Ald. Zach Wood, left, and challenger John Terry Jr. both highlight affordable housing issues. They are vying to represent the downtown district that includes much of UW-Madison.
In advance of the April 4 election, Isthmus is hosting debates between the candidates for the five contested Common Council seats. Each of the contenders identified one issue important to his or her district to focus on during the conversation.
First-term Ald. Zach Wood is one of four incumbents being challenged. He faces political newcomer John Terry Jr. to represent a district around the UW-Madison campus.
Wood says increasing housing options for students will a be top priority if he’s reelected. The cost of housing is the “number one issue” the 23-year-old alder hears about from constituents.
“We find that a lot of students — especially in-state students — are paying almost as much in rent as they are on tuition. It’s mind-boggling,” Wood said when he debated Terry on Feb. 21 at Isthmus. “We have this gap between really high-end [housing] that is too expensive for a lot of folks. And [places] that are at or below code.... There’s really nowhere in between, and that’s what we’re trying to work on.”
Wood would like to see the city move forward with efforts to re-zone the campus area to promote moderately priced housing. If given a second term, he’ll push for more public-private residential developments and encourage housing cooperatives. Wood is also interested in “micro-unit” apartments as a way to provide more affordable housing options in his district.
Combating homelessness is why Terry is running for council. The 61-year-old is forthright about his battles with bipolar disorder, clinical depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction. These challenges left him homeless until he found permanent housing through Porchlight three years ago. Terry says this firsthand experience is what’s missing from the conversations about ending homelessness in Madison.
“It’s sad because there are lots of good intentions. But to get people out of the homelessness conundrum, it’s a progression,” he says. “You can build all the affordable housing there is. But until people have a reason to live there, stay there, they are just going to leave. I know this from personal experience. It took me almost two years to get sober.”
The law-and-order race
Community support for the police dominated a spirited Feb. 28 debate between challenger Steve Fitzsimmons and Ald. Maurice Cheeks, who has represented his southwest-side district since 2013. This is the first time Cheeks has faced an opponent.
Fitzsimmons, chair of the Midvale Heights Neighborhood Watch, bills himself a “pro public safety” candidate. He accuses Cheeks of undermining “public trust in the police” by signing a statement with 10 other council members criticizing the arrest of 18-year-old Genele Laird at East Towne Mall in June 2016. “We watched what the video captured many times and cannot see past what seems like excessive aggression,” the statement said.
“Yes, I [also] felt that way, but I would not publicly state that. You don’t want to throw police under the bus. If you want to build public trust with the police, you have to be publicly supportive of the police at all times. All times,” says Fitzsimmons. “If you show distrust, the community starts to distrust, and everything starts falling apart.”
Cheeks says he’s supported the police through budget increases.
“Nobody finds it acceptable when there are break-ins. Nobody finds it acceptable when there are shootings,” says Cheeks, who adds he’s seen firsthand his constituents working with the police to reduce crime. “I marched with neighbors two days [after a shooting in the Allied Drive neighborhood], saying this has to stop and we have to collaborate with police to make sure these investigations go smoothly. That’s the type of work that will continue to be needed.”
Fitzsimmons also criticizes Cheeks for supporting a $400,000 study to evaluate police department policies and procedures. He says it’s “unfair to single out Madison” in regards to racial disparities in the criminal justice system. He calls the recent settlement over the police shooting of Tony Robinson “a big mistake.” He would also push to hire more police officers, an effort he affirms is currently being “scuttled by city leaders.”
Cheeks says he’s asking for a third term to continue closing “the opportunity gap that exists in our city.” He counts among his accomplishments work on a 15-point plan to reduce violence in the community and the hiring of a racial equity coordinator.
“It’s more important than ever, that, as city leaders, we are able to be the resistance against extremism, hate and divisiveness,” says Cheeks. “I want to innovate to create more opportunities for all residents in Madison.”