District 2 Common Council candidates Colin Barushok, Evan McSorley and Juliana Bennett participated in a debate forum at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Hillel on Monday.
The debate was organized by local Madison organizations including the Campus Area Neighborhood Association, the Associated Students of Madison and BadgersVote. Candidates answered questions about housing, transportation, community engagement and public safety crafted by responses from a community input survey.
The candidates highlighted their proposed measure to increase public safety, especially after the November 2022 shooting on State Street and the police killing of Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tennessee.
McSorley, an employee of Columbia Pipe & Supply, said he supports increasing police presence in the community to deter crime.
“As a community, we need to make sure that we’re holding one another accountable and treating one another with respect,” he said. “The more folks that you have on State Street naturally will help decrease crime.”
Bennett, the current District 8 alder, criticized McSorley’s plan, noting police presence in areas where Black and Brown people reside will be ineffective as it doesn’t address the underlying problems that lead to violence.
“When violence happens, it's too late,” Bennett said. “We need to actively reach out and solve the problem.”
Bennett said the issue of violence prevention most greatly affects the city’s BIPOC, LGBTQ and youth communities.
“I view this question through a public health violence prevention lens, especially given the fact that these issues affect our BIPOC, LGBTQ and young people,” Bennett said. “This is coming from someone who is a survivor of sexual assault and someone that has witnessed the traumatizing effects of strong violence.”
Barushok, a former healthcare worker and public servant, said the city should invest in training programs to prevent violence without adding additional police.
“I support programs like bystander intervention training and safety ambassadors,” Barushok said. “I don’t know if we need to add police, but we need to make sure our police department’s fully staffed and try to pay them with competitive wages with other industries.”
Barushok focused his campaign on ensuring affordable housing downtown. In response to a community member’s concerns about the eastside of Madison becoming more expensive, he criticized Wisconsin’s state representatives on the lack of affordable housing requirements.
“We cannot require affordable housing because our friends in the State Capitol said no to that, but we can negotiate with developers and support creative ways to encourage affordable housing,” Barushok said. “We also must preserve existing affordable housing.”
McSorley proposed changing zoning regulations to make it easier for developers to build more housing units in downtown Madison.
“I think one of the opportunities we have is that we need to make zoning permits, laws and regulations more available,” McSorley said.
McSorley’s goals for Madison include improving the quality of life for the district, helping businesses prosper and supporting community projects to encourage the construction of more housing. One of the ways he plans to do this is through improving State Street.
“If you walk down State Street today, you’ll see that there’s a lot of vacant office buildings, and I don’t think that the current council is taking this seriously enough,” McSorley said. “A lot of people have expressed interest in revitalizing State Street”
Candidates also addressed the accessibility of public transportation in Madison. Starting in June 2023, buses will no longer run on State Street in preparation for the implementation of a Bus Rapid Transit Lane by 2025.
In addition to the BRT, Bennett plans on increasing bus access to the outskirts of the city.
“When re-elected, I will be supportive of increasing our transit access, including another BRT line that runs west to east, increasing bus access to the outskirts of our city, increasing funding for free and reduced bus passes especially for our low-income and houseless population, and provide late night bus services throughout our city,” Bennett said.
In addition to increasing transportation access, all three candidates said they support increasing pedestrian safety and eliminating traffic-related deaths.
“We can install more protected bike lanes, more bicycle friendly infrastructure,” said Barushok.
Barushok and McSorley also expressed support for construction of the proposed Amtrak station in downtown Madison.
District 2 is located between the downtown area of Madison and the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. To include more voices in the community, McSorley said he plans to involve the university in city decisions.
“We are stronger together than we are alone,” McSorley said. “I don’t think all of the decision making belongs to downtown Madison. We need to engage in conversation with [the] University of Wisconsin, with other surrounding suburbs, neighborhoods and cities. I believe we can learn and work together.”
Similarly, Barushok said he wants to increase communication and engagement with all communities in Madison.
“Communicating with the residents themselves is a first priority,” he said. “I’ve learned that there’s an interest in getting the Capitol Neighborhoods Association back up to a level of activity that existed before the COVID-19 pandemic, and that is something I am committed to help doing.”
Bennett said she is focused on extending her networks and reviving city associations so more residents, including students, can have a voice and input in government.
“My job is to talk to residents,” Bennett said. “I don’t care if you’re a student, I don’t care if you’ve lived here 40 years — whatever. It’s my job to represent you and I will do that by actively seeking your voice.”
The Common Council primary election will be held alongside the mayoral election Feb. 21. The two candidates who receive the largest number of votes will face off in the general election on April 4.