Historically, there has not been much of a support structure for candidates of color in Madison who decide that they want to take on the daunting task of running for political office. And, not surprisingly, historically, there have not been many successful candidates of color in Madison.
However, this last election season saw a host of successful School Board candidates and City Council candidates of color campaign and win seats. In each of those cases, a new political group for candidates of color in Madison – Adelante Madison – played a big role. Adelante-backed school board candidates Ali Muldrow and Ananda Mirilli won rather easily in their respective school board races. Syed Abbas, District 12, Christian Albouras, District 20, and Donna Hurd, District 7 won their respective Common Council seats. Adelante also supported Verona School Board member Deborah Biddle and Fitchburg Common Council member Julia Arata-Fratta and a host of Madison Common Council incumbents of color who kept their seats.
Progressive Dane has gotten plenty of props and favorable publicity for their successes in this recent spring election season. However, Adelante Chair and current MMSD School Board member Gloria Reyes wonders why Adelante hasn’t gotten the same.
“Adelante trained our people of color and we got them prepared for this process. We canvased. And I feel like we haven’t been recognized for our work. It’s very frustrating for our team,” Reyes tells Madison365 in an interview at Cargo Coffee on E. Washington Ave.
When Reyes first stepped in to run for the Madison Metropolitan School District board in Spring 2018, she quickly learned what she had gotten herself into.
“As a candidate of color, you feel very alone and isolated,” Reyes says. “You soon realize the behind-the-scenes and the system and the structure of the political environment that – even given my role as deputy mayor – I was not exposed to. I was exposed to the day to day of government, but how to get elected was new for me and my team.
“I started to recognize that it was an inside world. It was something that people of color are not generally exposed to,” Reyes continues. “They aren’t part of the system and the process. It’s not something that any of us were exposed to, so it was a huge learning curve for us.”
After Reyes was elected and became the first-ever Latina MMSD school board member, she brought her team together and looked back at what they did wrong and what they did right.
“We realized that we needed to build a coalition of folks to help support candidates of color through the election process,” Reyes says. “That entails training people of color to be campaign managers; how to be a treasurer for a campaign… how to build the infrastructure and the kitchen cabinet for folks who could help support candidates and fundraising. Fundraising is huge. I could barely raise money for my campaign and I didn’t want and other candidates to experience what I had experienced.”
Adelante was founded at the end of 2018 to support and train candidates of color who have shown a prior commitment to addressing issues that impact their diverse communities. Adelante offers a full range of support including networking opportunities, training on forming a campaign committee, messaging, and the practicalities of running a successful campaign.
“We had been talking about it for some time,” Reyes says. “We want people of color to know that if you’re going to stick your neck out and get in there to run for election, that we will be behind you as a team and get you prepared to win.”
In January, Adelante registered as a political party with the State of Wisconsin. Reyes is the chair of Adelante that also consists of vice-chair Juan Jose Lopez, treasurer Sal Carranza and secretary Oscar Mireles.
This past spring, Adelante threw their support behind Ali Muldrow, the co-executive director of the Gay Straight Alliance for Safe Schools (GSAFE), who won Madison School Board Seat 4 by garnering 69.3 percent of the vote on April 1.
“Adelante provides candidates of color with connected networks of support and a space to establish solidarity on the campaign trail. It is a tremendous asset to our community’s ability to invest in the leadership of diverse people,” Muldrow tells Madioson365. “The insight and strategy Adelante lent to our collaboration campaign was valuable beyond measure. I look forward to supporting Adelante as it builds capacity to support even more candidates in our community.” –
Kaleem Caire, CEO of One City Schools, narrowly lost his bid for Madison School Board Seat 3 in a contest that many Madisonians thought he would lose by a lot.
“So much had changed since I first ran for [school board] office 20 years ago that having Adelante’s class that they offered was helpful. They had some half-day workshops where they took us through the ins and outs of running a campaign using today’s technology and strategies – it was so helpful to me and my campaign,” Caire tells Madison365. “Without that, I wouldn’t have gotten close to being successful.
“We had people on our team who knew how to run campaigns, but none had run campaigns in a while, so without Adelante’s help we wouldn’t have been as successful as we were,” he adds. “They really helped to canvas. Especially in the last week of the campaign, it was really helpful to have Adelante people knocking on doors and handing out our literature – expanding our arms and hands. Adelante is a very important group for Madison. The knowledge, expertise, advice and support that they offer is impressive.”
Adelante also supported current School Board member Ananda Mirilli, originally from Brazil, who ended up winning her Madison School Board Seat 5 by 15.8 percent over incumbent T.J. Mertz.
“Candidates of color often operate in homogenous spaces when they are running for office. Historically, it is not uncommon that they would be the only people of color at forums and events. So, being able to have a group like Adelante that not only is interested to build capacity around social capital but to also demystify the political landscape of Madison and break down barriers for candidates of color, I think that’s critical,” Mirilli tells Madison365.
The isolation of being a candidate of color in Madison, is one of the main reasons why Mirilli and Muldrow ran their innovative joint school board campaign.
“Adelante was in its infancy when we were already talking about running a joint campaign,” Mirilli remembers. “I think the biggest reason why Ali and I ran for office collaboratively was to be able to support each other navigating through the challenges that are very unique to candidates of color.”
It’s not just the help with the fundraising and the political strategy, sometimes you just need other people to be there when you’re going door to door for support. Wisconsin State Rep. and longtime Dane County board member Shelia Stubbs recently showed the nation that a person of color could get the cops called on them while simply trying to talk to their constituents in Madison.
“We all have experienced microaggressions while campaigning,” Mirilli says. “Being able to fall back with a cohort of folks who are also experiencing those things and to be able to build resilience on how to navigate them, I think is really supportive and important.
“I had my own specific challenges as a candidate of color,” Mirilli continues. “Being an immigrant, people would ask me about my citizenship status. People have made comments about my accent and my English or how I don’t look ‘knowledgable.’ I think that all adds to the complexicies of it and to the need for Adelante Madison.”
The community has been talking about a building a program like Adelante for decades. It’s now a reality.
“It’s building a system of support with people of color. It is so cool to see young, diverse groups of people involved in the campaign process,” Reyes says. “We need to be a part of the full process to be sure that we have people of color at the table. We are demonstrating that we have a commitment to our candidates of color.
“We are in much better shape than we were in last year. We’ve come a long ways. We have a lot of the right people at the table who want to help me,” Reyes continues. “I’m getting supporters from all over the place – white, black, brown. So many people want to help and that is very encouraging. Most of our donations have been from white people or white-led organizations. That tells me that we are on to something good and that we have a community behind us that wants to see us succeed.”
Those white allies are also important within the Adelante structure.
“I can remember when people like [Dane County Clerk] Scott McDonell and [Democratic Party of Dane County Chair] Michael Basford really stepped up at the end of my campaign. I sat down with them and they told me that I was the best and most-qualified individual in this race and that they wanted to help me get elected, but they knew I was really behind,” Reyes remembers. “Scott and Mike recognized the inequities of a person of color running for office and not having access to the opportunity and resources necessary to win a campaign. They were a big help for me. I wouldn’t have won without them and my team.
“Scott McDonell and Mike Basford are two Caucasian males who see the inequities in the infrastructure and system,” she adds. “They realize it and are working to do something about it.”
Reyes says that Adelante would even be open to supporting a candidate that wasn’t a person of color.
“They have to demonstrate a commitment to people of color,” she says. “We need to talk about how we can expand this to all candidates because we also want to support candidates who might not be of color who support issues of people of color and have demonstrated a commitment to communities of color and advancing our issues.”
There will be a fundraiser and a meet-and-greet with all of Adelante’s elected officials coming up soon in May, Reyes says. “We’re really excited about that. It will be a good chance to bring elected officials and the community together to talk about Adelante – where we’ve come, how we started, what we’re doing now and where we want to go,” she says.
Adelante has already shown it can be a force in Madison. Reyes envisions them moving beyond the city in the future
“This is in Madison now, but we have the potential to work in the surrounding area,” she says. “If you look right now we have County seats open. I think some of our board members are looking into whether we can place people in those positions.
“We’re really excited about the opportunity and the potential. It’s a big task to develop the structure of Adelante,” she adds. “We are learning as we go for some things. I think in the long run, though, the outcomes – the gains – will be extraordinary.”