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Madison City Council races will decide direction on daunting issues
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Madison City Council races will decide direction on daunting issues

After a historic two-year change in 2019, the Madison City Council could see modest to significant turnover this spring with six elected incumbents not seeking re-election and nine of the 14 members looking to return facing opponents.

The new council will deal with daunting issues including the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, a damaged economy and tight finances, demands for racial equity and social justice, a reimagining and funding of the Madison Police, crime and gun violence, housing and homelessness.

The new council will also determine possible changes to the structure of city government, including the size and compensation of the body, and oversee redistricting based on new census numbers.

A primary for races in three districts will be held Feb. 16 with the general election on April 6.

The required campaign filings, due Tuesday evening, speak to a contrast with the last two elections. In 2017, there were just five contested races and 19 council members sought re-election. Two years ago, nine elected incumbents didn’t seek re-election, one incumbent faced a challenger and one appointee sought to hold a seat against an opponent. After the election, nine new members who had never held public office were among the 20 council members who took their oaths of office.

The number of retirees in the coming election is about average, but “there seems to be more interest this cycle compared to the last few City Council elections, particularly among candidates of color, which I think is a great thing to see,” said veteran Ald. Mike Verveer, who is running unopposed for the Downtown 4th District seat he’s held since 1995.

Many of the candidates seem motivated by the national reckoning over systemic racism after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police on May 25, Verveer said.

City Council President Sheri Carter and Vice President Syed Abbas could not be reached.

The current council has sparred with Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway on multiple issues, including her emergency authority during the pandemic, the budget, increased civilian oversight of police, and city employee furloughs to save money.

Rhodes-Conway has worked well with council leadership but there has been tension between the mayor and council, particularly during the past year, Verveer said.

Rhodes-Conway’s term ends in 2023. She could not be reached for comment.

Now, veteran Alds. Shiva Bidar, 5th District, and Marsha Rummel, 6th District, as well as Max Prestigiacomo, 8th District; Zach Henak, 10th District; Michael Tierney, 16th District; and Samba Baldeh, 17th District, who won a State Assembly seat in the 48th District, have filed notices of non-candidacy.

Five incumbents — Alds. Barbara Harrington-McKinney in the Far West Side’s 1st District; Verveer; Nasra Wehelie, appointed to fill a vacancy in the Southwest Side’s 7th District; Arvina Martin in the North and West sides’ 11th District; and Grant Foster in the East Side’s 15th District — are running unopposed.

Three newcomers are also running unopposed. Former Ald. Brian Benford will succeed Rummel in the Near East Side’s 6th District. Regina Vidaver will succeed Bidar in the North and West sides’ 5th District, and Gary Halverson will follow Baldeh in the Far East Side’s 17th District.

A relatively high number of incumbents face challengers.

Ald. Patrick Heck faces Benji Ramirez in the 2nd District on the Near East Side and Ald. Lindsay Lemmer faces Charly Rowe in the East Side’s 3rd District. In the 12th District on the East and North sides, council vice president Syed Abbas faces Tessa Wyllie Echeverria, while Ald. Tag Evers faces David Hoffert in a rematch in the 13th District on the South and Near West sides.

Council President Sheri Carter is being challenged by Brandi Grayson-Tuck in the 14th District on the South Side. In the West Side’s 19th District, Ald. Keith Furman is challenged by Aisha Moe, and in the 20th District on the Southwest Side, Ald. Christian Albouras faces Erica Lee Janisch.

Two incumbents have primaries. In the 9th District on the West and Far West sides, Ald. Paul Skidmore faces former council member and mayoral candidate Anthony “Nino” Amato, Nikki Conklin and Douglas Hyant, and in the 18th District, Ald. Rebecca Kemble faces Veronica Figueroa Velez and Charles Myadze.

Newcomers will battle for open seats in three districts.

In the student-dominated 8th District around UW-Madison, Juliana Bennett squares off against Ayomi Obuseh to succeed Prestigiacomo. In the 10th District on the Near West and Southwest sides, Yannette Figueroa Cole faces Mara Eisch to succeed Henak. The biggest primary will be in the 16th District on the East and Far East sides, where five newcomers — Jael Currie, Greg Dixon, Kim Richman, Matthew Tramel and Tyson Vitale — vie to succeed Tierney.

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