Home Local News In Monona, Kristie Goforth looking to become Wisconsin’s first Native American mayor

In Monona, Kristie Goforth looking to become Wisconsin’s first Native American mayor

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In less than three weeks, Kristie Goforth will compete for the mayoral position in the City of Monona. 

Goforth has been an alder on Monona’s City Council since April 2020 and serves as executive director for local nonprofit Free Bikes 4 Kidz Madison. If elected on April 6, as a member of the Sault St. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians (Anishinaabe), she would be the first Native American mayor in Wisconsin history, according to a Goforth news release. 

Goforth is competing against incumbent mayor Mary O’Connor who has held the position since 2017.

Goforth said her priorities are increasing communication with city residents, addressing Monona’s high debt burden, public safety and making decisions based on data. 

Goforth said helping people is why she wanted to get into public service. 

Gorforth grew up on an island in Lake Huron in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan on the Canadian border. Her mother dropped out of high school at age 16 to have her older sister, and one year later to have her. And despite her mother working multiple jobs, she said her family never made it out of poverty. 

“I remember being in high school and I remember all of my teachers started asking my friends, ‘Where are you going to go to college? What are you going to do?’ But no one ever asked me that,” Gorfoth told Madison365. “It was kind of like the unspoken expectation that ‘this is not a possibility for her’ and ‘she’s not going to ever do anything with her life.’”

But, she said, it just took that one person to make a difference. For Goforth, it was Tom Schneider, a cook at the White Gull Inn in Door County. She hasn’t spoken to him in decades, she said, but without him, her life would be very different. 

“He was the one who kind of reached out his hand — I get emotional talking about this. It’s such a big turning point in my life, but yeah — he reached out his hand and gave me the hand up that I needed and helped me fill out a FAFSA and helped me apply to UW- Madison.”

Goforth graduated in 1998 with a degree in Conservation Biology and Geography with a Cartography and Urban Planning emphasis.

She said the combination of wanting to help people and a poor experience she had with local government six years ago prompted her to be an alder. 

The problem started with a lack of street parking near her home in Monona and she said she wished there was more engagement from alders at that time. 

“One thing that I would like to see happen is that the committee could have met with us, could have come down on our street and walked our street and seen our challenges,” she said. 

“I’ve done this with residents since I’ve been alder,” she later added. “They’ll tell me about their parking or other problems — it’s just been all kinds of things — whatever their problems are, I go and I ask if I can meet them on the site and see what the issues are … because that’s really the best way you’re going to solve a problem.”

Since then, she has joined committees on local government including the Landmark Commission, Plan Commission, Transit Commission and she is the chair of the Community Media committee. 

Owning a communication business for 10 years, and being on the media committee she said she has a desire for easy, and better communication with the public. Her ideas to do that are recording all city government meetings and posting them online so people can watch them anytime; right now the Plan Commission, City Council and Finance Committee are the only meetings that are recorded. 

She said she also wants to rework the website, and add QR codes to meeting agendas that will direct people where to find more information on that topic.

Goforth on 98.7 WVMO, Monona’s radio station (Photo supplied)

And she’d like to have a live call-in radio spot on Monona’s radio station 98.7 WVMO – The Voice of Monona, to directly address concerns from residents. 

If elected Goforth would work with six at-large alders in Monona and city staff including the city administrator Bryan Gadow.

The Mayor position is on a two-year election cycle, and has no term limits. Mayors are paid an annual stipend of $4,800 a year, which is another issue Goforth would like to address, she said. 

She said if the stipends were increased the city would see larger candidate pools for elected officials.

“(Low stipend) is the reason we struggled to get diverse voices on our city council,” she said. 

Beyond communication and increasing diversity in city government, Goforth said her two biggest concerns are lowering Monona’s debt burden and public safety. 

In the last year, Monona has had three incidents between police and people of color that drew media attention. 

The city is in the process of hiring a new police chief, she said, and that process needs to be open and transparent. And the city needs to prioritize better relationships between people of color and police departments. 

“Neighborhood watch groups, community policing, and neighborhood associations provide people with an immediate way to communicate with each other and alert each other of crime events in our neighborhoods,” Goforth wrote on her blog post My Top 3 Priorities as Mayor.

“But, we must watch out for the pitfalls of neighborhood watch groups like people taking matters into their own hands, falling into racial stereotypes and groupthink.”

Another priority she said is to set the tone about debt. She came from a place where money was scarce and believes the city needs to be more fiscally responsible. 

She cited the approved redesign of Stone Bridge Park for more than $350,000 as an example.