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Cap Times Election Q&A: Madison City Council District 16

Cap Times Election Q&A: Madison City Council District 16

District 16 candidates

Clockwise from top left: District 16 candidates Jael Currie, Greg Dixon, Tyson Vitale, Matt Tramel

With incumbent Alder Michael Tierney not seeking re-election, four candidates are vying to represent Madison’s east side District 16.

Jael Currie, Greg Dixon, Matt Tramel and Tyson Vitale are on the Feb. 16 primary election ballot. The person elected will replace Tierney, who has served on the council since 2018.

A fourth person, Kim Richman, is on the ballot, but he terminated his campaign Jan. 15.

The City Council determined by the spring election will face difficult, ongoing challenges, including the continuing COVID-19 pandemic and eventual economic recovery from it, constrained budgets, and demands for racial equity and social justice. Also, the council will discuss the future of how local government looks in Madison.

The Cap Times sent out a questionnaire to all candidates facing primary elections in February. Learn more about the candidates for District 16 and where they stand on key issues facing the city.


Jael Currie

Jael Currie 

Jael Currie

Age: 33

Profession: Social service professional

Prior elected office: N/A

Other public service: Membership chair of the Dane County Homeless Services Consortium, Dane County Homeless Services Consortium board member, guest lecturer at University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Social Work

Campaign website: https://www.currieforcitycouncil.com

What is the greatest challenge facing your district and what would you do to address it?

Public safety in relation to crime reduction and law enforcement's role in it, as well as enhanced emergency medical services. Personal, home, and neighborhood safety and security are very real concerns of east siders and Madisonians alike. It sometimes seems like news articles and alerts about car theft and burglaries, home burglaries, shots fired and other crimes abound. We have also seen long overlooked cries for greater transparency, accountability and justice in regards to MPD and law enforcement practices amplified through protests and community organizing. As alder, I will listen to the views of all residents, make my stance about the issues as clear as possible and strive to find collaborative solutions that mitigate and/or eliminate concerns. I also plan to discover more about why District 16’s emergency medical services do not meet current standards for responsiveness and advocate for enhanced ambulance service.

Madison will be facing a difficult budget next year. Among the city’s many competing needs, what would you prioritize?

As a social service professional, I will always gravitate towards meeting human and social needs (ex: affordable housing, comprehensive mental/behavioral health and AODA treatment services, affordable health care and access to it, equitable public transportation). However, the COVID pandemic has exacerbated already existing financial and economic shortcomings where basic needs will be steadily competing against needs to support the economic vitality of our city.

As of print, my priorities, should I become alder, will be providing economic relief for businesses and households, increasing access to and availability of affordable housing, enhancing our mental/behavioral health systems and access, and investing in the educational and vocational needs of children and youth.

What should the City Council do to support residents throughout the pandemic?

Mayor Rhodes-Conway has already started taking steps towards economic relief for individuals/families by committing to providing struggling residents a guaranteed basic income. In addition to this, the city has provided relief to businesses, with a prioritization to owners from marginalized backgrounds and identities through the small business equity and recovery program. These recovery efforts should now be expanding to taverns and other businesses that have not yet been included in relief efforts. Safe, readily available and affordable childcare is a crucial need as well, in addition to paying essential childcare workers family sustaining wages. Now that the COVID vaccine is available, the council should also encourage and support citywide initiatives to provide comprehensive, equitable, and culturally appropriate educational resources and access to the vaccine, should residents decide to participate.

The spring ballot includes advisory referendum questions on the structure of Madison’s local government. What changes, if any, do you think should be made to the structure of Madison’s local government?

I am interested to see how voters respond to the advisory referendum questions and appreciate the effort(s) to have them added to the spring ballot. At this time, I do have grave concerns about the possibility of reducing the council and districts by half, but I hope to learn more about why some feel this is a move the city should take. While I have not yet served on the council, I am no stranger to the challenge of balancing multiple tasks and responsibilities while also producing outcomes that teams, communities and/or livelihoods depend on. I believe the current council structure is sufficient to serve the city and its needs. However, I believe the council can and will be more successful in meeting concerted goals once intentional work to repair harm caused (to and by the council), and restoring coalitions within the council takes place.

What do you believe is the City Council’s role in police reform?

The council should work closely with the Police Civilian Oversight Board and Independent Police Monitor in order to support their efforts to oversee accountability of the Madison Police Department and monitor its compliance with those practices. The council also should serve as a liaison between Madison residents and the police chief, especially as MPD transitions to having a new leader that is not an internal hire or from the state/area. Council members should also continue engaging with individuals within their districts to get a comprehensive understanding of needs and concerns. Home and personal safety/security concerns are very real, but so are the long overlooked cries for greater transparency, accountability and justice in regards to MPD and overall law enforcement practices. We cannot ignore either perspective or give more emphasis to reducing crime and violence over calls for greater police accountability and/or community control of the police.


Greg Dixon

Greg Dixon

Greg Dixon

Age: 53

Profession: Photographer

Prior elected office: N/A

Other public service: Glendale Neighborhood Association member

Campaign website: gregformadison.com

What is the greatest challenge facing your district and what would you do to address it?

Sometimes a crisis presents an opportunity. We find ourselves facing multiple crises of historic proportion: the pandemic, economic uncertainty, racial strife and political polarization. I suggest we team with President Biden's Build Back Better initiative and build toward my top priorities: Safe neighborhoods, Equality of opportunity and the Environment (SEE). I advocate sustaining law enforcement at current funding levels. But the police cannot create safe neighborhoods. When equality of opportunity increases, crime decreases. We should borrow from what is working in neighborhoods like Twin Oaks and build those features into neighborhoods where equality of opportunity is lower. This is based on work highlighted in the Opportunity Atlas, a project supported by Joe Biden. Finally, the Build Back Better initiative promises funding for green projects for the environment. We should join in those initiatives to improve our environment in Madison, while simultaneously bringing new jobs and new opportunities to the Madison area.

Madison will be facing a difficult budget next year. Among the city’s many competing needs, what would you prioritize?

We should shift our priorities to focus on the pandemic, economic hardship and equality of opportunity. I would put projects like the Madison Market, Bus Rapid Transit and the new initiative to make alders full time on hold. Many of our projects predate the pandemic, and we have forged ahead as if nothing has changed. Our crises require a major change in priorities, and I would focus on equality of opportunity and the environment, aligning with Joe Biden's Build Back Better plan, bringing new jobs and opportunity to Madison.

What should the City Council do to support residents throughout the pandemic?

Madison should shift its priorities. We face a budget shortfall, and whereas people throughout the country have tightened their belts, City Hall has proposed new and expensive initiatives that do nothing to address our current crises. We should work with Joe Biden's administration to create a system for rent and mortgage relief for those most affected. The current crisis has been bandaged by a moratorium on evictions. But those who have lost their jobs and are unable to pay their rent, mortgage or property tax have accumulated debt that they cannot pay. They still owe all of that back rent, etc. We need to devise creative solutions, or we will be faced with a massive new homeless crisis, and the divide between the haves and the have-nots will grow to epic proportions.

The spring ballot includes advisory referendum questions on the structure of Madison’s local government. What changes, if any, do you think should be made to the structure of Madison’s local government?

We face crises of historic proportion, and the Common Council is working to increase salaries from $13,000 to potentially $71,000 at a cost to Madison taxpayers of over a million dollars. People are out of work. Many cannot pay their rent or their mortgage. This kind of proposal shows that alders are out of touch with what is important right now. The cost of running for office is substantial. An alder recently said during a Common Council meeting that he spent $10,000 on his last campaign. If alders are professional politicians, won't the office be unattainable to the average working person? City Council alders have traditionally been members of the community, with day jobs. If alders are out of touch now, imagine what will happen if alders are professional politicians. Do we want that?

What do you believe is the City Council’s role in police reform?

I advocate police body cameras with review of police/citizen interactions. The City Council should work to set up a review committee comprised of police officers and Madison residents. That is different from the current oversight board proposal, and the idea of body cameras has again been kicked down the road, after multiple expensive studies. Beyond this, the council's role should be limited. We are hiring a new police chief, and I believe it is the mayor's job to work with the police chief to build trust throughout the community. Twenty alders micromanaging the process will not be effective. They should help to establish the framework, and then step back.


Matt Tramel

Matt Tramel 

Matt Tramel

Age: 44

Profession: Marketing communications professional

Prior elected office: N/A

Other public service: Election official

Campaign website: http://www.tramelfor16.com

What is the greatest challenge facing your district and what would you do to address it?

I believe most of us would agree that COVID-19 and its repercussions are the greatest challenges facing our district. Right now we all understand the importance of supporting public health measures. Whatever investment is required by the city to widely and equitably distribute the vaccine is priority number one. That is the path to safely return our students to in-person learning and reopening local businesses and institutions at full capacity. My wife is a nurse practitioner, so I’ve seen firsthand how hard it is for all of the people working in this district to be at risk of catching this disease. I’m committed to working with the municipal, state and federal governments to ensure the vaccine is distributed as quickly and equitably as possible. Across the country we’re already seeing failing and unfair access to the vaccine — I intend to make sure we do better in Madison.

Madison will be facing a difficult budget next year. Among the city’s many competing needs, what would you prioritize?

To go back to my first point, the number one priority is dealing with COVID-19. Our lives can’t go back to normal, our kids can’t go back to school and businesses can’t fully reopen without effectively managing our current crisis. We also need to prioritize other aspects of public safety, because a safe community is a strong community. This means we should be investing in support systems and policies that build trust between the public and the Madison Police Department, like conflict resolution training and ancillary mental health services — which can relieve some pressure on MPD. Finally, investing in transportation improvements is critical to Madison’s future. Improved access to public transportation like Bus Rapid Transit, better bike path connections and more efficient roadways — all have a positive impact on daily lives and lay the foundation for future growth.

What should the City Council do to support residents throughout the pandemic?

This is something I’m passionate about. My wife is a nurse practitioner at UW University Hospital and she's been working on the front lines for over eight months now. The best way to support residents is to keep them healthy in the months ahead. An economic rebound and public confidence can’t be fully restored until the vaccine is efficiently and equitably distributed. Alders can coordinate between city, state and business officials to ensure that community assets and facilities are leveraged for fast, effective vaccine rollout. We’ll also need to work hard to overcome vaccine hesitancy, which is a challenge in many communities. The City Council can lead outreach and engagement efforts — particularly in partnership with neighborhood associations — which are some of our most trusted voices. In the meantime, let’s continue current health measures like the mask mandate, which keeps businesses and jobs open as safely as possible.

The spring ballot includes advisory referendum questions on the structure of Madison’s local government. What changes, if any, do you think should be made to the structure of Madison’s local government?

I believe listening to constituents is important, so the advisory referendum response will offer real insights from the community on how they want their local government structured. That said I believe a part-time citizen alder serves us well, because they bring their everyday work and professional experience to the job. As alder, what ought to drive you is a desire for great neighborhoods and strong community relationships. We need problem solvers and community leaders, not more people on the city payroll. My other concern is that if you cut the council in half, by definition — and geographically — the districts will essentially double in size with double the constituents. That doesn’t afford the same level of problem-solving and neighborhood-level focus.

What do you believe is the City Council’s role in police reform?

The current situation is untenable, and we need to think proactively about how the Council fits into the process. The City Council can pursue better policing solutions and make itself a focal point toward facilitating change. I want to listen to the concerns of my constituents, and ensure their issues are being addressed by any potential reforms. I also want to look at successful policies in other cities, and understand how they’ve built better trust within their communities. We see cities like Newark, which instituted significant reforms including anti-bias training, new use of force policies, better reporting, community relations programs and other policies which are helping curb excessive violence while keeping communities safe. Other common sense policies like banning chokeholds, mandating de-escalation and better accountability are a start, but this is an important and complex issue and we need to ensure that the city continues to take a comprehensive approach.


Tyson Vitale

Tyson Vitale

Tyson Vitale

Age: 31

Profession: consultant

Prior elected office: N/A

Other public service: Outreach Inc. Board of Directors vice president

Campaign website: tysonforalder.com

What is the greatest challenge facing your district and what would you do to address it?

The greatest challenge in District 16 is safety. The fact is, crime, lack of safety, and the disparities we face as a city today are perpetuated by gaps in opportunity. We can bridge gaps in opportunities by advocating for investments in 1. housing initiatives to make it easier to rent, buy, and maintain housing security 2. community assets like libraries, neighborhood centers, and greenspaces to make sure our neighborhoods are encouraging places for growth 3. violence prevention programs such as mentoring for our most at-risk youth to ensure that we are encouraging thoughtful and productive citizenry. We must target the root causes that underlie challenges of safety in order to move forward on the issues that affect District 16. These investments will strengthen our community and benefit everyone.

Madison will be facing a difficult budget next year. Among the city’s many competing needs, what would you prioritize?

For District 16, I will work to ensure our new ambulance is within the next budget. Too many times the far east side does not get its fair share in the budget in regards to the distribution of resources. I would also prioritize ensuring our budget meets the needs of our most vulnerable residents.

What should the City Council do to support residents throughout the pandemic?

Everything we can. For both residents and small businesses. During this time of the COVID-19 crisis and uncertainty, we need to ensure the protection and success of our community’s small businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs. We need an alder who will advocate for the continuation of the Small Business Equity & Recovery Grant started in 2020 and ensure that it’s fairly distributed throughout the city and not just downtown. Our far east side businesses are essential to our community and deserve a fair shot at success.

The spring ballot includes advisory referendum questions on the structure of Madison’s local government. What changes, if any, do you think should be made to the structure of Madison’s local government?

I am in support of some of the TFOGS recommendations, including making alders full time and consolidating committees. What I am not at this time for is lowering the number of alders on Council from 20 to 10.

What do you believe is the City Council’s role in police reform?

The City Council has the statutory power to issue lawful orders to the police chief so long as those orders are not in conflict with state law. The City Council can best ensure the success of the police chief by rebuilding community trust through robust accountability and transparency. The Police Civilian Oversight Board (COB) and Monitor are independent and should be left as such. The council should only be interacting with the COB when at the request of the COB, and to provide guidance when needed outside of attending meetings.

Share your opinion on this topic by sending a letter to the editor to tctvoice@madison.com. Include your full name, hometown and phone number. Your name and town will be published. The phone number is for verification purposes only. Please keep your letter to 250 words or less.

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