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The city of Madison, seen from above in March 2020.

2020 was a challenging year for our city. Despite all that it brought our way, we pulled together in creative ways on critical issues around COVID-19, the economy, racial injustice, violence prevention and tumultuous, historic elections.

In 2021, we’ll continue to work on all of these critical issues as well as advance the work you elected me to do around affordable housing, climate resilience, rapid transit and racial equity.

Helping Madison stay healthy and recover from the pandemic will remain our top priority. Public Health Madison & Dane County will continue to spearhead our response, continuing our successful testing facility and preparing for a more robust vaccine rollout.

One thing I’m very excited about in 2021 is launching our guaranteed income pilot program. The pilot will provide a small group of Madisonians an opportunity to build their own paths out of poverty. And along with cities across the country, Madison will help demonstrate the effectiveness of a guaranteed income and advocate for a nationwide program.

Madison’s housing challenges, already daunting before the pandemic, are even more so now. The federal COVID-19 relief bill does not provide sufficient protections against eviction, but does provide further rental assistance. We anticipate that more federal aid will come and will work with the state and the county to use every resource at our disposal to prevent the threat of large-scale housing instability. We are also working hard for the homeless; we opened a new temporary shelter for men this winter and are working on permanent solutions for families and single men.

We will continue to address the shortage of affordable housing by preserving affordable housing, increasing housing inventory, supporting homeownership, and increasing housing options in Madison. In the 2021 budget, we increased funding for affordable housing 25% over two years ago, and the city is pursuing changes to the development process to make it easier to build the housing we’d like to see.

Madison is also part of an important national conversation around reimagining public safety. Our Civilian Oversight Board is off to a good start, and our new police chief starts in February. PHMDC is doubling the size of our Violence Prevention Unit to better tackle the systemic roots of violence in our community and develop a multifaceted strategy to aid in the prevention of all types of violence.

And this year, the city will launch a mobile crisis response unit for behavioral health emergencies, made up of a community paramedic and a crisis worker. I am hopeful that this program, modeled on successful programs in other cities, will provide the type of response and support that people experiencing mental health emergencies need.

COVID-19 has devastated many of our businesses, especially in the retail, restaurant, arts and hospitality sectors. More federal assistance to small business is finally in the pipeline, but too many of our local businesses have been harmed by the pandemic. The downtown has taken a particularly hard hit and will need the support of all of us to recover.

Our focus in 2021 will be supporting local businesses to operate safely and hopefully at greater capacities over the year. We must do so while also growing the diversity of our business community through programs like the Small Business Equity and Recovery and Commercial Ownership programs that help women and business owners of color to invest in their businesses, and help them move from renting space to owning property.

Climate and sustainability work remains an urgent priority. In 2021, the city will help improve energy efficiency in affordable housing and reduce the energy cost burden to people living there. As we work hard to make the city flood resistant, we are exploring policies and projects that help reduce energy waste, and speed the transition to electric vehicles.

Our green power solar apprentices are helping keep us on track for 100% renewable government operations by 2030, and we will push the private sector to move more rapidly in this direction as well. Our work on climate is as ambitious as it is necessary. Fortunately, we have strong partners locally and around the globe who share our sense of urgency.

Alongside all this work, we continue to move forward to create a rapid transit system that will serve Madisonians and our region for decades. A new routing analysis will help shorten the long commutes suffered disproportionately by people of color, and a new electric fleet will reduce emissions.

I am looking forward to working with you on the plan we’ve set forth to heal, to strengthen and to serve all of Madison. I’m confident 2021 will be a better year for our community. Contact me with your thoughts at

Satya Rhodes-Conway is the mayor of Madison.

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