Podcast: The 2023 District 2 Alder Debate

Alder candidates Colin Barushok and Juliana Bennett discuss housing, environmental policy, their experiences as public servants

· Mar 27, 2023 Tweet

Charlotte Bellamy/The Badger Herald

Jeffrey Deiss 0:16
Hi, this is Jeff, director of the Badger Herald podcast. And tonight we have a very important episode. I’ll be speaking with Colin Barushok and Juliana Bennett, the winners of Madison’s district 2 Alder primary. Juliana and Colin will be competing against each other in the general election on April 4. I think we’re gonna have a great conversation. I’m excited to learn more about both of your campaigns. So thank you both for coming.

Juliana Bennett 0:38
Thanks for having us.

Deiss 0:39
Of course.

Colin Barushok 0:40
Thanks Jeff.

Deiss 0:41
Originally, the podcast team and I envisioned a debate-style format for this episode, similar to the debate we hosted last semester between the College Democrats and Republicans. However, we thought it’d be more constructive to give both of you a chance to express your views to the audience without worrying about having a rebuttal for your opponent. So this episode will be more focused on conversation than competition. So let’s kick it off with some introductions. And I think I’ll alternate between who starts for each thing. But for this one, Juliana, can you please introduce yourself and give a little background about your life and what you do?

Bennett 1:18
Sure. Well, thank you for having me. Again. My name is Juliana Bennett, I use she/they pronouns. I currently sit as the District Eight Alder on Madison Common Council, and I’m running for District Two Alder. Um, a bit of backstory about me, I came here as a Belle Business Emerging Leaders Scholar to UW, graduated from Madison West High and then UW-Madison just this past December. And during this time, I kind of had like a transformational experience. I’m sure all of you all know what that’s like to change your majors a million times. But what really got me into this work was during the Black Lives Matter movement, and I started off as someone that just wanted to see change. I went to a protest. All of a sudden I was organizing protests. I organized the March on Madison event, which drew out like hundreds of students to march across Madison. All of a sudden, I was meeting with the chancellor about uplifting the voices of underrepresented communities. And that’s the you know what I’m running for all there and one. And in the past two years I’ve been working on and making movements towards a more affordable, equitable and inclusive Madison, specifically in terms of housing, transportation and violence prevention. And overall, my goal is just to uplift the voices of you know, us, especially as young people. I’ve sat in these rooms where I’ve had alders looking me in the face and say they don’t care about students. I’ve had people look at me in the face and say, I don’t care what’s going on on campus when we are the backbone of the city, and we deserve to be represented and heard.

Deiss 3:15
Of course. Great. Um, so Colin, I’ll give you a turn. If you want to introduce yourself, give a little background of your life and tell the audience what you do.

Barushok 3:22
Well thanks, Jeff, for the opportunity. I like to thank the Badger Herald. The Badger Herald is one of the news organizations that have been listening to me since the beginning, since I was a student politician. My first quote that I ever got in any newspaper was in the Badger Herald, so it’s nice to be home. I’m Colin Barushok. I grew up in a small business family in Kenosha, Wisconsin. My dad runs a small pest management business and my mom works for a nonprofit. Many members of my extended family were unionized teachers in Illinois. So I grew up valuing public service and solidarity, again, came to Madison to study mathematics at UW and during that time, I became involved in the Associated Students of Madison. I started by serving on the advisory committee to the Dean of Students. I decided to run for the Student Services Finance Committee, and I celebrated the anniversary of winning that election just a few days ago. I went to the State Senate where I worked for all of the state senators equally, looked over committee hearings and floor sessions to make sure they went off without a hitch. And I protected the public’s right to view and participate in their government. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hits and I go to work for the State Department of Safety and Professional Services write, reviewed and issued licenses for physicians, physician assistants, respiratory therapists and others. As I helped hundreds or maybe even thousands of healthcare professionals get to work on the frontlines of our pandemic response. And during that time, I served on the vetting oversight committee and later was appointed to the alcohol license review committee. And now I work for a Democratic State Senator, and I help him with constituent services and develop policy.

Deiss 5:26
Cool, so I’ll wrap it up for the introductions. Like I said, we’re going to alternate between who starts. So for this next question, I want to hear from Colin — what are some of your top priorities as a potential alder?

Barushok 5:43
My top priority is to be an excellent listener to District 2 residents, provide them the high quality services and the representation they deserve. This includes being responsive to emails, phone calls, holding neighborhood meetings, notifying neighbors about what’s going on in the district and across the city. And it means helping them solve problems. I want to have a seat at the table. And when I get that seat at the table, I have a special knowledge and, you know, certain connections that I can use to communicate with city agencies on behalf of my neighbors in District 2. And I want to leverage those connections, that knowledge to help them solve their city problems. If it’s snow removal, trash, nuisance noises, views, I want to make sure that through my position I can, I can help them to the best of my ability. And on the policy side, I want to advance policies that increase the housing supply, it’s not enough housing in Madison, the population continues to grow. And growth, of course, is important for vibrancy for the city and city revenues. But it can only continue if there are enough places where people can live. And there are enough places that people can afford to live. So I support incentives to create more affordable housing. I won’t oppose developments on the sole basis that it is not affordable to students. And the reason for that is the housing market in Madison is so competitive that if we don’t build housing that will sell or rent for the market rate, those people are going to take their big money and come to my landlord, and they’re going to show my landlord that big money. And look, I’m going to be competing for them for the right to live in downtown Madison. So we need to create enough housing units for everybody to live in order to create more affordable housing.

Deiss 7:39
Cool, thank you, Colin. So next, Juliana, I’ll have you talk about some of your top priorities as a potential District 2 older so we’ll give you the floor.

Bennett 7:49
Sure. So, um, as a current Alder, it’s always my driving force to reach out to this community. And I found it especially in District 8. A lot of people don’t even know what an alder is, let alone get involved in elections. So that’s why I actively proactively reach out to my constituents. I’m very excited that we had five students run for council, which is historic. But that’s just a testimony to what it looks like to have proactive outreach. My priorities are quite simple and relevant to the the things that we have — affordable housing, comprehensive transit, violence prevention. Downtown Madison is growing. And this new growth in the next few years is going to determine who can live, work and do business in downtown Madison. For me, I’ve been in those shoes where I’ve gotten that scary five day eviction notice, I’m barely able to pay rent, literally still barely able to pay rent. And especially burdensome as someone that’s a student working 30-plus hours a week. So we need affordable housing. That’s why I push forward in affordable student housing study and zoning overlay in the downtown area. So new developers have an incentive to allow units for affordable housing. In terms of transportation I have been a strong supporter of the bus rapid transit network, and have been proactive in ensuring that the new metro network redesign and changes will help students rather than work against us in downtown. But we also need to have good transportation in the entire city, not just downtown. And as for violence prevention. We need to be supporting our houseless community, our survivors of SA and DA, we need to be providing services at the root cause of the problem and treating violence like the public health crisis that is gun violence. So sexual assault in our communities is a public health crisis. And we need to come at it from a public health lens, invest in public health, invest in our crisis response team for mental health calls. And that’s what I plan to do and what I have done. So please look at my track record on that.

Deiss 10:19
Okay, so I had some other questions that I was going to ask about housing and affordable housing specifically. But just to mix up the topics that we’re talking about, another thing that I was interested in hearing about is environmental policy in Madison. So Madison often scores pretty high as we call a green city, but obviously, with urban development, a push for things like more and more efficient public transportation, pollution, etc. There’s obviously some work to be done. So Juliana, I’ll give you a chance to talk about some things you would do in order to improve environmental policy in Madison.

Bennett 11:00
Sure. Sustainability and environmental justice is one of my platforms that I’m running on. And I will start this question off by saying racial justice is environmental justice, we need to look at our environmental concerns, creating a renewable city, completely green city by 2030. But also specifically noting that these issues impact Black and Brown communities the most. So I’m, as older I will advocate for green infrastructure. I already do that. Whenever we have new developments, if they want to build in the city, they need to build green. That means putting in green roofs making sure that the overall design is environmentally friendly. We’re not polluting more. Secondly, recycling and community composting. If you live downtown, you already know what a cluster-mess it is. During move out in August, and I find it absolutely atrocious that there’s so much waste during that time, a UW-Madison student founded this thing called the really free market. And I would like to make it somewhat of a city program so that we can trade goods especially during move out and not you know contribute to waste. And as alder, I’ve been working with city staff on community composting, we’re almost close to a solution. But it’s one of those things where you need another term to figure it out so that we can have composting citywide. And finally I will say supporting green, clean water and clean air. In Madison we have we know that we have PFAS in our water. And I support city staff on reducing the environmental waste and clean air I have advocated against F-35s in our city. I think it’s a terrible pollution that’s coming. They are coming but I want to focus on building community outreach about how do we deal with this problem that we know is coming with these fighter jets that are just going to pollute in our neighborhoods

Deiss 13:12
Thanks Juliana. Up next I’ll have Colin — I want to hear a little bit about your views on sustainability and environmental policy and maybe some plans you have if elected alder.

Barushok 13:25
I think one of the — one of the best things we can do for sustainability and to foreign environment is to continue creating a downtown environment and a citywide environment where people don’t rely on single occupancy mode to travel. That’s why I’ve proposed a safe green streets policy, which basically is the same as what the city is already committed to but include safety. Streets need to be accessible for all users bicyclists, pedestrians, people who use wheelchairs and others. But additionally, we need to make sure that our streets aren’t plagued by reckless driving. It’s an issue that has been ongoing and that became more acute during the pandemic. So I support creating roadways that discourage reckless driving. I think we should create more pedestrian flashers in District 2 and across the city. More curb extensions, raise bike lanes above grade to make cyclists more visible. And we need to advocate for the state legislature — to the state legislature to require or — excuse me — to allow Madison to install red light cameras. This is a way to enforce red light violations without introducing more police contacts in the community without opening the door to more pretextual stops and it’ll make downtown safer. Beyond that we need to increase the tree canopy across the city. The city needs to aggressively pursue new monies that have been made available on the federal infrastructure grant. The city should remain steadfast in our efforts to reduce the amount of salt use. When there are snow storms, we need to be able to efficiently clear snow and make our streets safe. But it’s imperative that we continue efforts towards ways that reduce salt use and require the cleanup of excess salt use.

Deiss 15:30
All right, so next up, I know you both have held positions working in local government, state government, etc. You don’t have to give a super long explanation. But I’ll start with you. Colin, could you describe a project or initiative you worked on that has had a positive impact on your community?

Barushok 15:51
Well, I already mentioned that I was the chair of the Student Services Finance Committee. That’s a branch of the Associated Students in Madison. And in particular, it’s the group that looks over students’ segregated fees. And at that time, I supported our applications for several clubs, applications to join a fund that was created to support major clubs and provide campus wide services mainly for students, but also for non-students. And at that time, eligibility for this fund was pretty strict. So as a member of that committee, and later as chair, I was happy to help the Black Student Union, the Muslim Student Association and Wunk Sheek navigate the application process that eventually led to their inclusion in that fund for the first time in a long time, since the eligibility was redrafted. I also led a successful campaign to reduce out of pocket costs of going to class. Things like iClickers, Online Course Management Services, they charged a lot of on his unexpected fees, you know, maybe $100 or more, to private third party services for for class supplies, I got a group of students together go to Bascom, we strongly encourage the use of Canvas, in place of this patchwork services, and a lot of students to this day are still using Canvas. And the problem is not fully solved. I know that people are still using iClickers and Top Hat, things like that. But before this campaign, no one had even heard of Canvas. So I’m very happy to be a part of that. And on the vending oversight committee, I supported the implementation of the street program. When the pandemic hit, there was little market for indoor dining and drinking, but the city was very smart to create a program to sell food and beverages in the public right away. And I was happy to support making that permanent.

Deiss 17:59
Alright, thank you, Colin. I’ll kick it off to you Juliana — could you describe an initiative or project you worked on that had a positive impact on your community?

Bennett 18:07
Sure. So starting off with the impact, I would say my biggest success is really putting students and young people as a center of focus in the city. We have even the mayor and city staff coming to me asking about student related issues because of my work. And one of these examples that I think goes really overlooked is redistricting. So in 2021, we had a redistricting process that happens every 10 years after the census comes out. So at this time, I had a redistricting committee member tell me that they actively were trying to crack the student voice, because they believe that students don’t deserve a voice on council. Their reasoning is, students don’t vote, students are only here part time yada, yada. Basically, they were saying that we’re a bunch of young dumb kids that shouldn’t be in the city. And I was like “*** No!” I sorry to curse, but, hell no! Like, we are the backbone of the city. Like I said, we use public transportation. We literally thrive this housing market in the city. And we’re the largest recruiter of the city, Madison wouldn’t be what it is today without us. So that’s why I fought so hard to have fair maps. And we got support from the UW Chancellor from representative Francesca Hong and ultimately allowed District 8 to stay the same with you know, representation, but they also have you know, District 2 which is more focused on young people and young person seat, so I’m really happy about that. And that kind of that whole thing translated into being able to spearhead a student housing study and investing in it from the city, being able to pass Alpha Chi Sigma as a fraternity, which was originally turned down. But then because of my work, ended up proceeding and creating affordable housing mentioned AAUW and Wunk Sheek, UW-Madison has agreed not to continue with their programming till they have a suitable housing solution for them because of how we’ve put us on the map, and that we’re not supposed to be trifled with.

Deiss 20:38
Thank you, Juliana. All right. So Juliana, next, I want to ask you, what makes you the best candidate to represent people, especially students living in District 2? Why should they say I want Juliana Bennett to speak for me?

Bennett 20:54
Sure. I’m well, beyond my plethora of experience, I’m truly someone that focuses on community. That’s why I founded the Madison BIPOC coalition. But I would say I am the most in touch with this community and with students. I’ve been working on these issues as an alder doing the job that I’m running to do right now. And when we have issues on council people come to me asking about what’s going on with students. I am that resource, I connect people with UW-Madison with the state legislature with whomever needs to be representative. So anyways, um, so I am the most in touch. Also, I’ve been in these shoes, like I just graduated from UW in December. Um, and during that time, like I said, I’ve been in those shoes with eviction, going to classes with y’all hearing your voices, running as someone that’s not trying to be a cookie cutter career politician, but someone that genuinely cares, and genuinely wants to uplift your voices. So I would say that I am the best candidate who will work with you on these issues and bring you to the table. I know I have time left. But that’s what I have to say.

Deiss 22:22
Perfect. And, Colin, whenever you’re ready, I’m gonna ask you the same question. What makes you the best candidate to represent people with an emphasis on students living in districts and medicine?

Barushok 22:35
Well, I have a proven track record helping students and it wasn’t that long ago. I’d like to — I don’t want to call into question my companion here — but all their benefits said I don’t want to run as a cookie cutter career politician but all their benefits. The one who’s starting a career in politics, I started my career, behind the scenes doing public service. I started my career working as a support staffer in the state Senate. But I specifically, I think I know what it’s like to transition from student life to city life, a lot of the issues that we face start becoming apparent when students start thinking about leaving the university start thinking about taking a job, they need to worry about where to live, how to deal with landlords and these kinds of issues taken on a different flavor, whether you’re a student or a non student, because students frequently use a service at the university when problems arise. But I know how it feels to be suddenly left alone. Alder Bennett has had the privilege of having a seat at the table during her transition. With a high profile that Bennett has, many employers already know who she is. She knows intimately how to access study resources. And when people don’t. Every other student is more like me. They do not have this platform or this knowledge. I believe my experience is more common and gives me a unique insight that I can leverage to provide excellent constituent constituent services to students, recent grads and young people in our downtown community.

Deiss 24:17
Cool, thank you, Colin.

Bennett 24:19
Thanks. Because, um, my name was called into that, may I respond?

Deiss 24:24
Feel free.

Bennett 24:25
Great. Thank you. Um, I will say that I think it’s completely out of line to question where I’m at or the career quote unquote thing. I’m, like I’ve said before I got into this, just like I’m someone that wanted to see change. I came to UW-Madison as a low-income student, someone that had zero comp family contribution, someone that barely scooted by, someone that had to work 30 hours a week, not even as an alder 30 hours a week just to keep a roof over my head. So calling into question why I’m doing this is completely out of line. I started off as a student organizer, I started off with the Madison BIPOC Coalition was a group of five students that wanted to uplift the voices of underrepresented communities. That’s why we brought in multicultural organizations like one actually like FOSS. So, like Metro de UW into the table. And we had that seat at the table with our former Chancellor Blank. And now Chancellor Mnookin. So um, and with that, I always use my seat to make sure that we bring students to the table so that your voices are heard. And yes, I have this platform, but I always use my privilege as a platform to uplift your voices.

Deiss 25:59
And I think in fairness, Colin, there’s anything else you want to say to respond to that? Feel free — unless you don’t?

Barushok 26:06
I’ll respond. Thanks. Look, I don’t call into question anyone’s integrity. I don’t call into question anyone’s motivations, I would probably be doing the exact same thing that Alder Bennett is doing. If I had that platform, why would I want to quit? However, I think that I have more of — I think that by being behind the scenes by conducting my public service quietly, over the past several years, I was able to learn and avoid certain pitfalls that Alder Bennett walked into. I don’t blame her. I would have made the same mistakes. But I think District 2 is different than District 8. And I think that the residents of District 2 are ready for someone with a few more years of experience. Both Alder Bennett and I are the two youngest people other than the District 8 candidates, but where we rank very young, on the scale of, of people running for office. And so I think my five years of behind the scenes experience really does set me apart.

Deiss 27:33
Okay, I like that. I like that we had some discussion back and forth, honestly unplanned but I just like the discourse going on. So I think to end it off, we’re gonna lighten it up a little bit. And I just want to hear about both of you as citizens of Madison, you could give a little bit of a shorter answer for this one. And Colin, I believe you start this one off. What do you love the most about Madison and what makes you proud to live in the city?

Barushok 28:00
Well, I love Madison because we’re known for our lakes. We’re known for our fitness culture, great restaurants, high quality, entertainment offerings, but I especially appreciate the biking culture, we have a cycling culture. I grew up in Kenosha, Wisconsin, as I previously mentioned, and I was riding a bike as a hobby since I was a kid. And back in those days in Kenosha, I was on streets that were exclusively designed for high speed automobiles. So when I came to Madison, I was impressed by the bicycle infrastructure we have here. And I made great use of it. I still, of course, see certain gaps, and I see certain improvements we can make. I see streets that can be made safer for bicycles and and as I previously mentioned, my campaign is devoted to making the situation better for bicycles not just for my personal interests, but just because it helps us towards our climate goals, equity and accessibility.

Deiss 29:05
Perfect. And Juliana, I guess I’ll ask you the same question to finish it off. What are one of your favorite things about Madison and what do you love the most about our city here?

Bennett 29:16
Sure. Um, well, I will have this question when talking about my favorite UW story. So on my first day here at UW, there is a lot of things going on there on the first day first off, we were in like my first 30 minutes were kind of tokenized where they grabbed all the Black and Brown students and shoved us to the front of the picture, which is typical at UW. Later in the evening, I had, I was in a dorm and they were talking about so you know how they have parties and they’re talking about their roommates. One of the people, I was talking to had a roommate from India. They’re saying, yeah, the person is so weird. Like he’s Indian, he does this and but that same person I went out with later that night, and we have fun and we jumped in the lake. I lost my glasses in the lake. Of course, he became one of my best friends here. And I wish I could say that Madison is someplace everyone has a place to find. But all too often we find that you know, people of color just feel out of place here. And that’s why I got into this work. That’s why I’m really thankful to have the support from District 2 and winning 70% in the primary. And the support from representative Francesca Hong, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, all of those folks, because all of them see the work that I’ve done, and see that together, we can make Madison a more affordable and equitable, inclusive place to everyone that lives in Madison.

Deiss 31:03
All right, I think that’s going to wrap it up. Once again, thank both of you for coming to do this for The Badger Herald. I think you both gave great answers for a lot of these different questions. Both have different skill sets, a different style, but all around I think that was a great discussion and hope to do something like this again in the future.

Barushok and Bennett 31:22
Thank you. Thanks so much for having me.

Deiss 31:23
Of course.

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This article was published Mar 27, 2023 at 5:01 pm and last updated Mar 27, 2023 at 5:23 pm

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