Satya Rhodes-Conway has been on the Common Council for only six years, but in that time she's established herself as one of its most intelligent and passionate members.
Her tenure, however, is coming to an end, as she's decided not to run for re-election April 2. Ald. Larry Palm, whose district was redrawn, and Leslie Peterson, an activist who owns the shop Amsterdam, are running for Rhodes-Conway's north-side seat.
A policy wonk, Rhodes-Conway's day job is at the Center on Wisconsin Strategy, a think tank on the UW campus. As an alderperson, she is most proud of getting the north side plan approved, increasing pedestrian and bike access on the north side, and building strong relationships with constituents. "I came into office with a long list of things I wanted to work on. I did get some of those done; others I didn't even start on. It became quickly apparent that you don't get to do a lot of proactive policy in this job. There are a lot of constituent services, a lot of...reacting to other people's policy ideas and problems."
Isthmus chatted with her this week to get her take on city politics.
Was it disappointing not being able to focus on your agenda?
Some of the most rewarding parts of the job are the constituent services and helping people navigate the city or solve problems for people. When you can call someone back and solve their problem - that's the best part of the job.
Mayor Paul Soglin has been around a long time, but he continues to baffle and frustrate people. Can you explain Paul Soglin to us?
[Laughing] I'm not sure anybody can explain Paul Soglin, not even Paul Soglin. He's extremely intelligent, he does not suffer fools, he is really driven to make this city a better place. He's not the easiest guy to get along with, but he really does respect people who think well, stand up for their ideas and are trying to get something good done.
What's going to be the biggest challenge for the council in the next two years?
The council is going to have to find a better solution for Overture. It's stupid that our budget is driven by that fight. It means we don't talk about other things. The council needs to get started on housing policy somehow. And it needs to look at how changing city demographics are impacting policy or should be. We need to come to terms with the fact that we're going to have a lot more older people and a lot more younger people...and with the fact that the community is getting a lot more diverse. What does that mean for policy, for parks, for Metro, for libraries? That's probably enough for two years.
In the long term, there are two things coming that we need to wrestle with as a city. One is infrastructure.... [The other is] we need to come to terms with what climate change means for Wisconsin.
Anything you want to add?
It's incredibly important that people pay attention to local government, both in the sense of being good citizens, but also serving on city committees and running for office. Government works best when it's representative of the population, and that happens when a lot of people run for office. It's continually disappointing to me when we have seats that go uncontested....
Madison is one of the places it is really possible for people run for office just out of the neighborhood.