Before coming here in 2008, Jennifer Trost had lived in many other college towns, but none quite like La Crosse. “This is the first place I’ve lived where I know my neighbors and we help each other out,” she said in a recent interview with The La Crosse Independent.
Trost credits the sense of belonging that she has experienced here as one of the primary reasons she has declared her candidacy for Common Council in District 11 (district map here). Her opponent is Richard Korish.
“When I moved to La Crosse, I was immediately welcomed by my neighbors, who were working to keep the branch libraries open. At that time, there was a belief that closing them was a quick fix to some financial problems in the city.” This was Trost’s introduction to neighborhood organizing, which led to her co-founding the Holy Trinity-Longfellow Neighborhood Association. In 2015, Mayor Kabat appointed Trost to the Neighborhood Revitalization Commission (NRC), where she continues as an active member.
“I’ve gotten to know other appointees, elected officials, city employees, and other concerned residents through the NRC,” says Trost. “I’ve learned a lot about the process of city government and its many invisible functions and services. I have a lot of respect for the city staff, whose work often goes unnoticed.”
Trost’s twin beliefs in civic education and the power of government to do good in people’s lives form the cornerstones of her council campaign. She speaks passionately about bringing more people into the often complex municipal decision-making processes. “One of my major goals is to bring as many people as possible into the city’s meetings. I want to show them how to understand Legistar (the city’s online Legislative Information Center) and help people feel comfortable and prepared for their interactions with the city staff and elected officials.”
Trost has proven that she is willing to put in long hours to address planning issues that influence the city’s ability to grow and develop. Most recently, she has worked diligently to modernize outdated parking restrictions in the city code. “I’ve learned that parking is an issue that a lot of people have opinions about,” she says with a laugh, before going on to thoughtfully discuss the evolving needs of renters and businesses, the hidden costs of free parking, and the underutilized public transportation system. Trost knows her stuff.
“I started riding the bus more often last winter. I won’t lie: it requires a lot more planning ahead than taking a car or even a bicycle.” Although she cites improvements that could be made to increase the frequency of busses or provide more direct routes, she remains deeply respectful of city employees. “I’m not going to criticize our transit employees or the director. I’ve seen them be responsive.” Trost points to the new real time bus tracking app and the elimination of fares as examples of decisions made with users in mind.
At her core, Trost believes in the power of democracy, not as an abstract ideal but as a process in which we can and should engage together. “A lot of people have this idea that cities just exist. That they just happen. But I have experienced an awakening of what goes on at the city level. When people say, ‘Oh, this city is doing this or that,’ the truth is that the city is us. There’s nobody else. It’s us!”
She sees her campaign and regular people’s involvement in city politics as a necessary antidote to the frustration and heartbreak that many have felt about the dysfunction of state and national politics. “We have the chance to look closer to home and find ways to be good to our neighbors and to the people who live here.”
By Jessica Thill and Eric Timmons. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.