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Satya Rhodes-Conway

Former alder and current managing director for the Mayors Innovation Project through the Center on Wisconsin Strategy, Satya Rhodes-Conway is running for mayor of Madison in 2019. 

Satya Rhodes-Conway ran for Madison’s City Council about a decade ago because she was ready to represent her district.

If she was willing to testify in front of the council on issues she cared about, she should be willing to do the work as an alder, Rhodes-Conway said. That mindset remains the same today in her decision to run for mayor in 2019.

“If I care about this city — and I do deeply care about this city — I have to be willing to work for it,” Rhodes-Conway said, “so I am.”

Rhodes-Conway represented parts of the city’s east and north sides, from East High School to Warner Park, as an alder from 2007 to 2012. She served with former mayor Dave Cieslewicz and Mayor Paul Soglin.

Rhodes-Conway is the first candidate to publicly announce a bid for mayor. The mayoral election is April 2, 2019, with a primary scheduled for Feb. 19, 2019.

“I want to run for mayor because I think that everyone in Madison should have the opportunity to thrive,” Rhodes-Conway said. “That has to do with housing, it has to do with employment, it has to do with transportation and access to the things you need, and it has to do with making Madison number one for everyone.”

The primary election for the governor’s race is Aug. 14 and the general election is Nov. 6. Soglin, who is running for governor, has previously said he would  “take these things one at a time" when asked about running for re-election as mayor. 

Campaign spokesperson Melissa Mulliken said Friday that position remains unchanged.

As alder, Rhodes-Conway advocated for making transportation safer by adding bike lanes and sidewalks. She was also involved in making sure her constituents stayed informed when the city discovered a district well was contaminated.

Rhodes-Conway served on the council during the city’s contentious deliberations over using public funds for the Edgewater Hotel, which she opposed from the start of the project. She also served on the team that negotiated a deal to erase Overture Center’s $28.6 million bank debt.

Rhodes-Conway is currently the managing director of the Mayors Innovation Project at the Center on Wisconsin Strategy, a “think-and-do tank” based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She runs a national learning network for mayors and their staff focused on equity, sustainability and democracy.

“It is up to cities to lead now, and we need city leaders who are ready for that and are able to take on that role,” Rhodes-Conway said. “I’m ready to do that whether that’s on climate, racial equity, housing, transportation.”

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In those four priority areas, Rhodes-Conway said Madison is moving too slowly. She said there’s a lack of leadership on climate change solutions and challenges in propelling internal community-driven work on racial disparities to the external work of the city.

The city needs to figure out how to build more affordable housing in today’s construction climate and how to fund a new Metro Transit bus barn without federal funding, Rhodes-Conway said.

“We can't wait,” Rhodes-Conway said. “We can’t afford to wait and to me that meant I couldn’t afford to wait because again, don't just tell people what they should do, step up and be part of the solution.”

She said her work with top city leaders across the nation, the issues they are facing and the solutions that are being developed make her a valuable candidate, in addition to her knowledge of Madison and its neighborhoods.

“You can't just transplant solutions but you can learn — and I have over a decade worth of experience — about what works in cities, and I’m here to bring that to bear in Madison,” Rhodes-Conway said.

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Abigail Becker joined The Capital Times in 2016, where she primarily covers city and county government. She previously worked for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the Wisconsin State Journal.