Madisonians will decide which local candidates will serve on the common council for a two year term during the April 6 elections.
Madison’s electoral process to decide the common council divides the city into twenty separate districts, with each district’s population voting on who they wish to represent their respective geographic area.
All alder’s term limits begin and end at the same time, meaning that technically there will be 20 total races, although only 12 seats are contested.
Two of these contested races will take place in districts 8 and 2, both of which are heavily populated by UW-Madison students. Read on to learn more about the individuals competing in these 2 districts and the platforms the candidates have chosen to run on.
Find out the details of how to vote in the upcoming election on the city’s official website.
The district 8 race is taking place between Ayomi Obuseh and Juliana Bennett, both of whom are UW Madison student activists who took on leadership roles in racial equality protests following the murder of George Floyd.
District 8, which encompasses the UW Madison campus, is populated predominantly by university students, a fact that has historically led its alder being a student and often a more outspoken proponent of progressive values than other council members.
The platforms of Obuseh and Bennett both are broadly reflective of the tradition of progressivism in district eight, with both advocating for issues such as police reform and racial equity.
Obuseh, a Madison native, has been involved in local political organizing since attending Madison West highschool where she co-founded the advocacy group impact demand, which took an active role in the George Floyd protests this past summer.
Obuseh has stated that, if elected, she would primarily focus on issues related to racial equity by pursuing police reform and attempting to expand the amount/quality of public services offered to communities of color.
“One of the issues I have always felt the most passionate about is racial equality. That means I am dedicated to solutions such as police accountability, food sustainability, jobs and transportation that would help to create healthier and more equitable communities,” Obuseh told the Cardinal in an interview.
Obuseh has been endorsed by organizations such as the local advocacy group Freedom, Inc., Blacks for Political and Social Action of Dane County and Our Wisconsin Revolution.
Bennett similarly has experience as a community organizer, being a co-founder of the UW-Madison BIPOC coalition which took part in the George Floyd protests and also demonstrated against the university’s SMART restart program this past fall.
Bennett has run on a platform of racial inclusivity and has also emphasized her hope that she can act to more effectively implement policies advocated for by UW Madison students.
"I really want to build a unified voice and a strong coalition of civically engaged young people that will be able to build a Madison that is truly diverse, welcoming, inclusive and a place that people can call home," said Bennett during a debate with Obuseh. “I plan to bridge the gap between city and campus and not just be an advocate but also an instrument of change.”
Bennett has received endorsements from several local figures including ASM chair Mathew Mitnick, former District 8 Alder Max Prestigacomo and former Wisconsin state senate candidate Nada Elmikashfi
Obuseh was recently accused of indirectly claiming that Bennett had lied about claiming to be a survivor of sexual assault which has caused some Obuseh’s supporters, including The Daily Cardinal, to rescind their support for the candidate.
Both candidates have campaigned on issues of police reform and public housing, however, the Ramirez campaign has placed a greater emphasis on pursuing more radical solutions to these problems.
Ramirez, a 21-year-old Madison native, played a role as a community organizer during the George Floyd Protests this past fall, an experience they claim compelled them to run for public office. Ramirez has focused his campaign around pursuing racial equity and making local politics more accessible to Black and Brown residents.
“I made the decision to run because I know the current elected officials are missing large swaths of the communities' lived experiences,” Ramirez wrote in a Madison.com op-ed. “Only through the centering of the liberation of Black and Indigenous peoples will Madison be able to play our part in pivoting from global catastrophe.”
Ramirez, who has received the endorsement of the Teacher’s Assistant Association (TAA), has stated that in office, they would pursue policies that would defund the Madison Police Department and reinvest in an assortment of community oriented programs, particularly public housing.
“Addressing social problems at their root by providing housing, education, access to healthy food, will do more to reduce burden on our city and public safety than hiring more police officers,” Ramirez told TAA representatives. “By reinvesting those monies into the wellbeing of the community: through education, economic relief, universal day-care, etc. we can begin to give every Madisonian a floor to stand on.”
Heck, who works as a researcher at UW-Madison, has similarly promised to reform the Madison Police Department and reinvest in community programs. In contrast, the incumbent alder has advocated for a comparatively more measured tone than his opponent.
“I strongly support the efforts to create alternate capacities that will relieve law enforcement’s need to respond to many calls for service,” Heck wrote on his campaign website. “That said, I do believe that MPD is a necessary agency in our current world, but the community needs to examine its over reliance on law enforcement.”
Heck has also campaigned on the issue of public housing, pointing to his record as an alder who advocated that the city allocate additional funding towards public housing in 2020 and 2021.
“I continue to participate in efforts to reduce homelessness, including keeping Housing First dollars in the city budget and supporting other affordable housing initiatives,” Heck stated. “I sponsored 2020 and 2021 budget amendments that added an additional $500,000 to the city’s Affordable Housing Fund each year.”
In addition to voting for city alders, Madison voters will also respond to four questions regarding the salary given to city alders, the size of the common council, the length of alder terms and term limits in the common council.
These referendum questions come as part of a larger deliberation regarding whether the common council should be restructured so that there would be less alders, but representatives would work full time. Currently, the common council operates with twenty alders who earn a part time salary of roughly $13,700 per year.
The referendum to make these changes to the common council is purely not binding, however, a significant show of support for the measure would likely cause the common council to more seriously consider restructuring.