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Sunday, December 03, 2023
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MGR Govindarajan, a University of Wisconsin - Madison student and candidate for a seat on the City of Madison Common Council, is photographed on March 21, 2023 in Madison, Wis.

Mixed results for Gen Z candidates in Common Council election

Two members of Generation Z were elected to the Common Council Tuesday, while another narrowly failed to unseat Madison’s longest-serving alder.

The spring 2023 elections Tuesday produced mixed results for Generation Z candidates running for Madison Common Council.

The City of Madison held general elections for all 20 Common Council seats Tuesday, 14 of which were contested. In Districts 2, 4 and 8, Gen Z candidates ran to represent the voices of young people on the Common Council.

District 2

University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate Juliana Bennett won a second term to the Common Council after switching from District 8 to District 2 due to redistricting and to create room for students to run in District 8. She garnered a commanding 72.8% of the vote against her opponent, Wisconsin state Senate legislative assistant Colin Barushok. 

As District 8 alder, Bennett worked on various projects, including affordable housing and safe shelters for the homeless. According to her campaign website, her priorities for her next term include affordable housing, violence prevention, equitable transit, housing the homeless, environmental justice, community investment and social justice. 

“Thank you, thank you, thank you to all volunteers, supporters, donors and endorsers who made this possible!” Bennett shared on her Instagram story after winning the election. “We could not have done it without you. Now the real work begins.”

Juliana Bennett. PNG

Bennett told The Daily Cardinal she is excited for youth representation in city government.

“I'm really proud that we were able to get two young people to both be on the council,” she said. 

District 4

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In District 4, which encompasses much of downtown Madison, UW-Madison student Maxwell Laubenstein narrowly lost against longtime incumbent Michael Verveer by a margin of slightly over 300 votes.

Verveer is the longest-serving member of the council, having first been elected in 1995. He said he aims to continue focusing on issues affecting downtown Madison including housing, senior issues and safety. 

Laubenstein said in a statement he was proud of the campaign he ran, providing a challenger to Verveer for the first time since 1999.

“When special interest groups tried to buy the election and preserve the status quo, we didn’t get discouraged,” Laubenstein said. “For the first time in 20 years, we gave downtown voters a choice in who they want to represent them, and for that I am proud and grateful.”

District 8

The District 8 race featured two UW-Madison students — Charlie Fahey and MGR Govindarajan — and remained a close one until the end. The district seat, which encompasses most of the campus, has long been the voice for students in the Common Council. Ultimately, Govindarajan won the seat by a margin of 103 votes. 

Govindarajan served as the former Legislative Affairs Chair for the Associated Students of Madison and has experience advocating for student issues and working with various local, state and federal officials. He told the Cardinal he is both grateful and thrilled to represent UW-Madison students in the council.

“I’m honestly really excited to go into this new role,” Govindarajan said. “I am really thankful for our supporters [and] all the voters who went out and voted.”.”

Govindarajan said he was impressed by the high turnout compared to previous Common Council elections, noting it was the largest voter turnout in District 8 history. 

“I think this is the first time any candidate has surpassed a 2000-vote limit, which is amazing,” he said. “We had an amazing team with a lot of volunteers. It was really a grassroots effort, with a lot of endorsements and a lot of support.”

Govindarajan said his platform will focus on increasing safe and affordable housing, expanding mental health services, prioritizing campus and off-campus safety, improving transport infrastructure and investing in sustainability across Madison. 

The spring 2023 ballot also featured a referendum regarding the establishment of staggered two-year terms for members of the Common Council. The referendum, which advocates said would create institutional knowledge in a body that goes through a complete refitting every two years, was overwhelmingly approved by voters. The change will take effect in 2025. 

Other notable races included District 14, where a razor-thin margin of a mere two votes separated winner Noah Lieberman from former Common Council member Isadore Knox, Jr. In District 15, comedian and small business owner Dina Nina Martinez-Rutherford defeated opponent Brad Hinkfuss to become the first transgender woman elected to the Common Council. 

Editor's note: This article was updated at 12:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 6, 2023 to indicate that MGR Govindarajan was the former Legislative Affairs Chair for the Associated Students of Madison.

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