On Wednesday, March 15, the Dane County NAACP hosted a candidate forum asking the Dane County Circuit judge and Madison Common Council candidates the hard-hitting questions, starting off with “do you support the Black Lives Matter movement and why does it seem like only alders of color have opponents?”
For the first half of question, all but one alder candidate answered, unequivocally, yes, they do support the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Initially I didn’t understand Black Lives Matter,” said Barbara Harrington-McKinney, the incumbent Alder for District 1. “I went to a diversity conference and the panelist said ‘we waited in line for others to speak for us and they never did, and now we’re speaking for us,’ so my support for them is that they absolutely have a right to step up.”
The lone dissent came from Steve Fitzsimmons, candidate for District 10 running against incumbent Alder Maurice Cheeks, who said “all lives matter.”
“I don’t like the ‘Black Lives Matter’ persona. It’s a very negative statement,” said Fitzsimmons. “I don’t like the protest myself, the protests are very destructive to the community.”
“I both support Black Lives Matter the movement, but also the phrase,” said Alder Zack Wood, District 8, who responded immediately after Fitzsimmons. “I think that saying all lives matter is ridiculous and inherently racist. By saying ‘Black Lives Matter’ you are not implying anyone else’s doesn’t.”
While most candidates were in agreeance with their support of BLM, the latter half of the question received mixed responses.
Arvina Martin, describing herself as a member of the Ho Chunk Nation who appears white, claimed she could see both sides of the issue. Her opponent, Bradley Campbell, stated it was a question he could not answer, but his opinion “is that there are some deep systemic issues in our city.”
David Handowski, McKinney’s opponent, claimed he took offense to the question as someone who was “50 percent Hispanic.”
“I hear a lot about inequity lens, when I hear something like that I feel like people have to start looking in the mirror,” said Handowski. “I am very willing to look in the mirror.”
Fitzsimmons, the only candidate running against a black incumbent who identified as white, stated, “I ran against Alder Cheeks not based on color but based on the job. I thought I could be better at the job. It wouldn’t matter if he was an alien from another planet or he was my next-door neighbor.”
“I’ve crunched some numbers and I will say that the probability of almost exclusively candidates of color having opponents is very low,” said Woods suggesting it’s not coincidence that the “white seats are the safe seats.”
“We can’t continue to be a city that’s going to be the worst for some and the best for some depending on what you look like,” said Alder Cheeks.