Barbara McKinney running for Dane County Supervisor
A Voice of Reason
     After Mike McKinney died in 2006, Barbara McKinney remained in Madison and became involved in the community. And while she
quietly set about to establish a life for herself, she remained forever associated with her son. “People knew me as ‘Mike’s Mom,’”
McKinney said. “They did not know that I come bringing some strong things as well. So when they look at my background, my
educational strength and life experiences and things I did in my community in St. Louis, they are saying ‘Oh, there is substance to ‘Mike’
s Mom.’ I always laugh at that because people are very surprised that what I love to do is public speaking. It’s one of my hobbies. At
home in St. Louis, people knew that. But here in Madison, they are just learning that there is substance behind ‘Mike’s Mom.’
      Back in St. Louis, McKinney received two Master’s degrees — in public policy administration & policy analysis from Southern
Illinois University and business administration from Fontbonne University — after getting her undergraduate degree from the University
of Missouri – St. Louis. Outside of her work as a special education teacher and later as an investment advisor, McKinney was a
community activist. “My community involvement and organization came about as a member of a congregation,” McKinney said. “The
Gamaliel Foundation using union organizing strategies came into our community and churches and began to teach lay leaders how to be
effective community leaders. An ordinary person — that’s who I was — passionately committed to changing our community, could learn
how you can work within the community to bring about change. That was instilled in me and that was the beginning of what I do now.”
After McKinney decided to stay in Madison, she volunteered with Hospice Care, the food pantry at her church, S.S. Morris AME
Community Church and other causes. It helped her heal. “During the first year, I volunteered extensively because I had never been in
the position where I could just concentrate on giving back and doing those things I love to do in the community,” McKinney said. “When
you are volunteering, you forget the issues that surround you and you become a part of the community and the organization that you are
volunteering for. That gives you more energy and that is what it has done for me.”
      And she prayed to God for a ministry. That ministry came in the form of MUM’s Circles of Support program. “In general, I train
community volunteers to wrap around anyone who is returning from prison or jail and give them a sense of community and direction,
holding them accountable, but also being that community of support,” McKinney said. “We all have support systems in place.
Unfortunately, many of the men and women returning from incarceration have very limited support systems. And the ones that they have
are the ones that are negative and got them where they are today. In creating this community of volunteers, learning to hold them
accountable, but also walking with them and being positive role models, we’ve been able to statistically reduce recidivism. And that is
the goal, reducing recidivism.”
      McKinney considers herself to be just an ordinary person and not a politician. “I have a deep passionate love for people,” McKinney
said. “And in that deep, passionate love, I bring the strength of my own experiences to working with individuals. What I do understand
— and I do very well — is be a bridge between people. And I have no problem with working with people on the extremes. In order to
move what I am passionate about — social justice — we have to find a way that we can have conversations with one another.”
District 15 where McKinney is running includes the Elver Park area on Madison’s far west side, the Hammersley Road area and other
places where pockets of poverty — and urban problems — have sprung up during the past ten years. McKinney has faced many of the
problems that many of these individual have faced. She has faced them successfully. “I’ve raised a child,” McKinney said. “It is very
challenging raising an African American child. We had our struggles and I understand those struggles. And from what they tell me in
Madison, they loved him dearly. And they continue to talk about him. It gives me great joy. But I know the struggles that I had to fight and
make sure that my child didn’t get caught up in the system. And he could have quite easily gotten caught up in the system.”
      As an ordinary person, McKinney was at first hesitant on becoming a public figure in her own right. “As I knocked on doors and got
a chance to meet people, I found they were ordinary people like me,” McKinney confided. “So I began to share my story and they became
comfortable sharing theirs. What I hope to accomplish on the board is to bring that sense of community to the people around the table. I
don’t have all of the answers. But what I do know is I give 200 percent and then when I give the 200 percent, I always dig for more. And
I think that is what the community wants. I think that is what District 15 wants, someone who will come to the table ready to work, have
a sense of what is happening in the community and being able to represent all parts of the community. That is the strength that I think I
      McKinney spends much of her free time canvassing the district these days, spending 15-20 hours per week knocking on doors,
usually accompanied by a friend or volunteer. As she has listened to people, she has found that public safety is the premier issue on
people’s minds.
      “People want to be comfortable in their homes and their neighborhoods,” McKinney emphasized. “District 15 is a broad district and
for some people, public safety is a not a major issue. But if it is a major issue in parts of our community, we have to look at that. We can’
t turn a blind eye to it because ultimately, if we don’t address it, it can be an issue in the other communities. Public safety is exactly what
I do every day at MUM. It is creating opportunities for men and women, especially teenagers who seem to be perpetrating most of these
issues. We need to find them opportunities, employment and things to do. On a summer day when you have a group of young men with
absolutely nothing to do, but cause havoc, it rises to the top.”
      Another important issue that Dane County is facing, according to McKinney, is how its transportation infrastructure is going to look
in the coming years and how it is going to accommodate Dane County’s continued rapid population growth.
      “I favor smart transportation,” McKinney said. “When I was in St. Louis, I served on the East West Gateway Coordinating Council. I
have a degree in urban planning and policy analysis. I was in St. Louis when the regional transit authority was first formed. I also
worked on the transportation task force. And I worked in the trenches as the community tried to wrap its head around this whole concept
of mass transit and the trains, the same issues that are now rising forth in Madison. It was a struggle. But what I discovered is that
people wanted to be heard. They wanted to buy into it. They wanted to understand it. And so we had to spend a whole lot of time taking
that to the people and creating those opportunities for people to get their frustrations out. We’re not there yet. I understand that the board
just had their first meeting. So we have a long way to go. But ultimately with the population growing by leaps and bounds, we have to
begin to look at what transportation is going to look like in 20 years out. Maybe we don’t need it now, but ultimately, if we don’t begin to
look at those issues, I think we would be working in a vacuum. So if you would ask if I am in favor of mass transportation, I am favoring
smart transportation because I have seen it work. But I know there is a lot of work to be done to get there.”
      McKinney also feels that jobs and unemployment are big issues right now that the county has to deal with. And while Dane County is
having to deal with a fiscal crisis right now, it is important to McKinney that the county not cause long-term damage through short-term
monetary solutions. “I’m a numbers person, so I know you have to be fiscally responsible,” McKinney said. “With that fiscal
responsibility, I think you also have to look at people and the lives of people. So I do look at programs. When you think of the county
budget, over 70-80 percent of it is in public safety and human services. That’s a huge piece and so we have to be accountable for the
people’s money. I do understand that. But I would like to take it a little bit further. As we are accountable for the people’s money, we are
also accountable to the livelihood of the people who live in our district. And if we are doing that, ultimately we are enhancing the lives
of people not only on the southwest side, but also those who live in Dane County.”
      McKinney has been overwhelmed and humbled by the support that she has received so far. “I do say that Kathleen Falk is the one
that asked me to run and it had to be someone I would listen to,” McKinney said. “If someone else had asked me, I would have said
‘Absolutely not!’ With that, the endorsement of Sheriff Mahoney, District Attorney Blanchard and the other people who have been so
willing to come out and walk with me and to encourage me has been just overwhelming and I am eternally grateful for that. I am grateful
for my friends whom I know very well and then some that I don’t know very well have been encouraging me to run. That has been
tremendously humbling. I want to take the opportunity to say thank you to them. April 6 is the date. I’m asking people to come out and
vote because traditionally, it’s a light turnout. People want to have some input into what happens in their lives. How they do that is to
elect officials who will be accountable to them. As I journey, I want to say to District 15 that I will be accountable to them. And I also
want to say to the existing supervisors on the board that I will bring to the table hard work, due diligence and a good day’s work.”
In the meanwhile, McKinney will continue to knock on doors, listen to people and volunteer in the community, helping others help
themselves. That is what she does.
By Jonathan Gramling

      Sitting outside the offices of Madison-area Urban Ministry where
Barbara McKinney works, I couldn’t help but think of Buddha as we talked.
It’s not just the fact that McKinney was dressed in a woolen serape or that
she is bald. It’s that McKinney had this calm demeanor or aura about her
as she talked in a soft, but firm voice. It was a sense that McKinney didn’t
have anything to prove to anyone. McKinney is running for the 15th District
Dane County Supervisor seat and one can’t, but help to get the impression
that it is a sense of service and not ego that has given her the desire to
run. It wasn’t until Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk even asked her
that McKinney even thought about running for public office.
      Ever since McKinney moved to Madison around six years ago, she
has been known as ‘Mike’s Mom.’ She moved here to take her son, the
late Mike McKinney who was an NBC-15 news anchor for many years,
home to St. Louis to die of the colon cancer he had been stricken with
several years earlier. But Mike had a different plan.
      “Mike said to me ‘No mom, Madison is my home,’” McKinney said. “He
was right. When I realized that Madison gave him life — to be in a
community that loved him, respected him and accepted him and gave him
additional life — taking Mike back to St. Louis was not going to happen.
The amazing thing that happened and I’m sure he wanted it to happen was I
fell in love with Madison myself and then Madison became my home.”
Barbara McKinney moved to Madison to care for her son
Mike who had been stricken with colon cancer.