After a 60-day period, efforts to recall Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway were unsuccessful due to a lack of signatures. Alders of the Common Council have mixed opinions about Rhodes-Conway’s leadership.
At the height of the Black Lives Matter protests, Rhodes-Conway released a private video in support of the Madison Police Department, receiving public backlash due to the video’s private nature. Rhodes-Conway later apologized for the video, but received a no-confidence vote in July from the Madison Professional Police Officers’ Association.
Dane County Supervisor Elena Haasl, D-5, who voted for Rhodes-Conway, said they were “really disappointed” in Rhodes-Conway’s leadership.
“[The video] was just like honestly a slap to the face, especially from a mayor who counts themselves as progressive, touts themselves as an ally for Black people — for Black citizens in Madison,” Haasl said. “Frankly, I wish that she would have been a stronger voice and a better listener to the Black citizens in Madison.”
Haasl said during a protest on John Nolan Drive, they remember Rhodes-Conway saying her hands are tied, especially when it comes to MPD, and that she is talking to the police. When the video was made public, Haasl said they lost trust in the mayor’s leadership.
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Ald. Max Prestigiacomo, D-8, said the mayor is not as progressive as he would like and it is unclear to him what her stance really is, in reference to Rhodes-Conway’s video to the police.
He added the police influence certain districts in the far west and south sides of Madison, which is why the council is “eager” to fund more weapons and militarization for the MPD and invest in state-sanctioned violence rather than violence prevention.
“It’s multiple times of police in districts, where people have called 911, and districts like mine or where their alder is a staunch police critic — and it’s maybe not something as pressing as something really violent — they will say, ‘Sorry, we’re too busy right now, talk to your Alder.’” Prestigiacomo said.
According to Prestigiacomo, incidents like this happened because the police may “dislike” that district or area. Prestigiacomo said it is a common phenomenon that is almost a form of lobbying for police officers.
Prestigiacomo said some BIPOC Council members told him they don’t feel “safe” about speaking up due to their fears of the police not showing up when they are in need.
“When we as a council say we want to police communities, we are saying — and making policy statements — that we are accepting a few in society will be either harmed or dead because of some market failure or some reason,” Prestigiacomo said.
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Ald. Donna Moreland, D-7, who served on the council on the Ad Hoc Committee formed to review civilian oversight for the MPD, said the word “brutality” for police actions is not applicable in Madison currently.
The Civilian Oversight Board and Office of Independent Monitor will bring more clarity and transparency, Moreland said. In addition, the establishment of the two will ensure everything is done in a thorough and unbiased manner, Moreland said.
“It’s my understanding that the outside organization that was hired to take a look at the Madison Police Department indicated in a lot of areas that we have a good police department,” Moreland said. “We don’t have a bad police department — well, it’s not everybody’s experience for certain.”
Prestigiacomo said though there are varying degrees of political opinions on the council and that personal experiences or one’s definition of police brutality doesn’t matter because white supremacy is inherently ingrained within the policing system.
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Prestigiacomo added he will be putting forward proposals for reparations and investing in Black and Indigenous communities before funding anything else. He said he is an abolitionist and wants to abolish the police, along with the police connection to the military-industrial complex.
“Stuff that we’re spending money on I personally disagree we shouldn’t even be spending money on in the first place,” Prestigiacomo said. “Weapons of war that are used abroad are going in the hands of our police departments [that] are harassing communities.”
Prestigiacomo said many people in Madison, including him, were taken aback after Rhodes-Conway’s actions and they regretted giving her their vote.
According to Moreland, however, being a politician includes making decisions some people will agree with while others won’t.
Moreland said many people were angry after George Floyd’s murder, and Rhodes-Conway was expected to address the situation and handle it as a mayor, though she did not create it. Moreland added some people were appreciative of Rhodes-Conway’s handling of the BLM movement whereas others weren’t and it impacted the way people see her.
“Unfortunately, she has been put in a position that she really had no control over this — there was no one that could have predicted this pandemic — and you had to make very quick, snappy decisions,” Moreland said. “When you make quick decisions like that, you’re going to make some mistakes sometimes.”
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Ald. Shiva Bidar, D-5, serves with the Alder Workgroup to Develop Logistics & Operational Details for MPD Independent Civilian Oversight. Bidar said the Civilian Oversight Committee will make the MPD more accountable, and the independent nature of the committee will place it into the hands of civilians instead of politicians.
Bidar said though they do not agree with some of the mayor’s actions, this year was challenging for any leader, especially one who is in their first year of being a mayor. Leading a city in times of multiple public crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and national focus on police brutatlity, is difficult, according to Bidar.
“I think that women in leadership are judged by a very different standard than men are judged by,” Bidar said. “I do think that we can do more and do better.”
Haasl said Rhodes-Conway lost credibility with young voters and more progressive people who want to fight for equity and justice for BIPOC.
Madison is different from when Moreland came to the city in 2002 and she said that fact is “disheartening.”
“We’ll get back to it when everyone feels as if they’re a deserving resident of everything good that Madison has to offer, and I know that a lot of people, especially people of color, do not feel that way and haven’t felt that way,” Moreland said.