MADISON, Wis. — The mayor of Wisconsin's capital city is proposing its first official motto: 77 square miles surrounded by reality.

The phrase is a take on former Republican Gov. Lee Sherman Dreyfus' jibe in 1978 while running for governor that "Madison is 30 square miles surrounded by reality." At the time, Madison's Democratic Mayor Paul Soglin told a Dreyfus aide that the statement was wrong — not in sentiment, but because the city had grown to 65 square miles.

Soglin, who first became Madison's mayor in the 1970s and reclaimed the office in 2011, now proposes turning the phrase into the city's first official motto. Madison is known for its liberalism and quirkiness. For example, in 2009, the city adopted the plastic pink flamingo as its official bird.

Soglin says he finds the proposed motto self-deprecating and reflective of a vibrant citizenry engaged in civic, cultural and intellectual activities.

"I find that people have a sense of humor and appreciation for it," he told the Wisconsin State Journal (

Other city leaders aren't so sure.

"I have a sense of humor. I have my pink flamingo. But I don't think it's a good motto to have for the city," Council President Chris Schmidt said. "We're feeding a meme. This is more harmful than helpful to us."

Local historian Stuart Levitan said he admires Soglin but believes a motto should be dignified and inspiring, not a joke.

Chamber of commerce and tourism bureau officials also expressed concern about being just a tad too flip. But they also had a sense of humor about it.

"Maybe we should figure out the square footage of the City Council chamber and use that," joked Zach Brandon, chamber president and a former alderman.