Where do you live? City of Racine
How long have you lived there? Almost 9 years
Spouse or partner’s name? Ben Taft
If you have children, please include their ages 12, 8
What is your current profession? Associate Professor of Biological Sciences
What position are you applying for? Alderman, 13th District, Racine City Council
What motivated you to seek out this seat? I love Racine. I am not blind to our challenges, but I am excited by our potential. Soon after moving here, I was inspired by the many people I have met who are working so hard to help make Racine a better place. About five years ago I got even more involved in local politics and working on some local campaigns, in that way, I was able to talk with lots of city residents and learned about the issues they care about. Enough people asked me to run that I decided that I could be an effective Alder for my community and contribute to my city.
Why do you think you are a good candidate for the job? My professional background as a scientist helps me protect our natural and water resources. As chair of the Wastewater Committee, I oversee the impact to our water with current and future developments and can ask relevant questions. My scientific background also helped inform my decision to support the Safer Racine ordinance. As a professor, mom, and Alderwoman, I am experienced at using my time effectively and helping meet the needs of my students, kids, and constituents. I also have good relationships with many of the staff at City Hall which allows me to advocate for my constituents and get good results for them.
Name three things you would like to see change with how things are being done. As chair of the Finance and Personnel committee, I can say that our tight budget is the biggest challenge facing the city today and into the future. First, we face challenges put in place on us by the state legislature in 2011 that have drastically limited our options for raising money as a community, while our share of revenue that comes back to the community from sales taxes, called shared revenue, has remained flat and in some cases declined over time. Without adjustments for inflation and cost of living, this has been a significant cut to our local budget. Many municipalities in WI are in the same boat, and things need to change quickly. Second, housing is a challenge. We need high quality affordable housing, especially for families struggling to make ends meet because of the pandemic. Likewise, we need to create more paths to home ownership for our residents. I am proud to have support the launch of the City’s Financial Empowerment Center which serves as free, one on one, professional counseling to City residents to help them rebuild credit and work towards home ownership. Third, we must do more to address the health disparities in our community. We are the only City of our size in the Midwest to not have a federally qualified health clinic. The City has made it a goal to open a clinic in 2021 and will continue to support those efforts.
What resources would you need to have to accomplish that? First, we need to continue to advocate at the state level for an increase of our shared revenue and a change to the disastrous rules that froze the level of revenue the city can raise. We are working very efficiently as it is, and if changes aren’t made, we won’t be able to maintain vital services. Second, in my first term we implemented the RENTS (Rental Empowerment and Neighborhood Tenant Services) ordinance, which helps make sure that housing is safe for renters and property is maintained. We are also doing innovative things as a city like applying for grants to grow our resources to serve more residents at the Financial Empowerment Center so that more residents are put on a path to home ownership in the city. Also, we should continue partnerships with area schools like the Academies of Racine and Gateway Technical College and other community partners to make sure our residents are being trained for good-paying jobs. I would love to be able to offer incentives to young folks who get trained to stay to live and work in our city. Finally, we must build on relationships with community partners and ask for state and federal support to build out and pay for the operation of the Racine Community Health Clinic we hope to open this year.
What would success look like and how would you measure that success? Ultimately, we need to make sure we are using every avenue available to bring resources into the City of Racine. In my first term as alder, I have supported many creative grants. We have been successful, like in the Financial Empowerment Center and the new electric buses we have been able to purchase through a combination of state and federal programs. We need to position ourselves to be ready to apply for new state initiatives and federal infrastructure dollars, and I think the city is very much aware of and working to bring in as many funds as possible to stretch our tight city budget. We also have to make sure we can maintain services to residents in a tough budget environment. This has been a difficult winter, and folks are acutely aware of how important it is to have good service. That has been and will continue to be a priority for me.
How would you seek buy-in from either the community and/or your colleagues to accomplish those tasks? All I can do is continue to communicate I talk with my constituents and many of my colleagues regularly. I advocate for my constituents at all levels, with colleagues, staff, department heads, and with the Mayor’s office. I reach out to constituents on social media and when I am out and about in the community. Based on the communication I have had, there is a lot of support out there for many of these initiatives and priorities. I will continue to communicate in person, by phone, and email about any and all of these issues.
What characteristics do you bring to the table to accomplish those tasks? I am a wife and mother, an educator and scientist, and current alderman who is chair of the Finance and Personnel Committee and the Wastewater Committee. I bring my critical thinking and problem-solving skills to all of my roles on the City Council. I have built good relationships with many of the city staff and can connect constituents with the appropriate department or person when they have an issue. It takes a bit of time to learn how city hall works and if re-elected I can continue connecting with folks and hit the ground running making sure my constituents are heard and that we are leaving the city better off than it was when we got elected.
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