Getting Past the Politics: YGB Interviews Mayoral Candidate Maurice Cheeks
Why are you running?
Seeing Barack Obama elected expanded horizons as much as possible. It expanded how I felt I could express my citizenship. Growing up I had a good relationship with my dad. He worked a lot to provide for his family. I remember we woke up to go to his jobsite and we were on a strike. He worked for a union. He said:
‘This is why I’m so hard on you. Part of the fact that I’ve been able to support our family...This is what it looks like fighting for ourselves to get a quarter raise. I want you to be the first Cheeks to write his own ticket. Prove to your brothers this is possible. I want you to figure out how you can help yourself and others.’
I knew I wanted to be of service in college. I knew teachers who were in service, so I went to school to be a teacher. I didn’t become an educator, but I still wanted to be of service. I settled in Madison in 2007 and started tutoring in the schools. I started volunteering. I was elected to city council at 28 years old.
After the 2016 Presidential elections I started thinking about how we can lead locally. This is still our state, still our city. We can’t give up because we elected the wrong president. We still have to fight for civil rights and women's rights. There’s still place to move a needle on that in our community. We should absolutely be able to broaden the table so that more people can fit. My job as mayor will be to uplift the voice of the community. We’ve been lacking that in Madison for 8 years. Everything about our society is different. It’s like student loans...forty years ago college was $800 a semester cheaper. We are not the same America. We are not the same Madison. I think the job of being mayor in Madison is too big to be anyone’s back up plan. We should expect someone to be committed to their job and it’s critical that we have leadership focused on community and city as an act of service.
Who is Mo Cheeks at the core?
I’m a father. I’m a husband...I’m somebody who has been serving on the Madison city council for 6 years. I’m the district 10 alder where i’ve been serving Allied, Nacoma and everything in between…They’re microcosms of the city. In a day job I have a career in the tech industry. I’m someone who is excited to see what we can bring to the city. I’m the oldest of three boys with an involved dad who shared a lot of how he thinks about the world. We grew up in Matteson, Illinois in the middle class. The only people I recall having college degrees were my teachers. I’m a biracial black man who found his identity in the time where I thought it wasn’t possible to elect Barack Obama.
What’s your biggest motivation?
I want to make Madison a city where every community has kids ready to learn and families that feel safe. A community that has access to food and transportation to navigate this community...people that live with dignity. We have people on a limp just trying to pay rent. I want to make this everybody's city...a city with mutual interdependence.
Opinion on new jails? Disproportionality in prison sentences?
This is a big question with intergenerational parts. We have small conversations about what is the precise number of police to add to force to make the city more sage. Talking about safety to acknowledge that conversation is bigger than policing. By the time the police are involved the ‘thing’ has already happened. People have conversations about incarceration and more police. Does that make us a more sage community? We have to think about kids growing up in broken homes without male role models. We’ve been doing this for generations. Our system has been actively disproportionately wrecking Black families.
How are we going to solve disparities in schools? Student opportunities?
As Mayor I’m going to make sure that every child has a college savings account. We have research that they are more likely to graduate. With this they will have an identity formed. I’m going to establish a program so every high school student has access to an internship. After which they will return learning better when they are productive in the summer. They’ll see something for their future. My focus is at the systems level, not how do we put $1000 into a program, but how do we reimagine the foundation of the blocks of society so that it feels different to be a member of the society in Madison. A place where every kid believes someone is believing in them and investing in them. Even if their parents are incarcerated, have mental health issues, etc. our can community still believes in kids regardless of color. Maybe we can shift biases made against people in our community. None of this is simple stuff. We’re still working on it. We’re still listening.
How can we create a more accessible city?
We have to work hard to advocate with peer communities in the surrounding area to create support for regional taxi authority. We need people to be able to access jobs in sun prairie or fitchburg, or even just be able to go to the theatre. Being able to fund needs to be more than just complaining about the state. We need to lean on relationships developed state wide to work with folks to support this. We need to look at Eau Claire and Appleton.
Is Madison a truly ‘progressive’ city?
We need to be frank about this as a community. We need to figure out how to create work that creates upward mobility. We have to be aware of where the city is investing the money. If we’re investing in projects that will support employers, we have to support employers that will be willing to be community partners. Places where the community can move up the ladders and make a life for themselves. I want to diversify the middle class. 100state, for example, is the largest coworking space in Wisconsin. I want to see space that is diverse. We have all types of entrepreneurship in communities of color. As a community we need to make sure we are supporting this work. We need to be a community creating authentic space for communities of color.
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