The Ungracious Brandi Grayson

It’s a free country and I believe in maximum free speech. People should be able to say things that I find offensive and even fact-free, if they like.

Yes, that includes former (and how wonderful is it to use that word in reference to this guy?) Pres. Donald Trump. But it also applies to the likes of Brandi Grayson.

Grayson, who founded and runs a nonprofit called Urban Triage, lost a race for Madison City Council last week. As is her way, she was something less than gracious in defeat. To quote Isthmus:

After the results came in, Grayson said her southside district “voted for anti BLACKNESS.” 

“It wasn’t just [white] people, it was Black people. Lots of Black people. Elders. Church folks. Conservatives. Moderates. And others who just didn’t vote,” Grayson wrote on Facebook on election night. “It was CONFIRMATION that Madison will kill me and allow the mayor and the same alders to show up to give condolences.” 

Well, credit her for honest analysis, anyway. When you point out that you ran as a Black candidate and yet you lost the votes of lots of Black people, including people from a wide swath of the ideological spectrum as well as the most respected leaders in the community, that takes some courage. It might also prompt some soul-searching on the part of the candidate.

Madison City Council President Sheri Carter easily defeated Brandi Grayson

Ah, but not Grayson. No, to her way of thinking, getting beat two-to-one in the district with the highest Black population in the city is confirmation of anti-Blackness. And never mind that she was running against another Black woman.

Grayson, of course, will not take any personal responsibility for her own defeat. Again, to quote the story in Isthmus:

Grayson had some missteps that may have cost her. She sought, received and then shunned an endorsement from Progressive Dane. The political party shares many of her policy positions, including the need to invest more in city services other than the police department. But in January she called the political party “dangerous.” Grayson also strayed far from local issues, drawing criticism from Indigenous people for calling them “red” and claiming that Black people were “the original inhabitants of the land known as America.” 

Grayson’s campaign was curious from the start. She decided to take on Ald. Sheri Carter, who is also Black. Carter is widely respected for how well she represents her district and for being a voice of reason on the council. She’s also the first Black woman to ever serve as council president, so she’s actually an historic figure.

Instead, Grayson might have run in the Sixth District on the near east side. That was an open seat, which former alder Brian Benford inherited without opposition. Benford is no moderate, but he is pretty mild in temperament. It seems to me that Grayson’s brand of in-your-face racial politics would have played well on Willy Street and environs. Given that opportunity, I really don’t get why she decided to challenge Carter instead.

Grayson’s intemperance is nothing new. In an interview last year she said, “So now we have to paradigm shift to think of a world that exists without prisons, and the first step in doing so is taking a look at the system and institution that we created known as policing, that really upholds and are the enforcers of this new modern day slavery.”

Look, I agree that we lock up too many people in America and I also believe that prisons should be humane places. But there are bad people out there and some of them need to be separated from society. I want to live in a society with fewer prisons and I want to live in a community with a progressive police force (as we have here in Madison), but I wouldn’t want to live in a place without cops or jails because, unfortunately, both are necessary.

Saying outrageous stuff is a thing among young people on the hard left right now. Last fall, soon to be State Rep. Francesca Hong proudly used a repulsive sexual reference in a Tweet attacking the Wisconsin Tavern League. Earlier in the summer, now outgoing Ald. Max Prestigiacomo reposted a message on his Face Book page calling on activists to go to Kenosha in the wake of the shooting of Jacob Blake and “f–k things up.”

I don’t know. I guess the idea is that you demonstrate your commitment to the cause by being a jerk. Civility and restraint just gets in the way of the revolution, apparently. For those on the hard left, decency is just a hammer in the tool box of oppression.

There’s also a fashion among white liberals to view this kind of bluster as good because it “makes us feel uncomfortable.” I think they’ve got that wrong. It doesn’t make me or others feel uncomfortable. It makes us less willing to listen to anything they have to say.

Grayson shouldn’t be denied her voice, but she has no claim on taxpayer money to amplify it. And yet Urban Triage got over $700,000 last year in the city and school district budgets, some of that pass through Federal dollars from the COVID relief bills.

And I still wouldn’t deny the organization that money if Grayson were just an employee of the group. But she is the founder and director. Her views are at the heart of the organization and those views are just unhinged.

There’s no chance the council or the school board will defund Urban Triage. If anything, they’ll do the opposite. But let’s hope that Grayson’s sound defeat at the polls either weakens her influence in the community or — better yet — that she learns to be a better communicator.


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

4 thoughts on “The Ungracious Brandi Grayson

  1. Do you know what Urban Triage actually does? Or are you basing your views here on a shallow reading of Grayson’s political rhetoric?


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