An Open Letter to Our New President and Vice President
Dear President Biden and Vice President Harris –
Congratulations, and thank you for taking on the immense task of leading our country out of a pandemic, the ensuing economic recession, and the multifaceted civil unrest that erupted over the last year.
Thank you, too, for making it clear in the transition that you understand the importance of cities to our nation, and that you value cities as partners in this work. As you know, cities are the laboratories of democracy, and the City of Madison looks forward to working with you to find innovative, equitable and sustainable solutions to the challenges facing our nation.
The most critical need in our community is to conquer the COVID-19 pandemic. I welcome your plan to bring more testing and vaccination to our city, and I look forward to a strong collaboration between our Public Health department, the State of Wisconsin, and the federal government. Our Public Health team has successfully managed a mass testing site and multiple pop up community based testing sites and is well positioned to meet the needs of our community, including those most impacted by this pandemic. Your support for reopening schools and ensuring childcare is available to those who need it will allow our City to get back to work. I welcome, too, your support of access to health care, paid sick time and family leave, all of which will support Madison families in their recovery from this virus.
At the same time, we must ensure that our local economies – which are powered by workers and small businesses – recover from this pandemic too. Cities need increased, direct assistance to families for food and housing. We need to halt evictions and support rapid rehousing for people without homes. This is particularly important to Madison because the State of Wisconsin has preempted our ability to legislate on issues related to evictions. And your call for a $15 minimum wage is long overdue at the federal level – especially when paired with direct assistance to small businesses. But even these programs will not solve the problem of systemic poverty. In the long term, we need a federal guaranteed income program (as championed by you, Madam Vice President) to provide unconditional assistance to low income families – assistance that will allow them to meet their specific needs any given month – whether that be for housing, health care, food, education or something else. Madison is piloting such a program this spring in cooperation with Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, and we are eager to share our results with you.
It is crucial that you not neglect the important and long-term work of meaningful police reform, including implementing a national use of force standard, criminal justice reform, and ending mass incarceration, with the ultimate goal of reinventing our approach to public safety. Here in Madison we are learning from other cities as we develop a crisis response team of paramedics and behavioral health specialists to respond to behavioral health calls instead of armed officers. In addition, we are doubling our investment in a violence prevention unit housed in our public health department. We welcome your partnership on these important efforts.
All of these major efforts – and indeed everything you do – must be done through the lens of, and towards the goal of, racial equity. Our nation’s original sins against indigenous Americans and enslaved Africans stain us to this day, and it is incumbent on all leaders to work to change the culture of white supremacy and uproot the tendrils of institutional racism.
Last, but most certainly not least, I want to thank you in advance for bringing the United States back into the Paris Agreement, a move which I sincerely hope signals your strong and sustained commitment to using every tool in your toolbox to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase our resilience to climate change. Here in Madison, we are committed to running City government on 100% renewable energy by 2030, and have already installed 1 megawatt of solar panels on City-owned buildings. Better yet – these panels, and the next megawatt we plan to install in the next two years – are installed by our Green Power apprentices, mostly women and people of color, learning the skills they need to access family-supporting jobs in the solar industry or public works. We are investing in a bus rapid transit system, and our fleet is rapidly transitioning to electric and other low emission fuels. I am excited to work with a President and a Secretary of Transportation so clearly committed to public transit.
I want to thank you, Madam Vice President, for your commitment to being the first, but not the last, woman of color in your position. Please know that, although the time you lived here in Madison was brief, we claim you as one of our own. And I want to thank you, Mr. President, for choosing a cabinet with unprecedented diversity – a team of strong leaders that reflect our nation. The City of Madison looks forward to working with you and your team to make our city, and our country, a better place for all of us.
Very Sincerely Yours,
Mayor of Madison, Wisconsin