When we declared a boycott of the Nitty Gritty bar for owner Marsh Shapiro's comments about a student voting seat on the Alcohol License Review Committee, we were not just asking students to seriously consider where they spend their money. We were also pointing out to city officials and businesses that students have a clear impact on neighborhoods across the Madison community.
The new Segredo Madison bar at 624 University Ave. is the perfect example of how students shape the business community. It will spur jobs and surrounding businesses for years to come, but the reason it is there in the first place is because its owner saw a student demand for 18-and-up establishments. The ALRC has approved Segredo's liquor license, apparently indicating they think students are smart enough to spend money there, but members balked at the idea of a student voting seat.
The city's Common Council must not show such a cavalier attitude for the distinct impression such actions make, that city officials are content to see student money support Madison's economy while denying them the right to advocate for themselves. If city alders care at all about students, not as cash dispensers but as community members who work to make Madison a more vibrant city, then they will approve a student voting seat on the ALRC.
We do not see this even as a strictly alcohol-related issue. Our issue is with some alders and business owners who do not think students are mature enough to handle the responsibility a voting seat brings. Others correctly realize that students will lend a thoughtful, innovative and pragmatic voice to a committee that impacts their community. As a city we already allow 18-year- olds to run for Common Council seats, yet to listen to some alders creating a student voting seat would be to invite pandemonium into city affairs.
Students already showed in the spring 2008 city elections that their electoral impact is just as significant as their economic clout. When Ald. Bridget Maniaci, District 2, beat eight-year incumbent Brenda Konkel, some observers claimed there was a political conspiracy to remove Konkel. But the reality is students, who make up a major portion of the district, wanted a representative who better advocated for their interests and the interests of the area.
A rational, nuanced approach is needed to address an issue like the student voting seat, one that gives students the respect they deserve as a thriving part of the city. This applies not just to alders on the isthmus, as student-supported projects like Segredo, University Square or even Halloween increase downtown profits to raise tax bases for the city as a whole.
We call on the Common Council to enthusiastically endorse the proposal for a student voting seat. Students are the engine for economic development in the city, and we are demanding alders not take that for granted.