“Equity” has been the major buzzword in Madison ever since the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families’s Race to Equity released its report five years ago detailing the profound and persistent racial disparities in Dane County and, for many Madisonians, pulled back the curtain on just how inequitable Madison really is. And when it comes to equity, not many people have more expertise on that subject than Toriana Pettaway, the City of Madison’s first-ever racial equity coordinator, who recently announced she was running for mayor of Madison.
“A lot of us knew that these incredible disparities existed long before that report. A lot of us were like, ‘The Urban League came out with the report in the 80s, and you didn’t listen to us then.’ It took the white community to come out with a report for you to believe it,” Pettaway tells Madison365.
“Putting a dent in these racial disparities is absolutely something we can do,” she continues. “I think we have more things tied together – and this is where intersectionality comes in. When we talk about economic prosperity, that’s the one core value that ties us all together. We all need to continue to develop so our city can grow so we have enough housing stock and we have transportation and roads that work well and we continue to have the development.”
Pettaway has been thinking about running for mayor for quite some time now – since August of 2016, actually.
“I’ve actually been meditating on this for the last two years,” she says. “It actually started with a vision. It wasn’t an impromptu kind of thing.
“I realized that it’s the kind of positive progress that Madison needed in the areas that I didn’t see all of our community really getting what they needed equitably. I felt like I was the one who needed to be part of the solution,” she continues. “Oftentimes, we think that somebody else is going to be the catalyst to bring that about and I have been in government long enough over the course of my career here in Madison and I feel like: if not me, then whom?”
At the City of Madison, Pettaway leads the Racial Equity and Social Justice Initiative whose focus on racial equity works to address Madison’s most persistent inequities while supporting a sustained shift towards fairer practices throughout institutions that will ultimately benefit all. Pettaway examines policy making, budgeting, operations, and hiring “through an equity lens” to remove barriers for low-income families, marginalized communities and people of color. She has trained half of the City of Madison’s 3,000 employees on a three-part training series on implicit bias, racial equity analysis and equity hiring tool, and operationalizing equity.
“We all want to have an equitable opportunity to have prosperity,” Pettaway says. “My vision for the community in Madison is really to have an equitable look at all of those areas – housing, transportation, development – for all of our residents and that they see themselves within this community.”
Economic prosperity is what binds everybody in the community together, she says.
“I believe that I am the candidate that will be able to do this based upon my experience working in the state in various agencies with my background. I’ve had ample opportunities to work in operations not just from a human resources perspective leading state agencies in human resources, working with capital and fiscal budgets.”
Prior to becoming the city’s first racial equity coordinator, Pettaway was the project manager for the Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership Development and an executive human resources specialist for the state of Wisconsin.
“This is my second time working for the City of Madison. I’ve also worked with Madison College in HR. I’ve seen all facets of operations from different lenses,” Pettaway says. “I have a diversity of experience that I would bring to government that I don’t think the other candidates would bring.”
The other declared candidates are Ald. Maurice Cheeks, former Alds. Brenda Konkel and Satya Rhodes-Conway, River Alliance of Wisconsin Executive Director Raj Shukla, and former Madison school board member Michael Flores.
From a public participation standpoint, Pettaway says, the community wants more active engagement that she says we don’t currently have.
“I know that I have those innovative strategies because that’s what I’m currently doing now,” she says. “I want to elevate that to another level.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time and it’s just so important right now to have public participation and helping communities understand civic engagement from different strategies and have the community inform policy development and budget and legislative processes,” she adds. “These are the things that I want to help our community galvanize and restructure what’s currently not working well.”
Pettaway has provided her consultative services in equity, diversity, inclusion and social justice beyond the City of Madison with organizations like the National Affiliates Government Alliance of Racial Equity, Center of Social Inclusion, Race Forward, PolicyLink, and National Civic League. She has provided guidance and support to other municipalities including City of St. Louis, New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, Fairfax, Oakland, San Francisco, Cincinnati, and Omaha.
“I feel like I can bring innovative ideas from other cities to Madison. All of Madison’s communities need to see themselves in strategies, in leadership, in government. We are all Madison,” she says, “and if communities don’t see that they are part of Madison, we cannot move this city to the next level so that we are a world-class city.”
One of the things that the Race to Equity report showed was that, amongst many disparities, Dane County is one of the worst in America for African Americans. That needs to change, Pettaway says.
“Madison can be a more inclusive city. One of the things that I definitely want Madison to be is more affordable,” Pettaway says. “The data actually produced numbers that say one thing, but for some of our residents, ‘affordable housing’ is a term that’s dated. That’s a term that came from the mid-’60s. But when we talk about affordable housing in its realist sense, we’re talking about one-bedroom, two-bedroom housing that goes anywhere from $1,500-$3,000 a month and has a target audience for a certain class of people and we’re missing the mark for a lot of our residents who are low-income residents who can’t afford a lot of the places that we have.”
Housing is a huge challenge in this city, but also an opportunity.
“We have a shortage of housing in our community. We have to come up with better and more equitable strategies to work with our developers so that we meet the need of all of our incomer earners,” Pettaway says. “We need to work more collaboratively with our residents to have better mixed-use properties in all of our neighborhoods so that we meet the needs of all of our residents in our community.”
“It’s the economic prosperity that moves all those three pieces together, but everyone in this community has to feel like they have access to that and that it’s meaningful to them,” she adds. “So how does government create avenues, not just for employees, but for every resident to participate in this model that is realistic, that is equitable, that is fiscally responsible. That’s the kind of leadership and vision that I want to bring.”
The Madison mayoral election is scheduled for April 2, 2019, with a primary scheduled for Feb. 19. That leaves about five months for Pettaway to reach out to as many voters as possible. Is she looking forward to getting out throughout the city and talking to people about issues?
“Oh, definitely. I do that already in my job,” Pettaway laughs. “That’s how I spend 80 percent of my time. I don’t sit at my desk, I can tell you that much. I’m already in the community constantly.
“We have a lot of important decisions that are going to have to be made with an equity lens,” Pettaway continues. “I’m the only candidate that can talk about bias and unconscious bias, because that’s the work that I do. The other candidates can say that they can talk about it, but that’s not their lane. Even beyond equity coordinator for the last three years, it’s been my lane for the last 23 years.
“I’m prepared to have those collaborative relationships. I’m prepared to legislate, build awareness, and increase engagement,” she adds. “I’ve built tremendous networks and am constantly building more. To be a catalyst and to bring about prosperity, you have to constantly be building networks and constantly have to be fostering relationships and building trust. That’s what this is all about.”