I love Madison.
The relationship began when I came here as a sophomore in high school for the state tournament for forensics. I grew up in Brookfield, in Waukesha County, and as a son of an immigrant and a person of color, Brookfield wasn’t always the kindest to me. But then that shining beacon on a hill manifested itself to me in the form of Madison. Here was a place where I felt like I could be accepted and thrive. So I started my education here through undergrad and then through medical school and loved my time here. But as all shiny things go Madison also started to show it wasn’t so shiny all the time for people of color or families who are struggling.
As a young adult, I was not involved in the political process. I perceived I had more important things to do (i.e. studying and interacting with the opposite sex.) Also, I was just one person, what could I do?
I left Madison to further my medical education and met my wife and started a family. After 6 years of being away and experiencing other communities, I yearned for that shining beacon again and knew Madison with all that it had to offer for raising a young family was where we should be. We moved back in 2012 and marveled at how much Madison had changed from when I had left in 2005.
We continued to expand our family but again some of that shine started to show its wear. This time instead of feeling apathy and indifference I decided that this community is where I wanted to be and looked for what I could do to help. Serendipitously it was also at this time a friend of ours, Raj Shukla, approached me to ask me what I thought about him running for mayor. I was surprised he was interested, but we sat for 90 minutes discussing the issues that were important to him: climate change, growing Madison sustainability, equity, and bridging the racial education divide that is widening in Madison.
I found myself engrossed in his ideas and solutions. The concern I had was that there are so many people who already announced they were running for mayor and there was the possibility the mayor himself may run again. His response floored me, “why does that matter, if my ideas can make Madison a better place and I am willing to work as hard as I can to achieve those objectives then I have as much right as the other individuals to be mayor?”
He was right and once again I saw what a shining beacon Madison could be. A place where no matter one’s race or ethnicity one could have support from birth to 3 to obtain the goals to be successful in school. A place where success was defined as the ability of all to move up the financial ladder rather than the top few. A place where other cities would look as a model of how to enact climate change policy that would have lasting effects.
At that moment, I was hooked and wanted to help in any way that I could. Even with this enthusiasm, I was a realist and I knew that Raj would lose his shine as well at some point. I kept waiting but he continued to work 12-14 hour days making calls, meeting new voters, raising money, discussing issues with voters, preparing for forums, LISTENING, and the most important thing caring, honest to God caring what issues people had and how he could help them.
The quality I most admire about him is his ability to be humble enough to concede someone else’s idea is better and implement it if it means the problem can be effectively solved. He also has the uncanny ability to make those under him want to run through a wall to achieve the final goal. (I know because I have fallen to this whimsical trait.) All these traits and qualities truly make me believe that under Raj Shukla’s leadership Madison really can be that shining beacon on the hill.
Dr. Samip Kothari is a neonatologist and the former president of the Vilas Neighborhood Association. He lives on the near west side with his wife Katie and three kids.