gloria reyes election night

Gloria Reyes, center, celebrates her election on April 2018 to the Madison School Board with Julia Arata-Fratta, right, and campaign coordinator Jan Sternbach. Reyes started Adelante, a political party whose goal is to train candidates of color for local office, shortly after her election win.

Months before Gloria Reyes won a seat on the Madison School Board in April 2018, she faced a different kind of challenge — getting people to believe in and work for her campaign against then-incumbent Anna Moffit.

“I decided to run, but I didn’t realize the monopoly there was over the process in politics in Madison,” said Reyes, the board’s first-ever Latina member. “I had a hard time finding a campaign manager. I felt that I didn’t have the resources or deep political networks that some other candidates had.”

In the aftermath of her election victory last year, Reyes and several of her former campaign supporters have organized a group to provide both financial and operational resources to other local candidates of color.

Adelante, which is still in its infancy, registered as a political party with the Wisconsin Ethics Commission in October 2018, according to filings. As a political party, the small group can more freely make direct contributions to candidates. The group hadn’t formally started meeting until late December, however.

Reyes and other Adelante organizers acknowledge that they might still be years away from having a strong influence on elections. But informed by Reyes’ 2018 campaign, their hope is to get more candidates of color interested in public office or working for a campaign.

“Adelante knows it can’t be everything, but we do want to do what we can to support candidates who will do the work to improve outcomes for people of color in Madison,” said Jan Sternbach, who started working on School Board campaigns in 1991 and is currently consulting for Ali Muldrow and Ananda Mirilli’s Madison School Board campaigns. Sternbach was a campaign coordinator for Reyes in 2018. 

Muldrow, who is running in a four-person primary on Feb. 19 for Seat 4, said Adelante has identified a long-known need for candidates of color.

“Candidates of color experience an intensive level of scrutiny,” Muldrow said. “Having people come together to provide significant support and also alleviate some of the additional stress and strain, the expectations that candidates of color absorb, is a really profound step towards equity.”

Muldrow, Mirilli and Kaleem Caire are three candidates of color running for separate seats on the Madison School Board this year.  If all of them are elected, the majority-white School Board would suddenly have a majority of its members be people of color. That scenario would more closely mirror the demographics of the Madison Metropolitan School District, where white students make up 43 percent of the student body.  Currently, two members — Reyes and James Howard — are the only people of color on the School Board.

Mirilli said candidates of color face an uphill battle in navigating the politics of seeking public office in Madison, especially when lines are already drawn on who supports who.

“One of the biggest hurdles people point to is the fundraising piece of it, the financial capital that comes with running for office,” Mirilli said. “But it was clear to me when I ran in 2013 and now that there’s a lot of social capital … I often heard in 2013, ‘You’re running for office against so-and-so, and that so-and-so is my friend and a good person.'”

Adelante has sought to support the campaigns of Muldrow, Mirilli and Caire for School Board. The group is also supporting and has endorsed Christian Albouras, who is running to serve as District 20 alder on the City Council.

Adelante training session

Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell speaks to attendees about the requirements local candidates have to follow when running for office at a training session held by Adelante on Jan. 12.

Adelante has stayed out of the mayor’s race thus far, saying that the race was already too far ahead by the time the group got up and running in late December.

But some have pointed to Adelante’s mission of helping candidates with the logistics as crucial, especially after write-in mayoral candidate Toriana Pettaway fell one nomination signature short of making it onto the ballot earlier this month.

“With her campaign, it was appalling that (Toriana Pettaway) never had someone tell her that even though 200 is the minimum number of signatures you need to get for mayor, you should be going for 300 or the maximum of 400,” Sternbach said. “Those are basic things you need to know as a candidate. Toriana didn’t have the resources she needed, and it’s appalling that she didn’t have that info.”

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Logistics of things that might seem simple such as getting signatures, knowing where to get campaign materials printed or how to raise enough money can be more challenging, especially in contested elections. But Adelante hopes to build a support network that provides the institutional knowledge.

“We want to support candidates who come in with nothing, but they have the experience, passion and the knowledge that we want to serve in these political offices,” Reyes said.  

Campaigns nowadays require more resources and knowledge, Sternbach said. She said Adelante wants to train not only candidates, but also people who want to work as campaign staffers and managers — training that isn’t always available or accessible to people of color trying to be a part of Madison's political circles.

“With Gloria’s campaign, even though it seems like she’s super well-connected because she is also deputy mayor, it was clear that she didn’t know how to set up the infrastructure of a campaign, partly because she had never been in that situation,” Sternbach said. “And there are a lot of people of color who are in that situation when they first run for office in Madison.”

Sal Carranza, Adelante’s treasurer, said Adelante is focusing not necessarily on candidates of color, but candidates of color “who will demonstrate that they have and will support communities that look like us.”

“We want to be intentional and purposeful of who we are supporting,” Carranza said. “We’re not just going to support anyone — we want to support people that fit our vision.”

Reyes said the group’s name was originally going to be Adelante Madison, but the executive committee realized that the group could expand beyond Madison. Adelante is supporting and endorsed Júlia Arata Fratta's campaign to be on the Fitchburg City Council, for example.

Adelante offered a training on Jan. 12 for future candidates, which focused on topics such as how to run a campaign and get started. One attendee included Deborah Biddle, who is set to join the Verona School Board this spring to serve the remainder of member Russel King's term. She could run for a full-term after that. Also in attendance at the Saturday training was Angela Jenkins, who is running to serve as District 15 alder.

“We are starting locally, but we want to bring these opportunities eventually to county positions, or even beyond the county,” Reyes said. “We obviously cannot stretch too wide until we've grown, but we’re excited about what can happen.”

Education Reporter

Negassi Tesfamichael is the local education reporter at The Cap Times. He joined the paper in 2018. He previously worked as an intern at WISC-TV/Channel3000.com and at POLITICO.