“It is no secret that we need determined leaders to take the will and to create real change here in this city,” said State Rep. Shelia Stubbs, the first African-American to represent Madison and Dane County in the Wisconsin Assembly. “If we’re going to be dedicated to ending the public health crisis of racism, we need people of color to hold elected positions.”
Stubbs was one of several African-American politicians offering advice and inspiration on Nov. 27 as Blacks for Political and Social Action of Dane County (BPSADC) hosted an online training forum titled “Preparing Black Candidates for Political Office.” With the registration deadline for Dane County’s 2021 spring elections quickly approaching, this BPSADC forum was looking to encourage and educate Dane country residents interested in running for public office.
The event was moderated by Pastor David Hart, president of the BPSADC, and featured a panel of five local political leaders: State Rep. Stubbs; Ray Allen, a former Madison School Board member and Madison mayoral candidate; former Madison School Board President James Howard; Madison Common Council President Alder Sheri Carter; and Kaleem Caire, a recent Madison School Board candidate.
Starting the panel discussion, Ray Allen, who served three terms on the Madison School Board and lost to former Mayor Dave Cieslewicz in the election for mayor in 2007, offered his wisdom in regards to the many considerations a potential candidate must make prior to running for office.
“You want to consider talking to your family,” Allen said. “Your family becomes part of the campaign, it becomes part of you and it’s an extension of you, so you really need to have a good talk with your family about your desire to run for public office.
“Your life is not yours anymore,” Allen added.
Stubbs followed Allen with advice on campaign planning and strategy, noting that a candidate’s message must align with the needs of its voters.
“Successful campaigns rely on connections. Politics is not about the people you rally against, but the allies,” she said.
“While you may have to have a clear idea of why you’re running, you need to prove to your neighbors that you will hear their concerns and act when needed,” Stubbs continued. “The messaging of your campaign needs to be tightly tailored to your soon to be constituents….the more your message speaks to the needs of voters, the more likely they will be able to support you.”
Howard, who was a three-term MMSD School Board member, said that it is important to “meet people where they are” as a candidate courts potential voters.
“I went to barber shops, I went door to door. I try not to alleviate any area of consideration,” he said. “Really give some thought to where your voters are, and especially those hard-to-reach voters, and strategize about how you reach those hard-to-reach voters. How do you convince the person that it’s important to vote because if you can do that, I think that really gives you a hand up.”
Howard also encouraged potential candidates seeking to increase voter outreach to engage in canvassing.
“You got to get out and you have to go door to door. I think as a voter, I would best be moved by those that put in the effort even during these tough times of COVID, to try to come out and communicate with me about what they what their passions are around the issues in this voting season,” Howard said.
Howard himself and many other panelists urged participants to have a strong online presence.
“You got to have a social media presence and you got to keep it moving, you got to keep it busy,” said Caire, founder of One City Schools who lost to Cristiana Carusi for Seat 4 on the Madison School Board last April. “You’ll find that a lot of folks that don’t necessarily visit websites, a lot of them visit Facebook a lot more so those two tend to play to two different audiences.”
Caire also noted the importance of an online presence in regards to campaign fundraising.
“Make sure you’ve got a website developer or somebody who can double as a graphic designer that can help you develop a basic website, because without that, as James said, you’re not going to raise money because people are going to be looking for you online and it’s going to diminish the money you can raise if you don’t have [a website,]” Caire said.
“Now if you have that, and you’re new to running, you can file your campaign papers and start getting signatures because what’s going to happen is people will give you signatures, but the minute they give you their signature, people who really care, they’re going to go and look for your stuff online,” he added.
The event was sponsored by the Madison Alumni Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, the Madison graduate chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated, the Madison graduate chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi, Alpha Phi Alpha, Omega Psi Phi Gamma Gamma Gamma chapter, 100 Black Men of Madison, and the Black Leadership Council.
Following the panel discussion, attendees were invited to ask the panelists questions.
“I and we have to continue that work by making sure that we elect Black candidates and candidates of color,” Hart said. “And make sure that we have our folks elected and trained so that they’re ready to take higher office when the time comes.”