On election night last November, as I stood on the floor of the Orpheum, I was overcome with emotion I hadn’t expected watching Mandela Barnes hug his parents when he and Tony Evers declared victory.
It brought to mind a column I wrote more than a year before the election where I stated that what matters in our next governor is not whether the candidate is from an urban or rural area, as many pundits claimed. I suggested that what truly matters is their empathy, compassion and a demonstrated commitment to follow the desires and needs of people from all parts of our state.
We are on the eve of the inauguration of our new governor, who hails from a small town and resides right here in Madison, and our new lieutenant governor, who was born and raised in the heart of Milwaukee. But far more important than their hometowns is the fact that they both are committed to listening to all the people of Wisconsin.
They are already proving this with their listening tour to inform our state’s next budget. Out on the road, I bet they aren’t hearing partisan talking points. I’m sure they are hearing about the things I hear people asking: “How can our community remain safe, affordable and livable in a rapidly evolving economy? How will our schools equip my kids to be able to compete in a global economy? As our community diversifies, what steps can we take to ensure that this place works well for more people?”
These are the sorts of things that I’ve heard about for the past several years as I started a tradition of hosting budget listening sessions in collaboration with other Madison City Council members all across the city.
I hear these same concerns, not only as an alderman, but also as a minority business leader and an advocate for our public schools and as a father of two young children. In all these roles I spend a lot of time thinking about the future of our country, our state and our city. I ponder how we are going to be more innovative, inclusive and safe. Those are the values that got Tony Evers and Mandela Barnes elected — not their hometowns. And those same values are what drive me to run to lead Madison at this moment in time.
What was on my mind a year-and-a-half ago was my hope that the winning candidates would reject the “us” versus "them” attitude of current politics and replace it with passion and empathy for all Wisconsinites.
In 2010, Wisconsin was at the start of a “divide and conquer” strategy — as Scott Walker himself labeled it. Almost a decade later, as Evers and Barnes take their oaths of office, these leaders will usher in a new style of leadership. Wisconsin can take a new national lead by making 2019 politics about bringing people together and helping all of us see what we have in common. Those are the values that won in November, and that is what I saw on the Orpheum stage.
This should be our 2019 political strategy: Bring together the public sector, private sector, education community, nonprofits and faith communities to build strong communities. Our newly elected state leaders get that, and it will benefit Madison, Milwaukee, Mequon, Mole Lake and Wisconsin communities of all sizes in between.
To put down our urban areas is to disparage the economic engines driving this state. Madison can continue to be the hub of job growth and innovation for Wisconsin. Likewise, we can, and must, ensure that our prosperity is afforded to more people and become a model for closing inequality.
Let’s make 2019 a year of many new beginnings — in politics, in government, in our lives. We can all be excited to start the year with new leadership focused on what can happen when we set aside divisions and come together to discover what we have in common.
Mo Cheeks is a candidate for mayor of Madison, a member of the Madison City Council, and vice president of business development at MIOsoft Corporation.
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