The two University of Wisconsin students running for the open Madison District 8 alder seat took part in a debate hosted by WORT 89.9 FM about the spring election, Wednesday night.
UW students Juliana Bennett and Ayomi Obuseh are competing for the seat on city council, which is currently held by Alder Max Prestigiacomo who is not seeking reelection. The District 8 seat encompasses a large part of campus and has been held by students in the past.
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Obuseh opened the evening by discussing her experience growing up as an immigrant in Madison where she moved in 2016. Obuseh said she is hopeful for change, especially seeing the recent organization of the Madison community.
“This summer especially, we saw such a mobilization of people,” Obuseh said. “Now many activists are running for office, and it’s a spark of hope that brought these protests together, and it’s spreading like wildfire nationally.”
Juliana Bennett started her opening remarks with her own experience at UW and in the city of Madison. Bennett said she will represent and amplify the voices within the community if elected.
Bennett also said she will be there for community members with a focus on the youth, unlike current and former committee members.
“While I’ve made lifelong friends, some of whom I met in Sellery, I’ve also been greeted with the dark underside of housing instability and financial hurt,” Bennett said.
Candidates first answered questions about their critiques of the Common Council on police reform and their respective platforms on policing.
Obuseh and Bennett both stressed the importance of mental health services from professionals, rather than relying on the police to respond to mental health emergencies. Both candidates support the CAHOOTS model — Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets — which would help move toward reducing police interaction in mental health situations.
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“Nine out of ten calls to UWPD are mental health related calls. Nine out of ten calls,” Bennett said. “We need to be working to answer the call of mental health in the greater campus area.”
The candidates also answered questions about how they will facilitate communication between UW leadership and the city. Both are activists in the UW community, with Bennett as a co-founder of the UW BIPOC Coalition and Obuseh as a co-founder of the youth-led activist group Impact Demand.
Obuseh stressed that part of facilitating communication between the two groups is understanding the power that an alder has and what their role is.
“The role of an alder takes passion. It takes a sense of leadership with so many members within the impact of demand that are UW students and what is beyond UW,” Obuseh said. “We need to have relationships with university organizations and build coalitions.”
Both candidates designated significant portions of their platforms to addressing environmental justice and sustainability solutions.
Bennett’s platform focuses on ideas including stopping runoff into Lake Mendota, reducing salt usage in the winter, installing rain gardens and community compost bins. Obuseh plans to power State Street with Our Feet, coordinate urban farming and save the bees.
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Affordable housing in District 8 and a ban on the use of tear gas by law enforcement were also discussed by both candidates.