I've often wondered why so many people are willing to run for alder in the first place: Crazy hours for a job where the hourly pay probably doesn't hit minimum wage; all the joy of drawing the ire of the public with very little of the power of other elected positions.
Yes, for some, the council or the Dane County Board of Supervisors are a stepping stone to run for mayor or the Legislature -- even though a Madison alder probably has more real power to effect change than a Democrat at the state level today. But that's not how it works for the majority of people who serve on those boards.
Most seem to be motivated by serving the community and making it better, even those with dreams of higher office. Frankly, with rewards like that, I'm amazed we are able to find such a fine crop of masochists. Really good people want to do these jobs that aren't always that great; that doesn't mean that we shouldn't hold them accountable, but this commitment is worthy of respect.
My alder Anita Weier (District 19) is stepping down, and two great candidates are running for her seat: Peng Her and Rebecca Kemble. Her is the assistant director at the Center for Resilient Cities, an innovative non-profit doing neat things with urban agriculture. Kemble is a great labor activist and has been an active voice against the new MGE rate plan; however, she didn't follow me back on Twitter, but that's a minor quibble.
You know what's really neat? I have no idea which one of the two I'm going to vote for. Heck, there's still time for a third candidate to enter the race who I might also be interested in supporting. That is ridiculously rare in today's American democracy, as I usually know exactly who I'm voting for months in advance. We have a political party and fundraising system that actively works to remove as much choice as possible for voters -- and I understand how that discourages people.
I hope Her and Kemble present two very different visions for what my neighborhood and the city of Madison should be going forward -- a clear choice, where they offer the better of two goods rather than the lesser of two evils.
Sadly, this council election could be more exciting than most races that devolve to a simplistic red versus blue mentality. More sadly, the open council seats are usually the only ones with meaningful competition because we have a surplus of talented leaders who would like to serve. These local races are some of the only parts of our democracy that still live up to its promise.