A diverse field of candidates battling to be Madison’s next mayor are vowing to champion racial equity, affordable housing, economic development, public health and safety, the environment and better services.
The question for voters in Tuesday’s primary is: Who can do it best?
On the ballot are Mayor Paul Soglin; Ald. Mo Cheeks, vice president of business development for MIOsoft; former Ald. Satya Rhodes-Conway, managing director of the Mayors Innovation Project at UW-Madison’s Center on Wisconsin Strategy; Raj Shukla, executive director of the conservation organization River Alliance of Wisconsin; and comedian Nick Hart.
Toriana Pettaway, the city’s racial equity coordinator, fell one signature short on her nominating petitions, collecting 199 of the 200 valid signatures required to be on the ballot, and is running as a write-in candidate.
The top two vote-getters advance to the general election on April 2.
As voters prepare to cast ballots, Madison is both booming and a place with significant challenges.
The metro area’s unemployment rate is 1.9 percent, among the lowest in the nation. Property assessments released last April showed a healthy 7.4 percent rise in real estate values, including the fifth straight increase in the value of the average single-family home, which jumped 5.8 percent for the second straight year to a record $284,868.
The boom meets the eye test, too, with Capital Square a lively magnet, new housing, commercial buildings and restaurants lining East Washington Avenue and other thoroughfares, the tech sector strong and growth on the periphery.
But the city has serious disparities in education and economic achievement for the poor and people of color. Advocates say it needs a lot more low-cost housing and efforts to address homelessness. While crime is low overall, violent crime remains a problem among African-American youth, many of whom have endured trauma in their own childhoods.
Amid tight finances, there’s demand to expand public transportation but no easy financial options for how to best invest taxpayer money to spur private development. The city is on the cusp of new commitments to renewable energy and must take action to prevent a repeat of last August’s severe flooding.
Below are responses from the six candidates for mayor to questions by the Wisconsin State Journal on some of the city’s most pressing issues.
The city has created 1,000 low-cost housing units in five years. What do we do next?
To keep up with Madison’s population growth, we must add 1,600 total housing units each year and prioritize housing that is affordable for all families. As mayor, I’ll double the affordable housing fund.
Shift the focus of the affordable housing issue to address the growing unachievability of a single person making $20 an hour in Madison living alone. Then look at how much lower the median income is than that.
Pursue wrap-around services and alternative housing options for working people in the “missing middle” like duplexes, triplexes, townhouses, co-ops and co-housing. Restore tenants’ rights for more stability.
More. We must preserve and create housing at all levels of affordability. We must look for creative solutions, like cooperatives, co-housing, and land trusts and land banking, and make it easier for people to afford housing.
Build more housing. We should also eliminate exclusionary zoning and incentivize green growth through to make room for the 70,000 more people who will call Madison home by 2040. Everyone should be welcome.
Find case managers and get more tenant involvement with design. 80 percent of our households are successful; we need to be at 100 percent. We must expand Madison’s housing choices to meet growing demand.
What must the city do next to address homelessness?
Create significantly more housing that is affordable and provides supportive services for people transitioning out of homelessness. To protect our residents, I’ll also increase support for eviction prevention services.
Better align efforts among nonprofits, community stakeholders, health care providers (with an emphasis on primary care, mental health and substance abuse), local businesses and community donations.
Work with shelters to support transitions to permanent housing. Expand shelters for women and abuse victims. Support treatment for mental health and drug and alcohol dependency. Remove Section 42 barriers.
Ending homelessness starts with addressing housing affordability and preventing evictions, but also includes adequate mental health and AODA services, and a Housing First approach with wrap-around social services.
Continue Housing First policies but acknowledge that families need more than a roof to be successful. We must provide wrap-around services to ensure families thrive and become stable.
Through greater collaboration with Dane County and nonprofits we need services for the chronically homeless to get them into permanent supported housing.
List three specific initiatives to improve racial equity?
Level the playing field by creating privately funded savings accounts for kindergartners to save for continuing education. Additional initiatives start with investments into diverse job creation and safe community spaces.
1) Make racial equity and social justice a necessary part of our daily lives. It needs to be included in our work, our education, our conversations and our community. 2) Toriana Pettaway. 3) Everett Mitchell.
Ensure shared power and participation with protected classes on boards, commissions, committees, department leadership and contracting. Collaborative career preparatory opportunities. Investment/savings accounts with financial literacy.
Remove barriers to employment for un- and underemployed people. Provide adequate affordable housing, especially to families with children. Expand internships, mentorship and employment to young people of color.
Move toward fare-free transit. Build more affordable housing. Take care of Madison kids from day one, not just grade one — expand early childhood programs that focus on birth-three to reduce achievement gaps.
Numbers 1 and 2: economic opportunity and education. Poverty and lack of education are the greatest impediments to equity. No. 3 is greater awareness of implicit bias and how our history is shaped by deliberate institutional racist decisions.
What is the city’s greatest need in basic services?
Modernizing our approach to service is critical to not falling behind. I’ll implement a data-first approach to essential services, and we’ll save resources by expediting street repairs and collaborating on public health.
This city, no matter how progressive, is not exempted from the ever-widening gaps in opportunities for the haves and the have-nots. We need to find ways to effectively provide opportunity for all our citizens.
Access to flexible civic participation methods, mitigated by mobile Municipal Court, Report a Problem, identification and elevation of the voice of the most impacted with collaborative weighted direct democracy.
Make our transportation system safer and more efficient by increasing pedestrian safety; build bike access for all ages and abilities; reduce traffic congestion and improve late-night and workforce transit.
Continue modernizing stormwater management to handle the impact of climate-change. Ensure everyone has equal access to fire and ambulance service; right now some neighborhoods wait more than 5 minutes.
The state’s approval of a Regional Transit Authority (RTA) so we can implement Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and improve service to low income neighborhoods, which we are already working on.
What’s is the city’s most pressing public safety concern, and what can be done about it?
Many youth and adults in our city don’t have hope for their futures, nor fear of hurting others. I’ll bring a sense of urgency to the mayor’s office and strengthen Madison’s proactive violence intervention strategies.
Crime, which is a result of myriad factors that predominantly affect the people in our city who are facing the largest obstacles in achieving a reasonable quality of life. Also, drunken driving from college bars.
Youth need culturally responsive wrap-around services including collaborative housing, transportation, food access, employment, wellness and economic development focusing on independence, entrepreneurship, and wealth creation.
Mental health and substance abuse. City police and firefighters spend far too much time working on situations concerning mental health that are much better suited for social workers and health care professionals.
Juvenile crime has sparked fear in many communities. Mentoring programs must be strengthened. The city must lead to create early-childhood birth-to-3 programs that start every kid off right and close achievement gaps.
Young offenders. We need: more peer group programs to work with young offenders; collaboration with Dane County in siting group homes for teens; and expansion of Madison’s restorative justice program.
Does the city need more police?
Yes for specific purposes, but Madison doesn’t need significantly more police. We need a comprehensive public safety and public health plan that proactively makes our community safer and officers’ jobs easier.
No. We need to improve police and community relations and provide police the resources to be both responsive and to develop professionally through training, education, community involvement and citizen oversight.
The City needs preventive services addressing root causes. More policing won’t decrease crime, but better collaborative support service has. This includes the police department trainings I’ve done to reduce bias and improve equity.
No. The City needs better data on what officers do now, so we can deploy our current resources more effectively. And we need more civilian personnel working on mental health and AODA issues with the police.
Yes. We are a rapidly growing and changing community, and the MPD force will need to evolve accordingly. As it does, women and people of color must continue to be recruited into leadership roles.
We are a very safe city. Violent crime is dropping. Police should be added as the city population grows, particularly when the town of Madison becomes part of the city.
What are the most important next steps to improve public transportation?
First, improve access for those most dependent upon transit. Second, commit to a strategy for regional funding. Finally, invest in the facilities that will enable rapid transit.
Improve the bus system as much as possible. Regulate rideshare services to help fund paratransit.
A racial equity analysis to guide increases and reallocations of buses. Protected bus/bike lanes. Collaborative Regional Rapid Transit focusing on equity, real ID neighborhoods, and city-wide improvements.
We’ve been talking about Bus Rapid Transit and expanding service for years; it’s time to act. To do this, we need to upgrade our Metro facilities and build partnerships with the county and surrounding municipalities.
Green our fleet. Move toward a fare-free Bus Rapid Transit system. Build coalitions across the state to pass a Regional Transit Authority (RTA). Also expand options like cycling and walking.
Although we are poised for BRT and an all-electric fleet, local resources are exhausted. Like all successful transit regions, we need a federal grant for capital costs and a state-authorized RTA for revenues.
Is the city on the best course for the Madison public market?
The best course for the Public Market requires a focus on setting up entrepreneurs, investors and taxpayers for success. Mayoral leadership that provides stable guidance on this entrepreneurial endeavor is critical.
I don’t care.
While the idea is great, the city’s great initiatives are riddled with barriers based on inequities and bias. We need collaborative expertise and equity expertise in implementation and planning.
It would be great to have a public market. But it’s a higher priority to build affordable housing. We should, however, expand or replicate the Market Ready program to support entrepreneurs in other sectors.
The Public Market is an inspiring concept. The delays are frustrating. For the health of Madison, we need to look beyond both the Public Market and Farmers’ Markets and instead create a regional food hub.
Yes. We need a public market focused on real people shopping for nutritious, fresh food; one accessible to minority vendors and local farmers with a low capital cost and accessible to all.
How does the city ensure the right future for Judge Doyle Square?
Transparency is the key to getting negotiations right. The city hasn’t benefited from one-on-one developer negotiations, and as mayor I’ll end that practice as we work toward completing this project.
I don’t care. Really. These are major projects but not important issues.
With a limited amount of control, we need to improve and enforce equitable access to all levels of employment, contracting opportunities, conferences to make sure under-served groups can take advantage.
Now that we’ve regained control over Block 88, it must meet community needs. And we must ensure that Block 105 is developed according to plan and without further subsidy, and hold the developer accountable.
We have wasted millions pursuing a project with that is now radically different from the initial concept. We can’t develop Madison out of single-minded desperation. We must get value for our investment.
Our professional city staff is working with the private sector to ensure a quality, accessible project that meets Madison standards for sustainability, urban design, and place making.
What can the city do to help prevent a repeat of flooding seen in 2018?
After 2018 flooding, the council acted with urgency and funded citywide flood mitigation efforts at 20 times last year’s efforts. As mayor, I’ll also add an environmental deputy to support city, county and state collaboration.
Listen to experts in the fields of climatology, limnology and risk management.
Focus on long-term solutions that collaborate with other municipalities based on the recommendations of subject matter experts. Avoid temporary solutions like lower lake levels and parks.
We must work with the county to manage the lakes at a lower level so they can store more water before they flood. We should also implement rain gardens, bioswales and other engineered green infrastructure solutions.
We can support the county’s effort to change lake levels based on science and regional consensus. We can also encourage green, responsible development through expedited permitting.
Work with Dane County and surrounding communities on to lower Lake Mendota. Expand West Side culverts, drainage areas and storm sewers pursuant to the pending Engineering Department reports.
What must the city do to continue economic development?
Elect a mayor who understands the future of our economy, ensures predictable regulations for businesses, prioritizes vibrant neighborhoods and supports excellent schools where families will choose to live.
Focus on partnerships with companies already here looking for long-term growth who embrace green initiatives, equity work and employee retention and education.
Streamline and connect entrepreneur support services. High-quality broadband. Stabilize commercial rents. Luxury real estate tax. Improve quality of service in affordable housing, education, transit and employment.
Quality of life is key in attracting talent and business. We need to focus on local entrepreneurs and small business, and removing barriers to employment so everyone can share in our prosperity.
Madison can continue to be the driver of Wisconsin’s economy. We must grow Madison in a green and equitable way, by increasing housing and updating our infrastructure. This will help create family supporting jobs.
Stay focused on my strategy that is working and will continue to work: affordable housing, quality child care, health care, great public transit and great schools with job development.
Should the city use tax incremental financing (TIF) differently?
My main goals for TIF are to support affordable housing and diverse job growth. I believe Madison’s 2014 TIF policy changes set us up well for channeling city resources to benefit residents in these ways.
Yes. Offering tax incentives to medium to large businesses to spur economic growth at the expense of the individual taxpayer is ridiculous and mired in traditional thinking and not supported by actual data.
Yes. TIF districts should be distributed more equitably. TIF should be a tool that supports community development, led by community input with an emphasis on those most impacted.
Any project funded with public dollars, including TIF, needs to provide benefits to the community through affordable housing, energy efficiency, green stormwater management, living-wage jobs and more.
The city can aggressively direct TIF toward affordable housing, create job opportunities for those who struggle and fund green development projects that protect us from flooding and climate change.
TIF is evolving with the economy and the nature of entrepreneurship. Our modification for “job TIFs” is correct: provide TIF to qualified employers who guarantee a minimum wage $15, retirement and health insurance.
How does the city ensure all participate in growth?
It must support diverse employers and entrepreneurs, establish a norm of youth internships for all students and invest in job readiness programs that prepare families for the highly skilled workforce of the future.
Implement tools for collaborative weighted direct democracy that increase access to participation with established and enforced measures that promote racial equity, social justice and elevate the most impacted.
Preserve affordable housing and commercial space in developing areas and near transit. Promote local hiring for construction and new businesses. Promote cooperative businesses and equitable development.
Incorporate the voices of young people in marginalized communities in city decisions and work toward equity with a robust early child care birth-to-3 program serving the most vulnerable families in Madison.
Establish racial equity and social justice as core principles in all decisions, policies and functions of the city. All people must have opportunities for fair and just inclusion in public processes and decisions.