Sabrina Madison was appointed as the new alder for District 17 on Tuesday, filling the remainder of former Ald. Gary Halverson's term.
Madison was selected out of five other candidates who applied for the open position following Halverson's resignation in mid-September. District 17, which spans Madison’s Far East Side next to the Dane County Regional Airport, was represented by Halverson since April 2021 until his past association with the Oath Keepers — a right-wing extremist group — leaked early last month, drawing immediate and fierce backlash.
After a few weeks, Halverson resigned, citing safety concerns for his family. Hours later, Madison announced her intention to run for the seat.
In an interview, Madison told The Daily Cardinal she had been considering a run for alder for several years but said recent conversations about the homeless men's shelter that veered into fear-mongering was what ultimately pushed her to run. She voiced her belief that she would be a good mediator between people who may not see eye-to-eye, noting she has experience “bridging the gap.”
“I felt like this was a more than appropriate [time] for me to use myself, not just adding my voice, my lived experience, my family members’ experience, but also the other community members who I know are dealing with homelessness,” Madison said. “I felt like I [could] be a good community navigator to bring these opposing views together and try to find some common ground for the shelter.”
Madison, who has lived in the city since 2007, is the founder and CEO of the Progress Center for Black Women, a nonprofit co-working space that offers a variety of specialized services and programming to help develop everything from financial literacy to business skills.
She also created the Black Women's Leadership Conference, which helps Black women across Wisconsin looking for leadership opportunities, as well as the Black Business Expo and the Black Excellence Youth Conference. Madison said she was motivated to create these organizations after noticing an absence of women of color in leadership positions, and said her appointment to the District 17 seat made her happy as she could participate in making decisions that affect minorities.
“I just felt this immense joy, like this immense happiness to sort of take part in a process that I've only been able to sort of watch and maybe come and testify in,” Madison said. “I want to be in the room where the decisions are being made, especially for people who look like me and may have some similar backgrounds.”
Madison said communication with the community was a key goal for her, and she “[wanted] to be known for [being] one of the most accessible alders” in Madison. She said she had already reached out to fellow Near East Side alders with an idea to create a forum to bring some of their constituents together.
“I am very much a fan of planning with folks who will take part in something,” Madison said. “It's just very important to me to include people in what my priorities are.”
She said her highest priority in her first weeks in office is simply talking to the people in her district. Madison said many recent conversations revolved around crime and safety as well as the desire for a central space for seniors, and she underscored that while emotions were mixed, some people expressed happiness the homeless men's shelter would be in District 17.
“So it's like whatever I can do to bring value to the conversation between, for example, the leadership at the shelter, and the East Towne business district and the residents over there, what value can I bring [and] strengthen those relationships,” Madison said.
Madison also serves as the chair of the city’s Economic Development Committee and chairs the Guaranteed Income Taskforce. She also sits on the board of the Overture Center and serves on a committee that selects future United Way board members.
She said she intends to run for a full term in April, which would last until April 2025.
Gavin Escott is a photographer and staff writer for multiple desks at The Daily Cardinal, focusing on city and state news. Follow him on Twitter at @gav_escott.