Incumbent Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, and opponents Gloria Reyes and Scott Kerr took part in a community forum held at the Urban League of Greater Wisconsin on Tuesday.
The forum was organized by local organizations including the NAACP, Urban League, Wisconsin Interfaith Voter Engagement Campaign, 100 Black Men of Madison and the Divine Nine. The candidates discussed issues including zoning, housing, body cameras and public safety.
Rhodes-Conway said she supports the creation of new housing and intends to develop new zoning plans that will ensure no current residents are displaced.
“There are different rules depending on if you own your home or rent your home, and I don’t think that’s fair,” Rhodes-Conway said. “Yes, we should be changing the zoning but at the same time we have to think about unintended consequences and make sure we’re not displacing folks out of our neighborhoods.”
Reyes, the former deputy mayor, police officer and president of the Madison School Board, would be the first Hispanic woman elected Madison mayor. Reyes challenged Rhodes-Conway’s housing policies and said the city needs to preserve current homes while looking elsewhere to build new housing.
“I think this is an example of the mayor coming up with a bad idea,” Reyes said. “We have to think about consequences. This is not just about building more housing. We have to keep the housing that we have and look at spaces that we have in our city to develop.”
Rhodes-Conway said the city of Madison voted for a mayor who would take the housing crisis seriously, bring rapid transit to the city, fight climate change and infuse equity into the work the city does.
“I’m proud to say that despite a global pandemic, we have made progress on all of those and more,” Rhodes-Conway said.
Kerr, a city employee of 42 years and technician with the Traffic Engineering Division, said he will focus on creating a more responsive government.
Kerr said he plans to collaborate with local businesses for input on how to improve the city’s public safety while maintaining a cost-effective government.
“We’re heading into really rough times,” Kerr said. “I’m going to put it out to the public to make the decisions with me on what we have to cut so we can maintain the city without detriment to the city itself.”
Reyes said she plans to create an advisory team to increase housing affordability for Black families looking to buy homes.
“The median Black household income is unable to afford medium rent in the city,” Reyes said. “I plan to develop a mayor's housing advisory team that’s going to implement targeted solutions to move Black families into home ownership.”
Following the police killing of Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tennessee, the use of body cameras on officers has become a pressing topic in the mayoral election. Floyd Rose, president of 100 Black Men of Madison, asked the candidates their thoughts on body cameras.
Kerr said he would prioritize putting body cameras on police officers and take other steps to increase coverage in the city.
“It is a priority to put body cameras on every officer to protect the citizens and protect the good officers,” Kerr said. “The problem is the body cameras aren't enough. I support expanding our traffic overhead camera system so that we have good coverage throughout the city.”
Reyes said when she was deputy mayor, the city spent $400,000 on consultants for recommendations on body cameras. She criticized Rhodes-Conway for what she said was a lack of action in implementing cameras.
“We’re still here talking about body cameras,” Reyes said. “The mayor has been silent on this. We all have been wondering: where are we with body cameras?”
Rhodes-Conway said she plans to fund ongoing training in the police force to create a culture that will prevent police misconduct from happening in Madison.
“Let me say this: we’re asking the wrong question,” Rhodes-Conway said. “The question is not ‘Should police have body cameras?’ The question is ‘How do we prevent misbehavior in police departments?’”
The mayoral primary election, as well as the Common Council primary election, will be held Feb. 21. The general election will take place April 4.
After the primary election, candidates will participate in a debate scheduled for Feb. 27 at Central Library hosted by the Wisconsin Policy Forum and Downtown Madison, Inc.