Current, former UW students bring critical perspective to Madison Common Council

MGR Govindarajan, Juliana Bennett to focus on increased communication with constituents

· May 5, 2023 Tweet

Alice Vagun/The Badger Herald

MGR Govindarajan was elected to serve as Madison’s District 8 Alder in the April 4th election. Govindarajan will take over from Juliana Bennett, the now District 2 alder.

District 8 represents a significant area of the University of Wisconsin campus and is largely comprised of students. Govindarajan, a UW student, ran on platforms that focused on student-centered issues, like affordable housing and improving public transportation, according to the campaign website.

Govindarajan is a junior at UW majoring in legal studies and political science and said he was very happy with the voter turnout in this election.   

“We ran such a great campaign,” Govindarajan said. “We were out there with social media, advertising, knocking on doors and grassroot efforts that really told people what we were about and what we’re running for and it got people to care.”

Serving as alder will not be Govindarajan’s first time representing students. He holds experience as a leader with the Campus Area Neighborhood Association as a South Campus Representative and has served as the Associated Students of Madison’s Legislative Affairs Chair for the last two years, according to his campaign website.

Govindarajan chose to run for this position because he wanted to lift up student voices. His personal experiences as a student influenced his decision to represent students.

Govindarajan said his priorities as alder will be the same as the policies he ran on — safe and affordable housing, making mental health resources more available to students and making on and off campus spaces safer. 

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Students have brought up these issues over and over again, Govindarajan said, but they are not fully addressed by the City Council. 

“If you look at this from an economic standpoint, students put a lot into this city and don’t take a lot out of it,” Govindarajan said. “So when we are asking for these things, it shouldn’t be such an uphill battle to get them.”

Having a student serving on the council to help advocate for students is critical to helping address some of the most pressing issues students face, according to Govindarajan.

But being the only student serving as an alder can pose unique challenges in this advocacy. Bennett, who began serving as District 8 alder spring 2021, said she received pushback from other alders when she would advocate for students.

“I’ve had alders look me in the face and say they don’t care about students, even though one out of six people living in the city of Madison are a UW student,” Bennett said. 

As District 8 alder, Bennett focused on student issues. But as a recent graduate of UW and the now District 2 alder, Bennett will not represent as large of a student population as she did before, which has allowed her to expand her list of priorities.

“I will always care about students and student issues, but my priorities have definitely expanded to reflect the different constituencies that are in District 2,” Bennett said.

Govindarajan and Bennett were sworn in to their new positions as District 8 and District 2 alder, respectively, April 18. 

For Bennett, this term she is hoping to get through more affordable housing policies, with a focus on zoning changes. She also was appointed to the Transportation Commission this term, and said there’s many exciting developments and policies coming out of the commission, like the Bus Rapid Transit and the Complete Green Streets Initiative.   

Bennett said she knows success is not immediate, so her goals for this term is to make progress on projects that will take five to ten years to complete. 

Bennett and Govindarajan will likely find allies in each other when it comes to achieving their legislative goals during this term.

To Govindarajan, being a good alder means building community. To start his first term, Govindarajan is focusing on creating spaces to have conversations with his constituents and increase student engagement with local politics. 

Currently, he uses Instagram to connect with students and keep them updated on what’s happening in Madison. He hopes to give weekly updates about the Common Council on his Instagram. Govindarajan envisions the weekly updates to include a Q&A section so he can answer any questions or concerns his followers have.    

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Govindarajan is also planning on hosting campus events so students can bring their ideas directly to him. Meeting more students by introducing himself at student organizations is another way he is planning on engaging with students. 

“I’m hoping to work with Juliana Bennett and really get people to realize they are not paying attention to a huge population here,” Govindarajan said. “Overall, my main thing is I want to hear from literally anyone, even if they cannot vote. I want to hear from them because they still live in this district and they are affected by what happens in this city.” 

Bennett echoed the sentiment and encouraged students to reach out to their alder.

“If something is bothering you or if there’s something important to you that you want to see get done, then please contact your local elected official,” Bennett said. “Even if you’re not sure it’s a local issue, your alder will be able to find the right person to ask.”

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This article was published May 5, 2023 at 12:00 pm and last updated May 4, 2023 at 10:29 am

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