Incumbent Satya Rhodes-Conway was elected to a second term as Madison mayor Tuesday, defeating challenger Gloria Reyes comfortably in a race defined by housing concerns and public safety.
With 99% of precincts reporting, Rhodes-Conway led Reyes by 11 points. The race was called for Rhodes-Conway less than two hours after polls closed.
At her campaign watch party, Rhodes-Conway thanked her supporters and her partner for their support, and vowed to continue working to address housing affordability, the climate crisis, public safety and the creation of equitable investment in her second term.
Rhodes-Conway told The Daily Cardinal her victory served as an “affirmation” of her agenda in her first four years in office.
“I’m glad the voters in Madison had confidence in the work my administration has done over the past four years, and I’m eager to keep working on the things that Madison cares about,” Rhodes-Conway said. “We need to focus on public safety and traffic safety, on investing in our economy in an equitable way and supporting our young people, and making sure we are still tackling the climate crisis, because that hasn’t gone away.”
Rhodes-Conway was first elected mayor in 2019, unseating longtime incumbent Paul Soglin. She is the first openly LGBTQ mayor in city history and the second woman to hold the position.
Reyes previously served as deputy mayor, school board president and a Madison police officer. In her concession speech, Reyes said that while she hoped for different results, she was proud of her campaign.
“I stand before you tonight with a heavy heart,” Reyes said. “The voters have spoken, and I have not been elected to serve as your next mayor. While I am disappointed with the outcome, I do not consider this a loss.”
Rhodes-Conway said student housing affordability will remain a top priority during her second term. She committed to continuing a partnership with the University of Wisconsin-Madison to increase affordability for students renting near campus.
“What we’re working on right now is ways to make sure that the student housing that’s being built off campus has an affordability component in it,” she said. “We’re collaborating with campus and with the developers to make sure that some of the rentals are going to be affordable for students, but I’d like to push beyond that and make sure we're [building] more housing co-ops which are permanently affordable and find other affordable housing solutions for students.”
Outlining her plans for a second term, Rhodes-Conway said she would expand Madison’s CARES program and support Dane County’s efforts to repurpose the Huber Jail Center into a triage center to support those experiencing a mental health crisis.
Wisconsin State Representative Lisa Subeck (D-Madison) said Rhodes-Conway’s reelection marked “a step in the right direction for the city” and expressed amazement at the high voter turnout for the spring election.
“Having served on the city council, I remember the days when I would knock on doors and voters would say, ‘There’s an election?’” Subeck recalled. “I was just so impressed with how engaged people were.”
The mayor’s victory occurred shortly after the Associated Press called the Wisconsin Supreme Court race for Judge Janet Protasiewicz. The nationally-watched race, which will give liberals control of the court for the first time since 2008, may have helped increase voter enthusiasm in other spring elections in Wisconsin, according to Subeck.
Rhodes-Conway said she would take a “steady approach” to her new term, voicing her intention to first establish relationships with the newly elected Common Council.
“We’ll take a moment to get to know the new council and hopefully form good working relationships with them, and then start to lay on policy priorities,” she said.
The entire council historically goes through a complete refitting every two years when all alders are on the ballot, but a referendum approved on Tuesday’s ballot staggered Common Council terms.
District 17 Alder Sabrina Madison, elected to her first full term after being appointed in October 2022, told the Cardinal she is looking forward to continuing to work with the mayor, a sentiment echoed by newly elected District 2 Alder Juliana Bennett and District 8 Alder MGR Govindarajan, who said they were excited to begin delivering for students.
In her victory speech, Rhodes-Conway expressed her gratitude to the many people who contributed to Tuesday's election and voiced her excitement to begin work in the “new political climate.”
“Tonight we celebrate,” Rhodes-Conway said. “Tomorrow, we get back to work.”
Francesca Pica is the city news editor for The Daily Cardinal. She has covered multiple municipal elections and is a leading reporter on Madison labor issues. Additionally, she will serve as a news intern for The Capital Times throughout the summer of 2023.
Gavin Escott is a photographer and staff writer for multiple desks at The Daily Cardinal, focusing on city and state news. Follow him on Twitter at @gav_escott.