Yesterday Madison mayoral candidate Gloria Reyes made her first detailed pitch to voters in a Sunday oped in the Wisconsin State Journal. It left a whole lot to be desired.
Reyes focussed her entire column on public safety. On one level that makes some sense as she’s a former cop, she oversaw the Police Department as a deputy mayor under Paul Soglin, and crime is certainly an issue in the city and nationally. But Reyes didn’t bother to make a case that crime should be the focus of this campaign. For a lot of Madisonians, living in virtually crime free neighborhoods, it is not their top issue. What specific public safety issues is Reyes trying to get at and why should every Madison voter care?
Madison is not the kind of political environment where a law and order message is likely to go over well, so Reyes offered a few hundred words of catch phrases and pablum instead of concrete proposals. For example, she wrote, “The most effective way to respond to and reduce violence is a collaborative approach, incorporating best practices and involving people who are most affected by it, along with expert guidance from community members and national leaders.”
I guess that sounds sort of okay, but what on earth does it mean? And her entire column was filled with language like that. She spent quite a bit of time recounting everything she had done in her positions of recent authority to make the community safer, which begs a question. If she has been at the heart of so many innovative solutions, and she’s only been out of office a few years, how come there is any problem left to be solved? Are all those vague programs she is responsible for simply not working?
Which raises the next issue. Reyes provides no documentation that any of the programs she touts has done any good on the street. Maybe the evidence is there, but she didn’t provide it. We like to talk a lot around these parts about “evidence-based solutions.” Ok. Where’s the evidence?
What concerned me most about Reyes’ column was her dodging of every substantive, concrete question related to public safety that is currently before the community.
What’s her position on hiring more cops? She doesn’t say.
What will she do about violence in the schools? Would she return police to high schools or support Chief Shon Barnes’ proposal for neighborhood cops around them? Sennett Middle School’s principal had been lauded for restoring order there before he was fired for insisting that new teachers have basic communications skills. What’s her position on his reinstatement? Crickets from Reyes.
Will she support body cameras for cops, an issue Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway has ducked? Reyes doesn’t mention it.
Is she for eliminating cash bail, a hobby horse of the hard-left? Nothing.
What’s her position on the ongoing county jail fight? Is she okay with reducing the system’s overall capacity by 30%, which is one active proposal? Is she concerned that that would lead either to inhumane overcrowding or the release of dangerous criminals? The jail doesn’t come up in her oped.
I understand that some of these issues aren’t under the office’s direct control, but the mayor has a leadership position in the community like no other. It’s the mayor’s opportunity and obligation to speak up, even if it means stepping on the toes of other elected officials.
And, to be sure, there are cases to be made on both sides of these issues. I might strenuously disagree, but arguments can be made against body cams, cops in schools and cash bail, and in favor of a much small jail. If that’s the way Reyes or Rhodes-Conway feel, well, okay they should make their arguments. What I don’t like, what doesn’t serve the community well, is just taking a pass.
Last week there was yet another drive-by shooting in the city, this one on the South Side. A 36-year old man was gunned down in broad daylight in a quiet residential neighborhood, filled with kids and other innocent people just going about their lives.
Gang and gun violence and drug dealing are real problems in this city. Right now neither Rhodes-Conway nor Reyes are offering anything concrete to deal with them in the near term. Plenty of “root causes” rhetoric, but no real action now to deal with the real, tangible questions before us.
I think I understand why. What might actually work is policies that revolve around enforcement, things that can be easily summarized as “law and order,” and that kind of thing just isn’t going to fly among a liberal Madison electorate. Let’s face it. Most Madison voters live in safe neighborhoods where they have the luxury of taking the long view and supporting vague ideas that might work a decade from now, if ever.
So, instead of talking about simply getting the bad guys out of our neighborhoods and off the streets, the incumbent and her challenger will stay on politically safe ground — and that ground is pretty mushy right now.