Incumbent Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway and challenger Gloria Reyes sat down with the Madison community to debate issues including public safety, affordable housing and the city’s budget last week at the Madison Central Library.
The two candidates spent much of the debate discussing their proposals to address Madison’s current housing shortage.
Rhodes-Conway stated that Madison "just didn't build enough housing" in the past. She went on to emphasize the progress the city has made to increase supply.
“We have approved over 4,000 units of housing last year alone,” Rhodes-Conway said.
She also cited a zoning ordinance passed by the Common Council in February that allowed more residents to rent houses in much of the city, stating the city should increase population density to provide more housing.
Madison’s population is projected to grow by approximately 70,000 in the next 20 years, according to the city, and housing has not kept up. Reyes, former deputy mayor, police officer and school-board president, offered her strategy for tackling this issue.
“My strategy is to bring together a mayor’s housing advisory team with developers, realtors, neighborhood associations [and] residents of diverse communities to come to the table and develop a strategy — a big picture plan for this city,” Reyes said.
Both candidates highlighted the importance of community engagement to address the housing crisis, but Reyes took a stronger position on gaining public input.
Another hot topic was the city budget, as Madison is facing potential budget shortfalls in the next few years, according to the Wisconsin Policy Forum.
Rhodes-Conway called on the State Legislature to provide cities with more opportunities for revenue collection.
“I am most hopeful that to truly fix the problem, the State Legislature will take action to increase shared revenue because that’s the core of the problem,” Rhodes-Conway said.
Reyes, on the other hand, said the city should search for its own solutions instead of relying on the state government.
“We can’t depend on the State Legislature,” Reyes said. “For the past 30 years, they haven’t given us what we need.”
Reyes said residents should not be responsible for the city's financial burden.
“I’ve heard from residents across the city — our seniors who cannot stay in their homes, Black and Brown people who are finally able to own a home who are not able to stay in their homes,” Reyes said.
The candidates also debated public safety, including what steps can be taken to care for people experiencing homelessness.
Reyes said she wants to focus new public safety attention on young people.
“Our young people who are out there stealing cars, who are committing robberies, burglaries — those are the kids who are going to stay in the community,” Reyes said. “We have to invest in them now before we have to invest in them later.”
She proposed the establishment of an office of violence prevention in the mayor’s office, emphasizing the importance of engaging with at-risk communities.
Discussing homelessness, Rhodes-Conway described steps the city has taken since the pandemic to provide housing to people in need, including the development of multiple shelters and the construction of the city’s first permanent men’s shelter later in 2023.
Rhodes-Conway said the city’s efforts have helped people secure stable housing.
“We now have an incredible track record of moving families out into permanent housing so that more can get shelter if they need it,” she said.
The mayoral election will be held April 4.