For the next five months, University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate student Sally Rohrer will represent the constituents of District 8 as interim alder.
Rohrer is replacing Avra Reddy, who resigned as alder in September due to a family medical issue. The 22-year-old student studying economic policy and taxes at the La Follette School of Public Affairs will hold the seat until a special election on April 7, 2020.
“The city of Madison is doing a lot to try and improve people’s lives, and I wanted to get involved in that and offer up some of my policy skills during this vacancy," Rohrer said.
Madison's City Council approved her appointment Nov. 6.
Rohrer, who grew up in Wauwatosa, has lived in District 8 for the past five years as a UW-Madison student. District 8 encompasses much of UW-Madison’s campus and includes residence halls in the Lakeshore and Southeast neighborhoods.
Why do you want to serve as interim alder for District 8?
It all goes back to a belief I have in public policy, and specifically, public policy at the local government level. I studied for a semester in Copenhagen, Denmark, during my undergraduate degree and took a class on the Scandinavian welfare state. (I) really noticed how much power policy had in Copenhagen to make people’s lives better off, and to create a social safety net that brought people together regardless of who they were or their job.
I came back with a huge interest in, how can we do this in the United States and had a couple internships at the state level and in Congress. The real work is getting done at the local government level when it comes to improving people’s lives.
What are your priorities during your time as interim alder? What do you hope to accomplish?
The number one issue that I want to work on is voter accessibility. We know that Wisconsin is going to be a really important state in the 2020 election and that the city of Madison is going to be a huge part of that.
The second is reducing food insecurity. That’s a huge issue for the residents of District 8. I know I have colleagues in grad school and friends who would be two weeks out from a paycheck and have $15 for food. It’s not necessarily something we consider poverty, it’s just this insecurity and not knowing where you’re going to get your food. There are lots of great groups on campus that are doing things to simultaneously reduce food waste and also decrease food insecurity on campus. I’m wondering how the city can better coordinate with those groups and create a better policy around that, so we’re not just putting the weight on students to help feed other students.
The last one that I think is really important in Madison is equity. As a white woman in Madison, I feel like I want to ally with marginalized groups on campus and other communities to figure out what the city can do to make Madison more equitable.
What are your thoughts on adding more police officers to the 2020 budget and on the vehicle registration fee?
One thing I’ve heard a lot from people even before I took on this role, is that people are really upset that the officer is going to be taken off Langdon Street. I think what I’m thinking is that there’s a balance. Langdon Street isn’t perhaps the most needy street in terms of police presence in Madison, but that’s something my constituents are really concerned about.
Although, sometimes adding more officers doesn’t actually mean safer. I really like the idea of the auditor position that is in the budget and figuring out how there can be community oversight over things. The answer isn’t quantity, always. How can we be more effective? Are there other things we can be doing on Langdon Street to promote safety?
I feel like the budget has put alders in between a rock and a hard place on (the vehicle registration fee), and it’s not necessarily the budget’s fault. I think it’s the fault of the way we do local finance in Wisconsin in that there aren’t a lot of options for raising revenue. We have to resort to these really regressive fees that are going to hurt marginalized communities the most.
Former alder Avra Reddy spoke of the importance of giving youth and younger adults a voice on the City Council. How important do you feel younger voices are in Madison’s local government?
I as a 22-year-old resident who has been here for five years, I have a really unique experience that maybe an older person who has been serving on the council can’t bring to represent District 8.
We know that millennials and Gen Z face different issues when they enter the workforce, creating a family than the generations before, student debt. I think it’s really important to have young voices on the City Council and especially representing young people because of that lived experience.
Do you want to run in the special election?
I don’t think so. I think that the point of the appointment is to fill the seat and the impression I’ve gotten is there would be an unfair advantage if I ran for the seat in the spring.
What would you like to do after you graduate from your graduate school program?
One thing I’ve really focused on throughout my education is voting rights and Wisconsin has some of the strictest voter ID registration laws in the country. I’m really interested in working with the nonprofits in Wisconsin that are working on that in the months before the 2020 election. I think an ideal job for me would be doing organizing around voting rights right after graduation.