The city of Madison mayoral race got a little more interesting last week when Madison District 8 Alder Scott Resnick took to the steps of the Madison Municipal Building for a press conference announcing that he was throwing his hat into the ring.
“I wanted to have conversations on where the vision of Madison is going,” Resnick tells The Madison Times in an interview at his Hardin Design and Development Company’s headquarters overlooking beautiful Lake Mendota next to James Madison Park on Madison’s near east side. “We started to look at all of the areas that we are not focusing on — everything from economic equality to the issues we have with the racial divide in the city of Madison to just the ability to consensus-build with our other community leaders. I kept on hearing it over and over: You should think about running.”
Along with being on the Madison Common Council, Resnick helped found and serves as vice president of Hardin Design and Development, a successful mobile application and software development company which recently was named one of Madison Magazine’s “2014 Best Places to Work.” His announcement sets up an interesting dynamic in the mayoral race — the older generation vs. the younger generation. It was 14 years before the 27-year-old Resnick was born when current Mayor Paul Soglin, now 69, was first elected mayor of Madison. Thirty-year-old Bridget Maniaci, a former Madison city alderwoman, has also thrown her hat into the mayoral race.
On a lot of issues, Resnick and Soglin seem to agree on. At the very least, they aren’t far apart. Resnick feels like with his experience in the high-tech world and with entrepreneurship that he has an edge in creating a 21st-century city where everyone can thrive. He also has been working actively to help understand and reconcile Madison’s tremendous racial divide — which will be a key issue in the upcoming race. “It all starts with actually empowering community leaders. That means actually listening to community leaders,” Resnick says. “I had a sit-down with [Fountain of Life Senior Pastor] Rev. Alex Gee and we started our conversations months ago. I just went into his office to listen. One of the issues that he continued to talk about were the actual issues that he has experienced being in Madison for so many years and where the void in the conversation has been. “
Gee asked Resnick to become involved in the soccer field project behind Fountain of Life — the renovation of a dilapidated south side carwash that once featured crime and prostitution that will now be a beautiful space for south-side kids to play sports and for festivals to be held. “I sat down with two business leaders and they instantly fell in love with the idea,” Resnick says. “Alex talks about it not only as an area for kids to play safely, but where Latino kids and African American kids can interact in a neighborhood. Findorff is volunteering services. Vanderwall is volunteering artistic designs for 3-D renderings.
“There’s a difference between top-down leadership and bottom-up leadership,” Resnick adds. “There you are actually asking somebody in the community, ‘What do you want to see happen?’ We don’t have that conservation. It’s so rare that we have that conversation.”
The reality, Resnick says, is that there is a lot of work that needs to be done around racial disparities and the common feeling among anybody who is not white that there are clearly “two Madisons.”
Madison’s majority culture has always been great about talking about racial disparities; not very good at lessening them.
“It’s not just talking about this as a problem and saying, ‘Alright, we’re going to come back with a report and this report is going to solve all the issues,’” Resnick says. “I was reading back on the report when the City of Madison did this back in the early 2000s. You look at the report and you’re like, ‘Wow. This is a great report! Whatever happened to this report?’ Nobody followed through on the report with the strong actions of the recommendations.”
As Madison continues to change, its population is growing older and more diverse. Resnick sites his work with the Demographic Change Work Group on the Common Council as the forward-thinking that is needed. “I’m a big data guy and when we looked at the demographic changes we talked about: what does it mean that our city is diversifying? What does it mean that our city is getting older? What is going to happen with the generational gaps in the city? How do people age in place in the city of Madison?” Resnick asks. “We put together strategies and came together with a report with a very strong list of recommendations with what we need to do. Now it’s going to need city follow-through … which is easier said than done.
“Many of these things should have happened yesterday,” he adds.
Focus on Madison’s south side
Resnick has spent quite a bit of time on Madison’s south side — the state’s most diverse zip code — chatting with community leaders at Fountain of Life Church, Nehemiah Corporation, Urban League of Greater Madison, Boys and Girls Club, and more to find out their needs and their vision for Madison. He has also been attending the south Madison festivals and events.
“In the process of learning about south Madison, there has been a lot of exploration. For me, it’s been sitting down with the leaders of south Madison and touring the community,” he says. “As I talk to the leaders, they tell me that [in old south Madison] when you had a problem with your roof and you needed a contractor, there was somebody in south Madison who will fix your roof. If you needed a south Madison electrician, there was somebody there. That doesn’t exist anymore. It’s the economic inequalities that have really exacerbated the problems in the community.
“I’m not here to tell south Madison what the context of their neighborhood should be, but to provide the tools for new business creation,” Resnick adds. “It’s what I do as a start-up. You can see even really small businesses be re-energized in south Madison.”
Resnick can see the frustrations south Madison often has with its lack of integration with the rest of the community. “You look at transportation routes to and from south Madison and when you talk about what will be a 90-minute bus ride from south Madison to another area of town … that shouldn’t be an acceptable solution to public transportation,” Resnick says. “Both [small business growth and transportation] are major issues that would be the focus on what’s that niche vision for south Madison, in particular.”
The ideas, he adds, cannot just come from City Hall. They need to come from actual community leaders. “That’s the void that we’ve seen,” Resnick says. “City Hall can be great in bringing partners together at the same table, but the ideas have to be organic. And, historically, it hasn’t been from the actual leaders and people in the community.”
Innovation and entrepreneurship
Raised in a middle-class family in Wausau, Wis., Resnick attended UW-Madison and worked a variety of jobs to help pay his way through school. While living in the Chadbourne Hall, Resnick had a huge interest in technology and innovation. He and his soon-to-be business partner, Jon Hardin, hatched ideas that would eventually become Hardin Design & Development. Through perseverance and some luck, the thriving software company now employs 21 people in Madison. “We build I-Phone and Android applications as well as other web applications,” Resnick says. “We have clients that include Komen Campers, Crock-Pot, Fed-Ex. “
Hardin Design & Development’s mobile applications have been featured in Apple commercials on three continents. As the Chief Operating Officer, Resnick manages the company’s budget, negotiates contracts, and oversees human resource activities.
As a two-term Madison alder, Resnick is well aware that he wears two hats in the Madison community — the business hat and the politics hat. “Very few people really wear both hats like that in the public and private sector,” he says. “It’s allowed us to do some really cool programs including one called Capital Entrepreneurs.”
Capital Entrepreneurs was founded in May 2009 as a resource for the expanding Dane County entrepreneur community. Its 300-plus members bring entrepreneurs together to create new connections and a community around the start-ups in Madison. “We’ve watched companies go from 5 employees to 80 employees and ramp up in growth,” Resnick says. “We’ve been able to use that network to really focus on issues that our members care about. Diversity in tech is probably one of the major issues that we talk about.”
Diversity in the emerging tech community has been a real struggle both with having more women and more minorities. “We have a couple different programs focused on diversity and tech,” Resnick says.
“We had a meet-and-greet at the Urban League so we had 12 tech CEOs sitting down with members of the Urban League talking about the challenge ahead of us and how we can solve it.”
Resnick says that they have another program where students who come from traditionally challenged backgrounds learn how to program from one of the best programmers in Madison. The program guarantees an internship at a Madison tech start-up company.
“The digital divide is really between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ … those who have access to the Internet,” Resnick says. “I have this conversation frequently at UW and I ask, ‘What year did you end up getting the Internet? The furthest back you’ll hear now is seventh grade. Most students will have had Internet the entire time they grew up. So, when you think about this as a conceptual issue, we need to be providing Internet as a tool — not as a solution. Every single student in the MMSD should have the same tools to get into the flagship university that we pride ourselves in.
“We need to have more career paths that focus on skills that everybody needs to succeed,” he adds. “With the digital divide in particular, we asked, ‘How do we bring this tool to the neighborhoods?’ We put together a pilot program where we tried to get Internet access to a particular neighborhood. We have all the conduit lines already laid in South Madison. They are sitting under the ground underneath Park Street. What we need to be able to do is open that up to have full Wi-Fi in South Madison. While that would have been a very, difficult and costly proposal five years ago, right now this is something that is within our future.
One of the things Resnick wants to focus on is looking at different opportunities and avenues to make sure that young people have the tools to succeed. “Whether that’s computers, whether that’s Internet access or whatever that next tool may be,” Resnick says. “It’s all about investing in our future. It’s one of the most important things we can do.”
We need to be making sure that all of our students have a chance to explore all three of our schools of higher education, he adds. “We need to make sure that a student doesn’t feel alienated while they walk through campus whether they are in sixth grade, seventh grade, or eighth grade,” Resnick says. “We want them to have aspirations to get to that next stage. I see the UW, Edgewood [College], and Madison College having that vision out there; I think the City of Madison needs to be a better participant alongside the MMSD to figure out how we improve the pathways to higher education.”
In the announcement of his candidacy, Resnick said that he wants Madison to be a hub of creativity and innovative ideas. Not just for economic development, but in the arts, how the city provides basic services, and rethinking the way municipal government interacts with its citizens. “It’s a new way to listen to our constituents. I’m very dedicated to this: I want my administration to be the most-open and most-transparent government in the United States,” Resnick says. “We’re looking to make sure that anybody who wants to have access to their mayor, can do so. It shouldn’t be because you are a lobbyist. It shouldn’t be because you have deep pockets. Anybody should be able to walk into the mayor’s office and have a conversation. It’s a very different mentality than from what I see in any other candidates in the [mayoral] field.”
Resnick says that he wants to empower local residents to improve the community. “We want to be able to provide the resources to constituents to do more,” he says. There are so many times when we will ignore a good idea … and it’s tragic when we do.
“Since I’ve announced, I have had so many people come up to me and say, ‘Yes, we need a new vision.’ It’s been very exciting for me. We are full of energy here,” he adds. “It’s early on in the race, but I’m looking forward to meeting more constituents, having more great conversations, and building more momentum.”
For more information about Scott Resnick’s mayoral campaign, visit www.resnickformayor.com