Do you ever read the Madison papers and find yourself thinking, ‘oh, for cryin’ out loud…‘?
Madison has a long tradition of hard-left activists. They’ve never been charming, but they’ve sometimes been entertaining and, once in a while, they’ve even been right. Recently, they’ve just been themselves, which is to say annoying.
Here are some recent examples.
We didn’t get the job done. So, we deserve a bonus. Last year the city created an unnecessary and expensive Police Civilian Oversight Board with a budget of a half million dollars. The only real assignment the committee had in their first year was to hire a Police Monitor, at a six figure salary. They didn’t get it done. So, of course, with all that money laying around they voted to demand that they be paid $3,000 apiece — and $20,000 for their chairperson. This in a city where about 800 citizen members on over 80 committees volunteer their time for the civic good. When one sensible member of the board pointed out that this wasn’t going to go over so well with the public, other members took offense, calling his comments “terribly ableist and misogynistic.” The recommendation is now before the City Council, which I assume will lose it somewhere in the morass of city committees, populated by people who work for free.
It’s inhumane to move people out of cold tents to heated homes in December. This week, after tolerating a messy, unsanitary and dangerous homeless encampment at Reindahl Park for over a year, the city finally acted to dismantle it. They waited too long, but credit the Council and Mayor for finally acting, and credit city staff for a smart, detailed plan to provide good quality alternative housing. The city is providing 30 heated tiny house units on the southeast side and 35 hotel rooms near Reindahl in addition to another 100 run by Dane County. Nonetheless, a homeless advocate said that the few remaining campers were being moved, “so fast.” “There’s a sense of shock,” she said of the process that started a good six months ago. And activists placed a sign to greet city workers in charge of cleaning up the mess: “Breaking up community during the holidays is wrong. Shame on you Madison.” The sign refers to this “community” situated illegally in a city park where workers want to get it cleaned up before the snow hides the needles and where, by the way, “community” members get to huddle in tents as the temperatures dip below zero.
We demand affordable housing! And let’s make it more expensive. To their credit, city policy makers and staff have realized that the best way to solve the city’s affordable housing problem is to simply build more of it. Earlier this year they made it easier to build modest-sized apartment buildings embedded in neighborhoods. But a handful of historic preservation advocates didn’t get the memo. They used the city’s archaic and draconian historic preservation ordinance to block a substantial housing development on the near south side. They wanted to preserve a building (the former home of the now closed Wonder Bar) with no architectural significance simply because Al Capone might have eaten there once. Preserving and moving the building would cost the developer a million dollars. So, Lance McGrath first scaled his project down from 18 to 12 stories and now he’s down to only four or five. My own alder, Tag Evers, summed it up well: “One wonders when Madison residents will ever be convinced we are in housing crisis,” he said. “Land values, housing prices and rents keep going up, due in large part to an extreme housing shortage. Of course, the burden is crushing for marginalized communities, those whose voices are often not at the table. Will we find solutions to increase our housing stock or will we end up like California where all sorts of arguments are used to oppose development, only to find no one but the rich can afford to live there?” I can answer that. We’ll be California, but without the weather.
Police body cams won’t give us what we want; they’ll just tell the truth. While communities across the country equip their police officers with body cameras, while the NAACP supports them, while our own police chief and police union want them, local activists resist. Why? Well, they’ve been pretty clear. It’s because they fear that officers will be caught on tape doing the right thing and because criminals will be caught being, well, criminals. In other words, activists worry that reality as seen with our own eyes won’t fit their narrative of bad cops and abused, innocent victims. Cameras “do not produce the outcomes we want,” said M. Adams, who runs Freedom, Inc. Sorry, M. Adams, but it doesn’t seem to me that the cameras are intended to produce the results that you want. The idea is to provide more information about how cops interact with the public. Still, the Council is nudging its way toward a tentative pilot program, maybe. What is harder to understand is why Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway won’t take a position on this at all. I understand picking your spots, politically. But this issue is too important for the Mayor to sit on the sidelines.
The answer to school violence is… another committee. In the last month there have been two outdoor melees at East High School, a young man carrying a loaded handgun who has a long violent criminal record had to be forcibly removed from La Follette High School and a student was beat up just outside of West. In response to the crisis, the Madison School Board acted… by creating a committee… that may start meeting in January. This is the same School Board that removed School Resource Officers from the high schools in response to the antics of activist group Freedom, Inc. (the same group that is against police body cams). Freedom Inc., disrupted board meetings and plastered the board president’s front lawn with defaced American flags. In response to that kind of behavior, the board caved. This is what happens when you elect hard-left activists to responsible positions.
Madison’s politics, like that of many college towns and big cities, ranges from very liberal to radical left. But there are a few voices of reason. Boys and Girls Club CEO Michael Johnson is one and Kaleem Caire of One City Schools is another. City Council members Sheri Carter, Barbara Harrington-McKinney, Gary Halverson and Mike Verveer are pretty well grounded and, as noted above, even my own alder, Tag Evers, who is left of me, is often reasonable and even courageous. On the School Board, Christina Gomez Schmidt is pretty good.
Look folks, it’s a free country. People should be allowed to say goofy things. In fact, it’s their right. The problem comes when officials don’t sift and winnow and do what the vast majority of sensible, but less vocal, citizens want done. The Police Oversight Board shouldn’t exist in the first place, but now that it does it should just do its assigned job. The city was late to the game in dismantling the mess at Reindahl Park, but now that they have done it — and in such an intelligent, patient and humane way — those city officials deserve our support. Historic preservation ordinances need to be brought into the new century so that they balance the need for preservation with the need for new housing. We should have had police body cams yesterday and SRO’s should go back into the schools tomorrow.
Madison is always going to be a liberal place. That’s fine. But why shouldn’t we ask citizen committee members to simply do their jobs? Why is it wrong to insist that homeless folks get out of the cold? Why does historic preservation have to trump every other value we hold as a community? Why can’t we hold police officers — and community members who they encounter — more accountable by actually seeing what they do? And why is it a bad idea to insist that students and staff aren’t subject to violence in school?
The fundamental question behind all of those specific ones is enduring: Will our town be run by sensible left-center officials who employ common sense along with their idealism or will we allow hard-left ideologues to pursue their eccentric theories and their grievances at our expense?
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