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Madison Common Council candidate Brian Solomon discusses run for District 10
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Brian Solomon
Brian Solomon

The first candidate to announce for Madison's 10th aldermanic district was Brian Solomon. A former president of the Monroe-Dudgeon Neighborhood Association, the 38-year-old hopeful is director of the Wisconsin Job Service and serves on the city's Equal Opportunities Commission. Solomon is also an AIDS activist and author of the book Sequestered. Retiring Ald. Ken Golden serves as his campaign treasurer.

A brief interview with Solomon follows.


The Daily Page: District 10 includes some of the city's wealthiest residents in the Nakoma neighborhood and some of the city's poorest on Allied Drive. How will you balance each community's interests as their representative on the Council?
Solomon: Our extremely diverse district serves as a microcosm of the city at large. The issues that face District 10 -- poverty, the need for quality housing and public transportation, water quality, public safety, and the shared desire to protect our environment and our amazingly high quality of life -- are the very same issues that face our entire city. It is incumbent upon any individual seeking to make this community a better place to understand the myriad of issues and opportunities that we, as a city, face.

While this poses many challenges, the good news is this: we are all in this together. When some of us are lifted up, we are all lifted up. It is in the interest of every citizen of this city that we blaze a trail toward equal opportunity for all our residents.

Example: An interconnected, high-quality transit system gives transit-dependent riders in Allied the opportunity to access employment opportunities throughout the region. Nakoma residents, like all other residents of our city, benefit both indirectly and directly. We benefit indirectly through additions to the tax base, allowing families to provide a high quality of life for their children, keeping people out of the correctional system, and decreasing the need for additional city services. We benefit directly by decreasing the volume of cars congesting our neighborhood streets, which then improves pedestrian friendliness, strengthens our neighborhoods, and enhances our sense of community.

Serving the community's interests doesn't just benefit all of us, it also helps bring us together. A perfect example is the #19 Madison Metro bus. It winds through Allied, Nakoma, and D-MNA, before heading out to Regent. It could be renamed the District 10 bus. Its ridership is diverse in many ways, in age, color, race, gender, and national origin. This is a perfect example of something that brings us together as a community; something from which we all can claim fulfillment.

Investments in our community, be they in affordable housing, quality jobs, quality education, or parks and green space, are exactly that: investments in our community. There are few things that benefit one segment of our community without benefiting all segments.


How will you improve on longtime Ald. Ken Golden's record for representing the breadth of the district?
It will be hard to improve on Ken's record. Ken often does not get the credit he deserves, but he has served as a magnificent gift to this city. He has been thoughtful, reasoned, progressive and hard working.

We have a great many challenges before us. As it says on my website (www.briansolomon.org), I pledge to act with integrity, educate myself, listen to my constituents, be respectful, treat others with dignity, be responsive, and focus on improving our community. If I do those things, I am confident I will succeed in continuing Ken's outstanding legacy of service.

I am incredibly honored to have this opportunity and to have the support of the mayor, the county executive, many other elected officials, Ken himself, and, most importantly, dozens and dozens of residents throughout District 10.


Your three opponents are promising to raise and spend less than a thousand dollars. Why aren't you doing the same?
I was the first candidate to register in District 10, so, at that time, I was unaware of opponents, much less their fundraising plans.

We are running a very grassroots oriented campaign -- meeting with neighbors, going door to door, calling residents, and building support from the ground up. I am not interested in out-raising or out-spending my opponents. I am only interested in getting our message out, ensuring that people know who I am and why I am running, and that the residents of District 10 have the tools they need to make an informed and educated choice.

I do not know my opponents personally, but am proud that three other residents of District 10 have shown a willingness to get involved and make our community a better place. It is a huge commitment; I have nothing but respect for them.


What is the ideal level of development and traffic along Monroe Street?
I am not sure that there is an "ideal" level. Attitudes change and evolve, and that which is considered "acceptable" changes right along with them. Monroe Commons is bigger than most people would like, but it works. If it had been proposed 20 years ago, the reaction would have been completely different.

At this point, most residents along the Monroe Street corridor are strong supporters of green space, smart growth, in-fill development, and public transportation. Therefore, most are supportive of high-density development that maintains a strong isthmus, feeds economic development and enhanced transit corridors, supports the Monroe Street merchants, and slows the low-density development that would otherwise occur on the periphery.

However, scale remains important. Many District 10 residents share concerns that Monroe Commons established a new scale that will replicate itself along Monroe Street. I think it is safe to say that additional developments of that size would be greeted with great skepticism. However, smaller developments, like the new Wingra Arbor Condos proposal, are generally finding support from the neighborhood. The city's Comprehensive Plan, combined with the Monroe Street Commercial District Plan, will help steer developers, neighbors, the Plan Commission, and the Common Council in the right direction when it comes to proposed developments.

Traffic is, and will likely always be, a concern. Monroe Street will always be busy. Most district residents would agree that Monroe Street is essentially at capacity. Especially during rush hour and Badger football games, it simply cannot absorb more vehicular traffic without significantly impacting the sense of place that the street gives to most neighbors.

Traffic is not only a significant problem to the families who want to walk to Pasqual's and then cross the street for some Michael's Frozen Custard. It also poses problems to the shopper who wants to purchase a CD at Strictly Discs and then a homecoming gift at Orange Tree Imports, thus negatively impacting the success of our local businesses.

The good news is that increased, high-density development along Monroe Street helps create a strong transit corridor and helps reduce dependence on the automobile. In the long run, balancing scale with the desire to promote in-fill development will be the biggest challenge of all near-isthmus neighborhoods.


You identify seven issues (Allied Drive, economic development, transportation, child care, affordable housing, economic justice/equal opportunity, and land use) as your essentials for the future of the city. Which is your top priority, and what specific actions would you introduce if elected?
Equal opportunity is my top priority. Our city will simply never achieve the promise of which it is capable if large numbers of its residents are locked outside of hope, opportunity, and the economic mainstream. We cannot afford to have two Madisons: one for the haves, and one for the have-nots.

With that said, I do believe that each of my priorities is directly related to equal opportunity. Employment opportunities, through quality economic development, are essential. For struggling families, many employment possibilities are unavailable given transportation, childcare, or housing barriers. As the director of Wisconsin Job Service, I am painfully aware of the need for each piece of this three-legged foundational stool to be grounded in order to achieve success. This is not about government handouts or bureaucracy. Transportation, child care, and housing are economic development.

These realities impact Allied as well as other areas of the city. While we do need to invest significantly in Allied, we cannot do so at the exclusion of other areas of need. We must address this in a citywide fashion, or the problem will just move itself around.

I also prioritize land use, for several reasons. It too is related to the equal opportunity issue. The United States as a whole has witnessed a huge shift in the way communities work. Many large cities have, for the most part, lost their tax base as higher-income, mostly white, residents have fled to the suburbs. This impacts everything, from the quality of schools to the ability of the central city to invest in its infrastructure. In the last 25 years, the jobs have followed. Traditional commuting patterns (suburb to city and back) no longer exist. Commutes are now suburb to city, city to suburb, and suburb to suburb. This is why we witness rush hour traffic in both directions on the Beltline.

It is essential that we decrease the spatial mismatch between where people work and where people live in order to ensure that all of our residents have access to the employment opportunities our growing economy is likely to create. And this is where land use, meaning the interrelationship between housing, jobs, and the transportation systems that connect them, becomes a crucial piece of equal opportunity.


You have significant experience in part of the district given your leadership roles in the Dudgeon-Monroe Neighborhood Association. What are you doing to learn about the concerns held by residents in the rest of the district, particularly on Allied Drive?
I've done some volunteer work in Allied as well as following progress through Ken, residents, other colleagues who volunteer or work in the area, and news coverage. Since deciding to run, I've attended as many meetings as possible in Allied, including neighborhood and planning meetings. I've met with the mayor's office, city staff, ACORN staff, neighborhood association members, and residents.

I will continue to be involved and learn as much as I can -- by attending more meetings, going door to door, listening to residents, and reading. I am impressed and humbled by the desire for change that exists among neighbors. There is a great strength and resilience among Allied residents, and I hope to continue working in Allied whether or not I win this election.

I have also begun working hard in the other neighborhoods of District 10: Nakoma, Dunn's Marsh, Marlborough Heights, and parts of the Regent Neighborhood Association. I have attended neighborhood meetings, met with numerous residents and city staff, and continue to go door to door to listen and learn as much as I can. While the issues are very different throughout our diverse district, the strategy is the same: meet as many District 10 residents as possible, listen to their concerns and, if elected, do the best job I can to represent them and our city.


Note: In addition to his campaign website, Brian Solomon also publishes an irregularly-updated blog, titled Progressive Cogitation. He was also the writer of the Nov. 3, 2007 Isthmus cover story considering the non-binding referendum on that autumn's ballot to reinstitute the death penalty in the state of Wisconsin.

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