At a mayoral candidate forum at Centro Hispano Monday, Madison Mayor Paul Soglin and challenger Satya Rhodes-Conway addressed issues of concern identified by the city’s Latino community that include mental health care, employment and safety.
An estimated 88 people attended the forum, which was moderated by Lupita Montoto from La Movida Radio in English and translated into Spanish, ahead of the election April 2. The forum was hosted in partnership with a number of organizations, including Dreamers of UW-Madison and Adelante.
Rhodes-Conway, a former alder who works at the Mayors Innovation Project, made a few remarks in Spanish with audience members and reiterated her commitment to addressing affordable housing, rapid transit, radial disparities and climate change in Madison.
“I am ready to bring a collaborative leadership style to the mayor’s office in Madison,” Rhodes-Conway said.
Soglin shared his record of working with the Latino community, including forming a partnership in the 1970s with UMOS, a non-profit advocacy organization that provides programs to underserved populations, and confronting Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in Washington, D.C. about arrests in September 2018.
He also talked about hanging out at the Cardinal Bar, an establishment owned by former alder Ricardo Gonzales East Wilson Street and home to the city's Latin music scene for many years.
“I just don't talk about a progressive record. You heard this evening, I do have a progressive record,” Soglin said. “I have worked for you for decades, and I will continue to make this the best city in the United States.”
A question about bullying in schools prompted personal stories from the candidates and steps the city can take to bridge a gap in mental health services for Latinos and African Americans in the Madison community.
“I was bullied in school because I was a strong, outspoken woman and there were people who didn’t like it,” Rhodes-Conway said. “I remember deeply how awful it is to be targeted for who you are.”
She said the city could improve language access to existing services in order to reach the Latino community, support resources like Centro Hispano that help create a positive environment for youth and ensure that service providers are culturally competent.
Soglin shared how he was positively affected by the diverse community he grew up in and that he also experienced anti-Semitism.
“The one critical thing a mayor can do is be a voice of moral authority, to be present and forceful in terms of stating community values,” Soglin said.
To improve mental health care access, Soglin said the city needs to work with the county and focus on connecting services to those who need them. He also highlighted the role of peer support providers and neighborhood “navigators” who directly engage with the community.
Several questions addressed employment of the Latino community in addition to employing a city staff that reflects the diversity of the community.
Lacking the authority to regulate minimum wage in the city, Soglin said the mayor can set an example. Under Soglin’s leadership, the city is moving toward paying all of its employees a $15 per hour minimum wage and negotiates higher wages with companies through city contracts.
“We’re setting a bar,” Soglin said.
Rhodes-Conway supports the city advocating for living wages through its contracts and its position of authority. She also would like to see the city enforce laws protecting employees against wage theft, hold employers accountable and support good employers.
“There is power in recognizing employers when they do the right thing and compensate people fairly and we need to spread that word in our community,” Rhodes-Conway said.
Addressing diversity of city staff, Rhodes-Conway shared how the hiring process at the Mayors Innovation Project includes blocking out names to remove implicit bias. Soglin said the city’s Human Resources department has been trained in fair hiring practices and how to create a welcoming environment. Additionally, he said his own office’s staff sets an example for diversity.
On police officers in schools, Soglin believes they are needed while Rhodes-Conway is not in favor. The mayor said more group homes and peer support resources are needed to support youth, and Rhodes-Conway stressed the need for more opportunities for “kids to just be young people in a safe place.”
To ensure trust between law enforcement and the immigrant community, Rhodes-Conway wants to evaluate how an Office of Community Engagement could improve that relationship.
“It’s about how do we go out into the community and listen and learn, take action and come back and report what did we do or what didn’t we do. That’s how you build trust. That’s how you build accountability,” Rhodes-Conway said. “The city, as much as we try, we have not cracked that code yet.”
Soglin shared his experience dealing with ICE officials following arrests in September 2018, sharing that officials agreed to change their notification policy, and fighting for the rights of undocumented people.
“We have to continue with the policies of the police department, which is not to become an agent of the federal government and of ICE,” Soglin said. “We will work with communities in regard to rapid response if ICE should come here.”