Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Parks: A homegrown activist

Mayoral candidate Eugene Parks wants to exterminate racial segregation and discrimination in Madison.

“This country is as segregated today as it was 50 years ago, and Wisconsin is the most racially segregated state in America,” Parks said. “Including Madison, this so-called liberal town.”

Parks was born and raised in Madison and has devoted his life to publicly condemning racism and mobilizing others to follow him. He studied for three years at the University of Wisconsin as the head of the African-American Center on campus. There he met Ray Allen, a current Madison school board member.

Allen said Parks was a strong leader and advocate in college, which would enhance his representation of students today.

“Gene has the unique ability to relate to student issues because he came out of the student movement of the ’60s,” Allen said.

Parks’ involvement in politics began at the age of 22, when he became the first African-American elected to Madison City Council in 1969. After six years on the council, he became the president of the Madison chapter of the NAACP and campaigned for various offices, including an unsuccessful bid for mayor against Sue Bauman in 1999’s general election, where he secured only 20 percent of the vote.

Parks said he is still angered by his weak support in the campaign.

“Four years later, all the white pseudo-liberals that supported Bauman are like rats jumping ship,” he said. “Now they’re endorsing her opponent when everything they wanted, she gave them.”

Parks said city government has turned downtown Madison into a “playground for the wealthy,” spending big money on “ugly, energy- and light-wasting” buildings such as the Overture Center and the Monona Terrace. Meanwhile, he said, Madison housing is unaffordable and the proposed legislative measures are ineffective.

Two of the measures he criticized include Section 8 vouchers, which subsidize rent for low-income residents, and inclusionary zoning, which requires all new building projects to include affordable housing.

“How can the poor afford to live in remote areas where there is no bus route?” Parks said of inclusionary zoning. “Seventy percent of housing in Madison is beyond Section 8 and housing vouchers, and the adopted living wage does not even begin to alleviate the poor.”

He said students are also victims of expensive housing.

“Students make up 20 to 25 percent of the population and are still used as slaves for housing income,” Parks said. “It is a crying shame what it costs to live here.”

Parks is regarded as a fierce voice of dissent in politics and is recognized for his fiery speeches. Ald. Tom Powell, District 5, said Parks is one of the best speakers in Madison.

“However, he works much better as an advocate than a mayor,” Powell said. “He hasn’t been effective in working with people.”

Allen, a friend of Parks’ for 30 years, said the public has an image of Parks that is different from his true personality.

“His hidden image is one of somebody extremely intelligent, understanding of the city government and its people, and a caring and loving father,” Allen said.

Parks is publicly notorious for a court battle after being fired from his position as Affirmative Action director in 1997.

Parks maintained he was illegally fired for racially charged purposes and won a $441,000 settlement and a city sign-shop supervising position that he held until 1989.

Parks said he is still fighting for racial equality today against a hypocritical and racist city government.

Powell said he does not believe that city administration is racially charged, but he does see plenty of race problems in the city.

“Every time we argue for affordable housing, conservatives think of black folks, and there is a polite form of racism below the surface,” Powell said.

Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, said Parks is not the public’s favorite candidate and is a long shot to win.

Parks agreed.

“I’m not going to get the endorsements, the contributions, or anybody to stand up for me,” Parks said. “I understand that, but I also know that winning is not the only thing.”

He said the purpose of his campaign is to wake people up to end hypocrisy, racism and apathy.

“It starts at home, and home for me is in Madison,” Parks said.

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