REFLECTIONS/Jonathan Gramling

A Tsunami of Change

Jonathan Gramling

Those of us who are involved in politics could see it coming. For the past two years, it has been my honor to serve on the board of Adelante, a political action organization that recruits, trains and supports people of color who run for political office. Working on this level gives one a pretty good view of the political developments that have been happening in our county.

It appeared to me that the movement of people of color running for office gained momentum in 2015. Before that, it seemed that perhaps 2-4 people of color would run for elected office and not all of them won. But in early 2015, it appeared to me that a change was on the horizon. The Hues devoted its February 2015 cover story to these new candidates. There were approximately 10 candidates who were running for office in Middleton, Madison and Sun Prairie. And the majority of them went on to win including Shiva Bidar-Sielaff, Barbara McKinney, Sheri Carter, Julia Arata-Fratta, Jason Gonzalez, Samba Baldeh and Marilyn Ruffin.


When Gloria Reyes ran for the Madison Metropolitan School District board in 2018, she ran as the underdog to an incumbent. Reyes knew little about running for office and she and her committee kind of felt their way along although several of them had worked on other campaigns. You could probably say that it was the upset of the year when Reyes won. In essence, the stars aligned for Reyes in pulling off the improbable win.

Reyes felt frustrated that there really wasn’t anyone there to guide her through the process, the nuts and bolts, of running for elective office and so she was determined to create an organization that would be a resource for future candidates of color or people of color running for office so that they didn’t have to “campaign in the dark” and could devote themselves to the actual running of their campaigns.

Eventually, Reyes’ kitchen cabinet came on board with her to form Adelante, Juan José López, Oscar Mireles and Salvador Carranza with Jan Sternbach serving as a paid consultant to the group — and eventually many campaigns. I had also been a member of Reyes’ kitchen cabinet and was brought on later that year. Former Fitchburg Mayor Frances Huntley-Cooper was the latest addition.

Of course Adelante can’t claim credit for all of the people of color running for office right now. But I feel that at the least, we have been the main contributors to creating a positive environment for people of color to run for elective office. Instead of people making the decision to run for office in isolation, through Adelante, candidates of color find each other and become aware of each other. They receive information and advice from people who have experience in the field. We have trainings where they see each other and can network with each other. And they can receive as little or as much support as they need.

And when Adelante began to provide trainings last year and as board members began to report on people they knew who were going to run for office, it became clear that this would become a historic spring in terms of people of color running for office and winning elections. It has been awesome.

While I know that this list is probably incomplete and take full responsibility for any omissions, 25 people of color — yes I said 25 — were elected to office in Dane County. They are:

Madison School Board

Savion Castro
Maia Pearson

City of Madison Alderperson
Barbara Harrington-McKinney
Brian Benford
Nasra Wehelie
Juliana Bennett
Nikki Conklin
Yannette Figueroa Cole
Hohapjikere Arvina Martin
Syed Abbas
Sheri Carter
Jael Currie
Charles Myadze
Christian Albouras

Dane County Supervisor
Cecely Castillo

Firchburg Alderperson
Jim Wheeler

Julia Arata-Fratta

Sun Prairie Alderperson
Faustina Bohling

Sun Prairie School Board

Alwyn Foster

Monona-Cottage Grove School Board
Loreen Gage
Andrew McKinney

Verona School Board
Kalyanna Williams

Dane County Judge

Judge Nia Trammell

Judge Mario White

Judge Juan Colas

What is beautiful about this new group of public servants is that they all are independent thinkers who reflect Dane County’s diversity. They are diverse in racial background, gender, political philosophy and other qualities. While they are all — at least the people I personally know — committed to equity, diversity and inclusion, they will also serve the greater public, their constituencies well.

It will be exciting to watch all of these diverse voices at the table making public policy decisions that will benefit the ENTIRE population. Sixty percent of the Madison Common Council will be people of color. I’m sure no one would have even dreamed that 10 years ago much like no one could envision the election of Barack Obama even a couple of years before his election

We wish you well in your deliberations and your decisions. We expect great public policy to come from the fruit of your labor.

Again congratulations!