Because it suffocates less between the constricting confines of corporate power, local politics is always more interesting than government on a state or national level, especially in apolitical times like these. Local politicians are freer to take creative positions; they can take bold stands on behalf of their most disenfranchised constituents and confront reactionary power in a way that even the most progressive governor or president wouldn’t dare. They are also more able to affect public policy in a pronounced, positive way — even if on a smaller scale. For this reason, the District 2 alder race, in which veritable progressive lion Brenda Konkel is seeking re-election, merits the attention of anyone who cares about local issues. And for the same reason, the District 8 alder race, in which an opportunistic liberal and an opportunistic enigma are asking for your vote, has ended up quite the disappointment.
In District 2, which encompasses the east side of campus, Konkel is seeking re-election for her fifth term as alder. As the longtime head and founder of the Tenant Resource Center — an organization that provides counseling services to mostly low-income tenants — and a community activist, she is in a unique position to understand the issues affecting those struggling, a particularly relevant quality in economic times like these. Konkel has also been connected to her district in way that has even garnered applause from her opponents, maintaining a widely read blog, attending all the necessary neighborhood meetings and reliably responding the concerns of her constituents.
Konkel has been among the council’s most aggressive advocates for tenants, students, the homeless and working families. She has also been unafraid to challenge powerful local interests, be it large companies or cops — which has earned her much criticism from those who support unregulated business and the funneling of taxpayer money into the police department whenever it gives the word. She provides a much-needed check on what is often an opaque political process, frequently standing up to the mayor and her colleagues for the sake of governmental transparency.
Konkel’s opponent, Bridget Maniaci, purports to have similarly progressive positions on most issues, even if her platform offers about a quarter of the details. Maniaci is fond of citing her opponent’s combative “style” as her principal objection to her tenure, which I can only take to mean that she will indeed end up as a “rubber stamp” for the boring consensus agenda of Mayor Dave (for whom she once interned and now counts as her only elected endorser) and his ilk.
If Konkel makes the District 2 race something actually worthy of our attention, the candidates for the District 8 race remind us why so few people care about local elections. Although the race may be uninteresting on a policy level, one must give contender Mark Woulf credit for adding some entertainment to the race, even if for all the wrong reasons. Woulf managed to barely make it out of the primary by enticing just enough voters at the Gordon Commons ward with what must have been some very tasty cookies. Bizarrely, he has sought the endorsement the College Republicans, College Democrats and Progressive Dane — unsuccessfully in all cases. It remains a mystery where he stands politically on just about everything — except in his insistence that cops stay out of the bars, despite the fact the office he is seeking has no formal authority over police practice. In short, he is utterly unqualified for the position.
His opponent, Bryon Eagon, is unambiguously the better of the two candidates, even if his candidacy is about as inspiring as his opponent’s is intelligible. Eagon, the former statewide chair of Students for Obama, has the look and sound of a politician, giving every indication that he views the alder position as the next rung to climb to advance his political career. His political connections are with Democratic Party operatives, not grassroots organizers that would connect him with on-the-ground issues that matter most to students and marginalized groups. Unsurprisingly, his politics are safe and predictable.
Nonetheless, District 8 voters have good reason to believe Eagon will be a fairly reliable progressive vote, even if he will opt for a more cautious and appeasing approach that distinguishes him from Konkel and the like. During the District 8 primary debate, Eagon stated the one place from which he would not cut funds is the Office of Community Services, a very encouraging sign given the historically tight funds on which the Council will be operating in the coming year. And being a career-climber has at least incentivized him to do his homework; his platform his extremely well-researched and detailed, so if nothing else, he will be prepared for office right from the start.
The choices in both District 2 and District 8 could not be clearer. Next week, vote Konkel in the former and Eagon in the latter.
Kyle Szarzynski ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in history and philosophy