant in the civil rights movement are noted in two documentary films, The War at Home and Two Days in October and David Maraniss’ book, They Marched into Sunlight.
Paul Soglin was first elected mayor of Madison in 1973, shortly before his 28th birthday. As mayor he was responsible for the construction of the State Street Mall and Capital Concourse. In 1975 he was the first mayor and the fourth elected public official from the United States to meet Fidel Castro. He began the city’s day care program providing center certification and technical assistance. During his first administration, existing buildings on State Street were reconstructed to create the Madison Civic Center, and the first components of Madison’s acclaimed bicycle route system were completed. In addition, nearly 300 units of elderly housing were constructed, inspiring the private sector to create hundreds of units as well.
Reforms in the hiring process led to the first hiring of women firefighters and to this day Madison has one of the highest percentages of women and minorities in its police and fire departments. This was done through aggressive recruitment, training, and education, not through quotas.
When Paul Soglin first became mayor, the city’s bus system was in a state of collapse, providing as few as seven million rides a year. Six years later, the city had upgraded the system, purchased 48 new buses, and annual ridership doubled to nearly fourteen million rides. A similar revival in public transit occurred when he returned to office from 1989-1997.
In 1973 Madison received a AAA bond rating, the highest rating available to a municipality. The confidence in Madison’s financial health was reaffirmed recently when Moody’s Investment Services praised the city’s strong budgetary control, stating that, “conservative budgeting and strong fiscal oversight consistently produce positive results.” Madison is one of very few cities in the United States to have a AAA bond rating.
When the mayor decided to retire from public service in 1979, the Institute of Politics awarded him a fellowship at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. From 1980 until he returned to the mayor’s office in 1989, he practiced law in Madison.
As mayor, Paul was the chief administrator of the city of Madison. He was responsible for the preparation and implementation of a $140 million annual budget and the supervision of 2,500 employees. He focused most of his energies on the mission of city government: insuring the health and safety of all the city’s citizens and neighborhoods.
As a result, Madison was recognized repeatedly as an exceptional community, most notably when Money magazine rated Madison the nation’s #1 livable city in 1996 and again a year after he left office in 1998. During his tenure Madison was noted for its environmental quality and the best place in which to raise children (Zero Population Growth), for bicycling (Bicycling magazine), as a place to start a business (“Entrepreneur”), and as a place for women to live (“Savvy” magazine). A few months after he left office, Good Housekeeping magazine proclaimed Madison the best community for women in America.
A vibrant, healthy city and local economy is not just a happy accident. Paul and his staff worked diligently to achieve considerable success in managing city resources, encouraging responsible growth and economic development, and investing in neighborhoods. For three years, Madison had the lowest unemployment rate in the United States, averaging about 1.5 percent. Through careful planning and management, Madison’s per capita spending has dropped below the statewide average, while the highest possible quality of city services was maintained.
He developed the Neighborhood Resource Teams which were a key component in combating gang activity and providing neighborhood based strategies that succeed in strengthening Madison communities. The significant drop in violent crime and corresponding economic and educational benefits are his proudest achievement from this period.
In July of 1997 the City of Madison opened Monona Terrace, a $67 million convention center first conceived by Frank Lloyd Wright in the 1930’s. The facility, which most thought would never be built after two efforts to finance the project failed in 1955 and 1969, closely follows Wright’s original design.
As an advocate for the concerns of America’s citizens, Paul was an active leader of the United States Conference of Mayors (USCM), serving on the organization’s advisory board and as chair of many committees. In 1993, he was appointed chair of the Urban Economic Policy Committee, a post he held for three years. As chair, he was responsible for directing conference policy on urban economic issues. During his tenure as chair USCM vigorously fought for urban economic development and improved infrastructure as an incentive to private investment, social security reform, and greater economic and social justice. Closer to home, he served on the Governor’s Task Force on State and Local Relations, and on the board of the Wisconsin Alliance of Cities.
An innovator in government management and administration, Paul Soglin has lectured on his experiences in total quality management, the City of Madison’s strategic planning and management systems and other initiatives including the city’s innovations in customer service and its Neighborhood Resource Teams. From 1997-2003, and again from 2008-2011 Paul taught graduate classes in Public Finance and Public Administration at the La Follette School of Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin.
In 2003 Paul attempted to return to the mayor's office and was defeated in a close election by a margin of less than 1%. In 2011 Paul againattempted to return to the mayor's office and was successful. Today, when Paul is not spending time with his family, or working on city issues, he can be found on the back roads of glaciated Dane County bicycling to the water pump in Paoli. In July, 2001, he completed the 520 mile Heartland AIDS ride from Minneapolis to Chicago, returning in one piece.