The two District 8 Alder candidates, Juliana Bennett and Ayomi Obuseh, participated in a virtual debate hosted by WORT 89.9FM last Wednesday to discuss their policy platforms in anticipation of the April 6 election.
Bennett and Obuseh — both current students activists — are running as progressive candidates to represent the district, which encompasses the UW-Madison campus and some surrounding neighborhoods. Both candidates emphasize the disproportionate effects the city’s issues have had on marginalized groups, particularly those of color.
During the debate, both candidates discussed the District 8 Alder’s unique relationship with the UW student body and administration as well as their views on local police reform.
Bennett, a co-founder of the UW BIPOC Coalition, described her motives and intentions for the candidacy promising to focus on student issues such as financial struggles and housing insecurity, some of which she says she has experienced herself.
“I have also been greeted with the dark underside of housing instability, financial hurts and just the overall extra stress of being a student of color at this predominantly white institution,” Bennett said.
Bennett went on to explain that as a student activist, she has experience negotiating with policy makers, which she argues would make her more effective at implementing local policy that would benefit UW students.
“I know what it means to have them say no, to have them say this can't happen and still make it happen,” Bennett said. “So therefore, you can trust that, yes, I'm here to represent but also amplify and include your voice.”
Obuseh, a co-founder of Impact Demand, spoke about the importance of local officials forming coalitions with local advocacy organizations. Obuseh described her commitment to the community through her organizing experience during this summer’s protests and as a Madison West High School student.
The candidates were asked about the unique relationship they will have working with both the City of Madison and UW leadership, especially concerning responses to COVID-19.
Bennett, who has been endorsed by ASM Chairman Matthew Mitnik and Dane County Board Supervisor Elena Haasl, stated her support for a “Moral Restart” that would prioritize student health. Bennett additionally stated her plans to work on joint legislation with other Alders to minimize the spread of COVID-19 from the UW campus to other parts of the city.
“I've been an outspoken advocate for instituting the moral restart, which will help decrease student tuition dollars and have more rapid remedies on campus,” Bennett said. “I also plan to bridge the gap between city and campus and not just be an advocate but also an instrument of change.”
Obuseh stated her plans to actively engage and inform students — largely through the use of social media — in order to better understand the needs of her constituency and also communicate the considerable impact that local politics has on student life.
“The role of an alder is a liaison between the constituents and the city,” Obuseh said. “There’s a lot of things that you can do as a student, but things that you can do as an alder have to be rooted in the community and understanding of the power that we have.”
Both candidates advocated for a full ban on tear gas and instead promoted alternative public safety methods such as the CAHOOTS Model, which would see the city hire trained social workers to respond to certain mental health crises instead of police.
Bennett addressed how she would push to defund the police and end programs such as the K-9 unit and 1033. She said she plans to allocate these funds toward alternative methods of public safety.
Obuseh agreed that a different approach to mental health issues and maintaining public safety is needed.
“When talking about police reform, it is crucial that we address mental health and how especially MPD has been trying to force policies in which they militarize themselves instead of addressing the concerns of the constituents in our community,” Obuseh said.