Common Council District 6 Candidate Brian Benford facilitated a public Zoom conference Monday afternoon to celebrate the Black, indigenous, and other people of color running for public office while also honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“I moved here in 1979 and I had never thought in my lifetime I’d witness so many BIPOC candidates not only running for office but empowering others to get involved with public policy,” Benford said.
At least 21 BIPOC candidates have decided to run for Common Council, an unprecedented number. Many of them joined the call, including District 2 candidate Benji Ramirez Gomez, District 3 candidate Charly Rowe, District 8 candidates Juliana Bennett and Ayomi Obuseh, District 9 candidate Nikki Conklin, District 10 candidate Yannette Figueroa Cole, District 12 candidate Tessa Wyllie de Echeverria, District 12 Alder Syed Abbas, District 16 candidate Jael Currie, District 18 candidate Veronica Figueroa, District 18 candidates Veronica Figerora and Charles Myadze, District 19 candidate Aisha Moe, and District 20 Alder Christian Albouras.
Other BIPOC candidates not on the call include District 16 candidate Tyson Vitale, District 1 Alder Barbara Harrington-McKinney, District 7 Alder Nasra Wehelie and District 11 Alder Arvina Martin who are all incumbents running unopposed, and Brandi Grayson who is running against Sherri Carter in District 14.
“I do not have your typical story of why I’m entering this race. Part of my story is I am what you call atypical. I’m neurodivergent, aspergers and I firmly believe we need different points of view representing our community. That’s not my platform, that’s just part of why I’m in it,” Rowe said.
She felt compelled to run after talking with community advocates like Rape Crisis Center Co-Executive Director Dana Pellabon and Infamous Mothers founder Sagashus Levingston when she hosted the International Women’s Day event last March. Rowe realized she had not seen many leaders who represented her growing up on the east side.
“If you know Tyson who is running for District 16, he and I grew up in each other’s districts,” she said.
Rowe felt excited to see people like Benford, Echeverria, and others run for office. She said it’s not easy to run against an incumbent but feels the community support.
Abbas, a Pakistani immigrant and the current Common Council Vice President, refers to this time as both heartbreaking and inspiring as society grapples with the new wave of the civil rights movement. He said many people in society continue to fight for equity and inclusion.
“We have much to go when it comes to ensuring that we breach the educational opportunity gap, dismantle the criminal injustice system, and fix the detrimental social, political, and economic systems that are built to disenfranchise the Black, Indigenous, People of Color community,” Abbas said.
Figueroa Cole, Moe, and others referenced the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for better emergency response as reasons they decided to run. Moe, who also ran for State Senate last year, witnessed a need for responders to be trained in mental health after the loss of her father.
Currie, a single mom and social service provider, appreciates that Madisonians appear to be open to listen to people with lived experience, whether sharing their pain, trauma, or experiences living through the COVID-19 pandemic on top of historical disenfranchisement.
“Running for office, I hope to just empower those in marginalized communities to be able to advocate for themselves and I want to begin a legacy in District 8 illustrates that an alder need to work primarily towards the betterment of their community of who need it most and those who have often been ignored- BIPOC, LGBTQ-plus, immigrants, disabled people, low income communities,” Obuseh said.
She also said this is a time to take risks when so many progressive candidates are running for office. Obuseh sees this as an opportunity for candidates of color to support one another. Currie said activism doesn’t just stop at the end of the campaign trail.
“I think it’s time for us to stand up and promote social justice and civil rights for all of us,” Myadze said.
Races with more than two candidates will head to the spring primary on Tuesday, Feb. 16. The spring general election will be held on Tuesday, April 6.