Madison mayoral candidates discuss vision for future of city

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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -- After a heated and crowded primary, on April 2, two candidates are going head to head. Voters will decide who will become Madison's mayor for the next four years.

There's a lot that current Mayor Paul Soglin and his challenger Satya Rhodes-Conway agree on, like creating a city where everyone can thrive. However, they have very different visions on how to get there as well as different backgrounds.

NBC15's Hannah Flood sat down with both candidates to learn more about their visions for the future of Madison.

Candidate Satya Rhodes-Conway sat on the City Council for six years and has been part of the mayor's Innovation Project, a think tank in Madison running a learning network for mayors across the country.

"I get to see what cities all across the country are doing and sort of the interesting things and progressive policies that they are implementing,” Rhodes-Conway said.

Rhodes-Conway says she's learned faster ways to accomplish Madison's goals.

"We aren’t being innovated enough about we aren’t moving fast enough or working hard enough on," Rhodes-Conway said.

Better public transit, affordable housing, racial equality and addressing climate change are her top four priorities.

The mayoral challenger believes there is a need to support tenants and prevent evictions. Rhodes-Conway thinks housing instability caused by eviction and, increasingly, non-renewal, is pervasive and disproportionately impacts communities of color in Madison.

"I think it’s important for us to get fresh perspectives and new ideas and tackle problems in a different way," Rhodes-Conway said.

More specifically, the candidate wants to ensure people facing eviction have legal representation. A priority for Rhodes-Conway is stabilizing families in danger of eviction while using data to target services and resources to those most vulnerable and at risk for housing displacement.

She said there are already systems in place, like the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, that could be better utilized to improve already existing affordable housing.

Rhodes-Conway plans to fully leverage Tax Increment Financing [TIF] and the Affordable Housing Trust Fund to encourage the production of more affordable housing options in all neighborhoods.

She also wants to pursue incentives to reward good behavior by landlords and management companies.

"That's the cheapest way to create affordable housing. To keep what you have but we have to make sure that it’s healthy and safe for folks to live in,” Rhodes-Conway said.

If elected, she will explore waiving requirements like parking minimums and setbacks, allowing a density bonus for projects containing significant number of affordable units and projects located near transportation hubs.

Rhodes-Conway has plans for transportation in Madison. She wants to maintain all transportation infrastructure – including streets, sidewalks, bike paths and buses. Working with employers and property owners to manage transportation demand has Rhodes-Conway's focus.

One of her priorities will be implementing Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in the Madison region. Madison Metro describes BRT as, “a high-frequency limited-stop transit system that offers faster more direct service using larger vehicles to increase capacity,” according to Rhodes-Conway.

To do this, Metro facilities must be upgraded and build partnerships with the county and surrounding municipalities until the state restores the city's ability to form a Regional Transportation Authority.

She says under her plan, money for public transit will have to come from outside the city.

“Yes, of course we’re going to need to ask the federal government for money and I’m actually pretty hopeful about our chances of getting that," Rhodes-Conway said. "We’ll ask the state both for additional transit aid, but also, for the ability to form a regional transportation authority."

You can learn more about mayoral candidate Satya Rhodes-Conway here.

Current Mayor Paul Soglin was first elected mayor in 1973 and since then, he's been serving on and off for a total of 22 years in office.

Soglin wants people to look at his success in growing the city's economy over that time as proof of performance.

He claims under his tenure, there has been a reduction in unemployment, particularly in the African-American community, which was at 26% and is now under 7%, according to Soglin. He says two-thirds of African-American kids were in households below the poverty line, a number he says is now down to one-third.

“I’m very proud of how Madison’s become an economically successful city, but unlike so many others in the country, we have managed to make it more robust in terms of diversity, in terms of race and ethnic background,” Soglin said.

Soglin reflected on when he communicated with the United Way organization regarding adult unemployment. The hiring program is a million-dollar commitment to hire 200 people, which meant training, job preparation, job coaching.

He says diversifying the workforce had a lot to do with raising household income and significantly reducing unemployment.

The current Mayor of Madison added he has talked to developers in regards to how they structure land use so the city may improve transportation, land use, the diversification of housing and jobs.

He says he's working on a program to offer grants to women, communities of color, veterans and immigrants who want to start businesses.

“We’re going to make a major commitment in the millions of dollars in terms of grants and funding to start businesses to enhance already existing businesses,” Soglin said.

Soglin says when you look at cities where everybody feels welcome, there is a variable — a gap that needs to be closed. He says this is a major challenge in Madison and it is connected to entrepreneurship.

"Entrepreneurship and the growth of businesses feed solution in terms of home ownership, academic performance and obviously inter-generational wealth which is critical for success," Soglin said.

Another issue Soglin wants to tackle in the near future is establishing services for what he calls a group of 30 to 40 kids — responsible for car jackings and break-ins.

"We’ve got to get to these kids, we have to see the county get engaged in regards to group homes and the disposition of these juvenile cases,” Soglin said.

Soglin says Madison has their first jobs TIF through Exact Sciences, and thinks it may be the first in the state. He says the molecular diagnostics company represents the future, having agreed to a contract with the Urban League to train people.

With the third graduating class nearing the workforce, Soglin says they'll be making $15 an hour, getting health insurance and pensions.

"That is really exciting — not just for the folks directly affected by it, but it sets the bar for businesses if they want to get involved with a city TIFF. That's the kind of stuff, the more mundane things in the public conversation that doesn't get the excitement of a new fire station or new public park," Soglin said. "It has lasting consequences and is so beneficial to everyone."

Soglin says he's enjoyed his time as mayor, but his job isn't done yet.

“The greatest satisfaction comes from seeing the improvement in people’s lives as we get academic success, as we get incomes up, as we reduce poverty and we see, really, the pursuit of happiness,” Soglin said.

You can learn more about current Madison Mayor Paul Soglin here.

Election Day is on Tuesday, April 2.