Mackenzie Mindel is running for La Crosse Common Council as a 28-year-old new mom who lost her job during the pandemic. In other words, Mindel does not have the typical profile of someone running for public office in La Crosse.
She’s running in District 8 (click here to see a map of council districts) against Sam Deetz, another young candidate. The incumbent is Jessica Olson, who is not seeking reelection, having decided to run for mayor instead (Olson was defeated in the Feb. 16 mayoral primary).
The average age of the current common council is 57 and, of the 13 council members, 10 are 50 or older, with three in their 70s and four in their 60s, as noted in a recent La Crosse Tribune article. Nine of the seats are filled by men (including Paul Medinger, who recently resigned). Changing those statistics matters to Mindel.
“We need to make sure that women are in positions of leadership, and that women are in spaces where decisions are being made,” she said. “I think it’s an important distinction to say that women belong in decision-making spaces, even though it sometimes doesn’t feel like we do; I have felt out of place, which contributed to my apprehension about running. I thought about running for three months before I actually decided to do it.”
Mindel was born in La Crosse and is a University of Wisconsin-La Crosse graduate. She also has a master’s in Social Innovation and Sustainability Leadership from Edgewood College in Madison, a program that involved plenty of deep thinking about the kinds of problems that cities like La Crosse face. She’s worked in nonprofits and has lived in District 8 since 2013, first as a renter in the Elliott Arms Apartments on Cass Street and now as a homeowner. It’s fair to say that she understands the struggles young families are facing in La Crosse and across the country.
“I lost my job due to the pandemic and that upended our lives as a family,” she said. “I want to make sure that we are moving forward as a city to support people so we can all have stable jobs and child care.”
A small step to begin to better support parents would be to offer free child care during public meetings for members of the council, city staff, and the public.
“I’d love to see the childcare offered at city and other civic meetings, so that we can see moms engage in decision making,” Mindel said. “We see people not showing up now for input sessions, not because they have nothing to say but because there are barriers to getting there.”
A lack of participation from the public when it comes to attending city meetings should not be attributed purely to apathy or a lack of education, as it sometimes is by the usually older and often retired members of local boards and councils.
“People do care and they want to know what’s going on, but there are barriers that keep them from showing up,” Mindel said. “So one idea that I would support that is beyond the scope of just the city but is worldwide is that idea of paid maternity leave and access to child care.”
The pandemic has highlighted the importance of the internet and strengthened arguments that broadband should be viewed as public infrastructure, much like streets or various utilities. Mindel would support the city at least investigating the possibility of introducing municipal broadband, which could provide faster and more reliable internet at a reduced cost to all city residents.
“The pandemic has exposed a huge weakness around the world and in our community — not everyone has access to the internet. Even those who do might not have fast enough speeds to participate in online meetings or at-home schooling; it becomes an equity issue,” she said. “Municipal wifi could also be a draw for young professionals and an incentive for businesses. It would do a lot also to help our unsheltered population, who also need access to the internet and to places to charge their phones, so that they can access information that they need as well.”
Mindel brims with ideas. She wants to push the city to have a measurable action plan to live up to its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050. She supports studying the possibility of making our public transit system permanently fare-free. She wants to use her background in public engagement in the planning process to provide input on the city’s new comprehensive plan so that it includes solutions to problems around affordable housing and homelessness. But perhaps above all else, she wants to engage the public and find new and innovative ways to drive participation in the city’s decision making process.
“We often ask people what they need from their city or their community, but we rarely ask them what they like. I’d like to see a lot more collaboration and ways to engage different people in different ways,” Mindel said. “My role as a council member wouldn’t be to create these opportunities, but to work with city departments like planning and parks and recreation and community organizations to create these ideas together.”
Sometimes, Mindel said she forgets that she’s a mom. It’s a new identity for her but she’s definitely also running for her daughter.
“As a new mom, I want to make sure that my daughter sees women in these positions so that when she gets older, she doesn’t question whether she can be in an elected position, or be an executive director, or hold a high position in whatever business she chooses. It’s important to have that representation,” she said.
The council elections are Tuesday, April 6. More information on voting is available at myvote.wi.gov.
By Eric Timmons and Jessica Thill. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.