Madison mayoral candidates discussed issues from environmental policy to disability employment in a forum hosted by University of Wisconsin College Democrats Thursday night.

Candidates Mo Cheeks, Satya Rhodes-Conway, Raj Shukla, Toriana Pettaway and incumbent Mayor Paul Soglin articulated their policy positions on issues central to the mayoral race.

Rhodes-Conway said Madison should take a holistic approach to adopting clean energy.

“I want to push on renewable energy and energy efficiency, not just in city buildings like we’ve been doing, but out in the community and in both commercial and residential buildings,” Rhodes-Conway said. “In part, this will lower the cost of utility bills and improve food waste, which will in turn change methane emissions with a composting program. And that’s just the beginning.”

Shukla agreed on pushing renewable energy with the hope of attracting business and industry to Madison. He argued that making improvements to housing affordability and bus rapid transit will also improve carbon emissions by being more efficient.

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A 13-member Oscar Mayer Strategic Assessment Committee was recently formed to develop a plan for how to reuse the former Oscar Mayer headquarters. Shukla said the site should be used to generate clean renewable energy through technologies like solar panels, and provide a space for young people to learn new skills and develop Madison’s progress on sustainability.

“I would like to include in that space a site for young people to get involved and be creative in that space,” Shukla said. “It may be in the form of picking up a skill to start installing solar or getting into the clean energy industry.”

Candidates discussed disability employment policy in Madison as well, opening up a wider discussion on accessibility. Soglin said Madison’s disability employment policy has been worked on and fine-tuned since his first administration.

Soglin said he and his administration developed a policy that forbids employers from implementing hiring guidelines that would impede a disabled person from being hired unless the guideline was proven essential to the job. Cheeks agreed that the city has prioritized disability employment, but he pushed for Madisonians to look ahead.

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“Madison is a city that has prioritized employment for disabled individuals,” Cheeks said. “It’s got to be true that we look at inclusivity across the board in our city, bring fresh eyes to our policies. We must look for incremental progress on matters of inclusivity for all employees. There’s the opportunity for us to look hard at how we enhance policy that maybe has been good for a generation or two, but how can we set the bar for what inclusivity looks like in 2019?”

Pettaway, a write-in candidate, said she agreed with the way current policies prioritize disabled employees, but hopes to expand this initiative and let those with disabilities lead the way in implementing fresh policy.

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Pettaway also encouraged those redeveloping the Oscar Mayer site to “think outside the box” with clean energy and economic development. Soglin agreed, and pushed for citizens to take initiative in the project by joining a commission in Madison.

Soglin said his administration determined the land cannot be used for big-box retail stores or warehouses. It will be a major vehicle for “great jobs” to be brought to Madison, he said. 

Madison’s mayoral primary election will be held Feb. 19, followed by a general election on April 2.