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Thursday, November 30, 2023
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A rundown on Madison’s 2023 Common Council, mayoral primary elections

The spring primary election will be held Tuesday to determine which candidates will advance in the mayoral and Common Council races.

The Madison spring primary will be held Tuesday to determine which candidates will advance to the April 4 general election in the mayoral race as well as multiple Common Council races. 

The mayoral and Common Council races are officially nonpartisan, and the two candidates who receive the greatest number of votes will face off in the general election. 

The mayoral race

Four candidates are running for mayor of Madison this February. 

Incumbent Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway is seeking a second term after becoming the second female mayor and first openly LGBTQ+ mayor of Madison in 2019. She highlighted several projects and accomplishments during her time in office on her campaign website, which includes doubling the city’s affordable housing fund, creating a patient-centered mobile crisis response team called CARES and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“Cities are leading on COVID-19, climate, racial equity, housing, transportation, the economy and other issues that matter to working families,” Rhodes-Conway said. “My administration has delivered on all these issues, and we’ll continue to lead and innovate.”

She said her top priorities include building more housing in the city, reducing gun violence, taking a patient-centered approach to mental health emergencies and lowering city emissions to meet its net-zero goal by 2030. She is endorsed by several local politicians and organizations, including U.S. Representative Mark Pocan and EMILY’s List

Former police officer Gloria Reyes is also running for mayor. She served as the Madison Board of Education president from 2018 to 2021 and as deputy mayor between 2014 and 2019. Reyes was born and raised in Madison and is the first Latinx candidate to run for mayor. 

On her website, Reyes said she will prioritize increasing community engagement, promoting safe and healthy neighborhoods, developing the local economy, investing in the public school system, moving toward environmental sustainability and alleviating homelessness. 

“These are all complex issues, but with my leadership as mayor, I will identify problems, devise innovative solutions and invest in their implementation to address these challenges by bringing experts, residents, stakeholders and city leaders together to move Madison forward,” Reyes said. 

Scott Kerr is another mayoral candidate. He has worked for the City of Madison for 42 years and is currently an employee of the traffic engineering division. Kerr said he is refusing to accept any campaign donations from his supporters. 

“Elections should not be dependent on funding,” Kerr said. “For far too long, people have talked about getting the money out of politics. It’s time for action. While other candidates are asking for financial donations, my campaign will not accept donations.”

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His campaign website highlights three main priorities: responsive government, public safety and cost-effective government working toward the goals of “commonsense solutions and fiscal responsibility.”

Daniel Howell Jr., a former Wisconsin Badgers tight end, is also running as a write-in candidate. Howell, who played football at the University of Wisconsin-Madison from 1985 to 1990, left the city to pursue various jobs in the social services sector before coming back to Madison and completing his bachelor’s degree in December 2022. 

He told the Wisconsin State Journal his top priorities include “the fight against illegal drugs, support for law enforcement, building better opportunities for minorities, preparing youth for leadership roles, continuing economic development, stopping panhandling and getting real help for the homeless if they want it, and getting city parks in order.”

Common Council races

All 20 Common Council districts are up for reelection, but only six races feature more than two candidates on the ballot. Contenders in races with two or fewer candidates will advance to the general election. 

District 2

Julianna Bennett, Colin Barushok and Evan McSorley are running to fill District 2’s seat after incumbent Patrick Heck announced in November he would not seek reelection in November.

Bennett is the current District 8 alder and a UW graduate who said she switched districts due to redistricting and to create room for students to run in District 8. Her campaign priorities include affordable housing, violence prevention, housing the homeless and community investment, according to her campaign website. 

Barushok, a legislative assistant at the Wisconsin State Senate and UW alum, said his campaign promises include fighting for affordable housing, striving to make State Street a fully pedestrian and bicycle mall and working toward an equitable and functional public transit system.

McSorley is an employee at Columbia Pipe and Supply Co. who moved to Madison in 2017. He said he will advocate for affordable housing for all, blue lakes and green parks and safe, reliable and efficient public transportation as an alderperson. 

All three candidates gathered Monday in a public forum at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Hillel, where they discussed issues including housing, transportation, community engagement and public safety.

District 9

Incumbent Nikki Conklin faces two challengers — Anthony “Nino” Amato and Paul Skidmore — in the race for the seat in the far west side of Madison. Conklin is an employee at Lussier Community Education Center. She is running on a platform focused on elevating the CARES program, increasing quality affordable housing and working to meet basic safety needs for the community. 

Amato is a part-time UW-Platteville adjunct professor of sustainability and renewable energy who has been involved in various levels of local and state government leadership. Amato said on his campaign website he is running to create safer neighborhoods by reducing Madison’s crime rate, provide resources to guarantee safe drinking water, develop a sustainability program for Madison’s future and preserve the city’s natural resources.

Skidmore previously served as District 9 alder from 2001 until his loss to Conklin in the 2021 election. Skidmore, a landscape architect and small business owner, told the Wisconsin State Journal he hopes to reduce crime levels by increasing engagement between police and neighborhoods, as well as providing education on violence prevention in home, schools and the workplace. 

District 10

Due to redistricting, District 10’s Common Council race will include two current alders in addition to newcomer Diego Colorado. Yanette Figueroa Cole is defending her seat against current District 14 alder Sheri Carter, whose neighborhood joined District 10 after the 2022 redistricting cycle.

Figueroa Cole is a system administrator for Johnson & Johnson Ethicon, Inc. She said her priority is to center issues that impact the health and safety of community members, taking a bottom-up approach in providing community services for the most vulnerable. 

Carter works as an executive assistant at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services and serves as Porchlight Inc.’s board president. She said on her website she is focused on increasing affordable housing, building equitable transit and maintaining public safety.

Newcomer Diego Colorado is a butcher at the Conscious Carnivore with an IT background who moved to the city five years ago. In an interview with WORT-FM, he said he is running to promote increasing the number of affordable and accessible housing and expanding the CARES program city-wide. 

District 12

The District 12 seat opened up after Alder Syed Abbas stepped down in November 2022. The Common Council appointed former alder Barbara Vedder to serve out the rest of Abbas’ term, and five candidates are competing to fill the seat. 

Blake Alvarenga is a senior project coordinator, consulting for SMART Solutions at Madison Gas and Electric. He said on his campaign website his four core values are affordable homeownership, community safety, environmental protection and economic development.

Amani Latimer Burris works as an advising assistant to Nobel Peace Prize nominee Dr. Opal Lee and serves as the Vice President for the Democratic Party of Dane County. She said she hopes to make neighborhoods safer, remove barriers to physical and mental well-being, work on housing concerns, advocate for economic development opportunities and push for long-term environmental solutions.

University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health Programmer Analyst Julia Matthews’ priorities include supporting affordable and accessible housing, mitigating noise for F-35s, expanding the CARES program and reducing the cost of childcare. She is a lifelong Madison resident and UW-Madison alum. 

Victor Toniolo is a senior scientific affairs chemist at Scientific Protein Laboratories and a volunteer with the Wisconsin Film Festival. He said his biggest priority is to be available to his constituents, and his major policy concerns surround building more affordable housing. He said he also looks toward minimizing the cost overruns and delays surrounding building the Madison Public Market and expanding the CARES program through police budget redistribution. 

Josh Walling, a carpenter and project manager for home construction, said he is passionate about representing the district and taking on the needs of current residents. He told WORT-FM in an interview that his main priority is to make Madison a model for green cities in the world while still preserving and protecting its unique multicultural identity.

District 14

The district in the south side of Madison sees three new candidates running for the seat.

Retired Equal Opportunity Manager Isadore Knox Jr. served as alder from 2005 to 2007 and has over 30 years of experience in government management and training. He said he will advocate for improving Madison’s housing options, neighborhood initiatives and economic opportunities, leveraging on his leadership experience through his involvement in various local civic organizations. 

Epic Technical Services Analyst Noah Lieberman moved to Madison in 2017 and currently serves as the campaigns chair of the Democratic Party of Dane County. His promise to his district is to push for policies that will benefit the whole city, including affordable housing, safe and convenient transportation, racial equity and justice, environmental protection and economic development. 

Katherine Pedracine is a small business owner and property manager who previously worked with the Madison Community Health Center to bring medical services to south Madison. She is hoping to promote healthy food options, opportunities for the city’s youth and community safety while also addressing the rising cost of housing. 

The current District 14 alder Sheri Carter has been redistricted out and is now running in District 10 instead. 

District 20

District 20 features a four-way race among two current alderpersons and two newcomers to the Common Council. 

Matt Phair filled a vacancy in June 2022 left by former alder Christian Albouras, who resigned from the position after moving out of the district with his family. Phair, who also served as alder from 2011 to 2019, said making Madison more affordable is at the forefront of his efforts alongside violence prevention, budget discipline and city government reform. 

After the redistricting, Barbara Harrington-McKinney is no longer located in her previous district and is now running against incumbent Phair in her new district. She has served as District 1 alder since 2015 and is one of the first African American women elected to the Common Council. The four main priorities stated on her campaign website include public safety, city services, housing and equity. 

Aslam Rakhangi is an enterprise IT vendor manager for American Family Insurance and a first-generation immigrant whose platform focuses on six key areas: affordable housing, workforce development, public safety, budget allocation, aging and disability response and environmental protection. He said he is committed to being a voice for the underrepresented, providing various ways his constituents can engage and reach out to him. 

Retiree Sammy Khilji worked various jobs in the insurance industry and said he is looking to give back to the community as an alderperson. In an interview with WORT-FM, Khilji said the most pressing issue he would like to address if elected to Common Council is the increasing property taxes that are no longer affordable to residents.  

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