The upcoming alder elections hold significance for Madison residents living in contested districts. Policies on the local level have the potential to create tangible changes, making alder elections impactful for the direction of city government. In considering the best policies for University of Wisconsin students, The Badger Herald Editorial Board proudly endorses Juliana Bennett for District 2, Maxwell Laubenstein for District 4 and MGR Govindarajan for District 8.
District 2: Juliana Bennett
In District 2, Bennett, the current alder of District 8, is facing off against challenger Colin Barushok. The Badger Herald Editorial Board believes Bennett is the more suitable candidate for the alder position.
While Barushok’s campaign focuses on issues that are undoubtedly important for Madison community members, Bennett’s experience and platform show promising and tangible outcomes for UW students, especially those from marginalized communities.
As co-founder of the BIPOC Coalition and previous commitment to equity and inclusion initiatives, Bennett specifically supports policies that would promote better conditions for marginalized students. For example, Bennett has proposed investing in community needs by promoting policies such as competitive wages, Bus Rapid Transit to increase city access and emergency rental assistance.
Barushok’s campaign has not explicitly stated racial inequity or ways to address it, despite its status as a highly salient issue.
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Though both candidates focus on affordable housing, Barushok said he will not oppose housing developments that are more expensive in order to prevent driving up prices by presenting higher-paying renters to landlords. This argument falls short in that there are already several luxury housing complexes in the campus area, but students still struggle to find affordable housing in non-luxury options. Bennett’s proposal to incentivize increasing affordable housing options is a more promising solution.
During an episode of the Badger Herald Podcast in which both candidates were offered an opportunity to discuss their goals, Bennett and Barushok were each asked about their plans for addressing environmental issues and sustainability in Madison. Bennett proposed specific changes she will advocate for, such as a city-wide community composting program, as well as an initiative to reduce waste by trading goods during move-out time, instead of throwing them away.
Barushok said he would continue to push forward Madison’s Green City Initiative, which focuses on reducing single-person transportation usage and walkability of Madison. But he quickly segued into discussing street safety and reducing traffic accidents. Though this is another important issue, Barushok’s own proposals for promoting sustainability as an alderman remain unanswered.
For her commitment to addressing student issues through the lens of equity and inclusion and her concretely proposed initiatives, the Badger Herald Editorial Board endorses Bennett for District 2 alderperson.
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District 4: Maxwell Laubenstein
The District 4 alder race sees two different candidates with similar ideologies, but widely different experiences. Incumbent Mike Verveer has remained as the District 4 alder since 1995 and has run unopposed since 1999. The opposing candidate is UW student and former Student Services Finance Committee Chair Maxwell Laubenstein.
Verveer has been the alderperson in District 4 for a combined 28 years — longer than many of the constituents in this district have been alive. While this has undoubtedly given him experience, it has stagnated his vision for the future of District 4, and it is time for change.
With the median age of Madison residents being 31.2 and the majority of Madison residents falling between the ages of 20-29, District 4 deserves a candidate who directly represents the population they aim to serve. While age is not a requirement for understanding and advocating on behalf of their constituents, it is a factor that can aid in bringing fresh, new perspectives to persisting issues. As a student and young adult himself, we believe Laubenstein can bring these perspectives to the table.
While Verveer definitively has more experience on city council, Laubenstein also possesses his fair share of governmental experience through his time in student government at UW. During his time as SSFC chair, Laubenstein founded the Student Workers’ Rights Committee and helped raise the student minimum wage for campus jobs from $10 to $12 per hour.
Laubenstein also worked to expand access to university mental health resources by helping hire additional mental health professionals as well as expanding resources allotted to the sexual violence response program at University Health Services. Laubenstein’s time in campus leadership clearly shows his ability to recognize and advocate for the pertinent problems facing his constituents, but also implement effective, tangible solutions.
Undeniably one of the most imminent issues facing Madison residents is affordable housing. While both candidates recognize this concern, Laubenstein understands the more nuanced issues under the larger umbrella of affordable housing. Verveer believes the housing crisis should be addressed through a “carrot approach” of increasing density and height through zoning ordinances that require new private developments to include more affordable units.
While we applaud Verveer’s sentiment and agree with the need for zoning policy changes, Laubenstein, as a student himself, understands the realities of what can truly be considered affordable housing. He emphasizes that the city focuses on building more housing units without necessarily ensuring the units are truly affordable to students and low-income residents.
Units upwards with rental costs of $800 and $900 are being considered affordable, even though these rates are significantly higher than what is affordable for many students and low-income residents, Laubenstein said in a candidate forum. Laubenstein is instead a proponent of focusing on reducing the cost of rent per square foot, which is a more efficient approach to ensure units are truly affordable.
For his commitment to student priorities and fresh perspectives, The Badger Herald Editorial Board endorses Laubenstein for District 4 alderperson.
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District 8: MGR Govindarajan
For UW students living in District 8, voting can mean choosing between two of their peers for the alder seat, which has traditionally been held by a student or recent graduate of UW.
This year, the District 8 alder race is between two undergraduates — MGR Govindarajan and Charlie Fahey. Both candidates currently serve on the Campus Area Neighborhood Association as South Campus Representatives.
Fahey boasts an impressive resume. In addition to his CANA membership, he serves on the Wisconsin Agricultural Youth Council, on the UW Student Misconduct Panel, as an editor at UW’s Undergraduate Journal of Economics and as a research assistant at the UW Law School.
Govindarajan, on top of his responsibilities at CANA, has served as the Associated Student of Madison’s Legislative Affairs Chair for two years.
Govindarajan has been vocal about his passion for affordable living. As an immigrant and person of color himself, Govindarajan said he understands firsthand how persisting racial disparities plague people of color in Madison in issues of housing and safety in the downtown area.
In regards to the proposal to implement a pilot program to equip North Police District officers with body cameras, Govindarajan is in support of the pilot program but remains hesitant about the full program until more details are provided by the pilot program. This demonstrates a transparency that is much needed in our current political climate.
Though he labels himself as accessible on his website, Fahey lacks the consistent presence and transparency necessary for voters to understand his priorities.
We know where Govindarajan stands on key issues like policing and alderperson wage increases, and he has used available platforms to his advantage when it comes to explaining how he plans to tackle the issue of housing insecurity. We do know housing is a top priority for Fahey but do not know how he plans on addressing it.
There are just weeks left before students cast their ballots, and Fahey has not established himself as a member of the community who understands the issues students are facing. What students need is someone who shows up for them and can relate to the struggles they deal with on a daily basis. Govindarajan has made it clear he is up to the task.
For his years of lobbying on behalf of students and his openness about his policy positions, The Badger Herald Editorial Board endorses Govindarajan for District 8 alderperson.
The Badger Herald Editorial Board serves to represent the voice of the editorial department, distinct from the newsroom and does not necessarily reflect the views of each staff member.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated to clarify Govindarajan’s stance on the proposal to implement a pilot program to equip North Police District officers with body cameras.