Jill Karosky and her mother Judith celebrated victory at The Laurel Tavern
Supporters of Jill Karofsky gathered at the Laurel Tavern on Tuesday night anxiously watching to see if their candidate would defeat Marilyn Townsend for Dane County District Judge. They didn't have to wait long.
“We learned a lot things in this race,” a jubilant Karofsky told the crowd. “That experience matters. That a judge has to be fair, impartial and committed to justice under the law. That we have to protect the rights of everyone.”
Karofsky crushed her opponent by over 13,000 votes in the April 4 election, winning with 58 percent. The former prosecutor ran up big leads in the suburbs and on Madison’s west side. She was also competitive in wards on the city’s isthmus. Karofsky had the backing of dozens of public officials, while Townsend, a labor attorney and municipal judge in Shorewood Hills, secured endorsements from several influential unions.
The candidates in the judge race didn't differ much on the issues. Both pledged to bring progressive values to the bench if elected.
“We ran a race where we talked about addressing racial disparities,” Karofsky tells Isthmus. “It’s really a great honor to be a circuit court judge in Dane County.”
Townsend says her loss was a blow for progressives and the working class, but vowed to keep fighting. “I will continue to seek justice for the little guy as a union and civil rights lawyer and will remain committed to giving the individuals who come before me in Municipal Court a fair shake,” Townsend writes in a statement.
At her election party, Karofsky — who has worked as the executive director of the state Department of Justice’s Office of Crime Victim Services for the past six years — criticized ads run by her opponent during the campaign. One video from Townsend noted Karofsky’s lack of judicial experience and said she “works with Republicans” as ominous music heard in political attack ads played in the background.
“We also learned in this race that negative campaigning does not work,” said Karofsky, to the loudest applause of the night.
Voters in Fitchburg ousted incumbent mayor Steve Arnold in favor of Jason Gonzalez. The two-term alder beat Arnold with nearly 60 percent of the vote, winning in all four of the city’s voting precincts.
Gonzalez, a criminal defense attorney, won despite negative press during the campaign for professional misconduct allegations he faces from the state Office of Lawyer Regulation. Gonzalez disputes the allegations and credits his victory to Fitchburg voters’ dissatisfaction with rising taxes and spending.
“I think the voters wanted a mayor that would be more cautious with the budget,” Gonzalez tells Isthmus. The 33-year-old defense attorney will be Fitchburg’s first Hispanic mayor. “We are a young city. An educated city. I think we got those voters out [to the polls], and they were asking for change.”
Two newcomers are joining the Madison school board: Kate Toews and Nicki Vander Meulen.
In the open race to replace Michael Flores on the board, entrepreneur Kate Toews came out on top. Toews, who had the support of the teachers union, received 56 percent of the vote over racial justice youth organizer Ali Muldrow.
Muldrow had a strong showing with voters downtown, on campus and in isthmus neighborhoods, but Toews dominated the ballot box on the west side and in Fitchburg, Shorewood Hills and Maple Bluff.
“I’m grateful to have run an issue-driven campaign against an opponent I have incredible respect for,” Toews tells Isthmus. “I think our state just indicated that we believe in public education. I believe in public education, and I'm optimistic about the district’s future even with the tough challenges ahead.”
Toews was referring to the re-election of state Superintendent Tony Evers, in the only contested statewide race. Evers easily won a third term with 70 percent of the vote over challenger Lowell Holtz, a strong advocate for the expansion of voucher schools.
In the other board race, incumbent Ed Hughes dropped out of the race because his wife was diagnosed with cancer shortly after the February primary, in which he finished first of three candidates. As a result, juvenile rights attorney Nicki Vander Meulen was essentially running unopposed.
Not much will change on the Madison Common Council after Tuesday’s election. Nineteen of the 20 alders will return to the council. In the only open seat, Dane Dem’s Arvina Martin beat Bradley Campbell, who was backed by Progressive Dane, by 20 points in the near-west-side district that includes the Hill Farms, Westmorland and Glen Oak Hills neighborhoods.
Fifteen alders sailed to victory without opponents. And all four incumbents facing challengers easily earned another term. Ald. Barbara Harrington-McKinney received 60 percent of the vote on the far west side. Ald. Zach Wood won with 74 percent in the district largely on the UW-Madison campus. Ald. Maurice Cheeks racked up a big total on the southwest side with 84 percent support. And Ald. Sheri Carter captured 78 percent of the vote on the city’s south side.
Mayor Paul Soglin expects “more of the same” from the new council. He says the city’s “record level of debt” is keeping Madison from meeting commitments to advance equity and social change. He faults the council for not recognizing the “very dangerous” budget situation the city faces.
“Each year we have a majority of the council which wants to invest more in police stations that aren’t really adding officers on the street. Who want to put money into fire stations that serve very sparsely populated areas. And put money into road construction,” says Soglin. “I just don’t see it getting any better since we have a continuation of the same council.”
Supreme Court Justice Ann Ziegler ran unopposed for another 10-year term on the state’s highest court. Part of the court’s 5-2 conservative majority, Ziegler still won 89 percent of the vote in lefty Dane County. Dane County Executive Joe Parisi also faced no opponent and was reelected to a fourth term. Verona approved one of the largest school referendums in state history, giving the board there an extra $181 million, part of which will be used to build a new high school.
Voter turnout in Dane County was 25 percent, beating the statewide turnout of 16 percent. In Madison, just over 24 percent of registered voters cast ballots.