By Jessica Thill
Rebecca Schwarz, a candidate for City Council in District 10 (district map), has called La Crosse home on and off throughout her life. She was born here, grew up on a farm just outside of town, and graduated from UW-La Crosse. After her career took her to Minneapolis and Portland, Oregon, Schwarz and her husband returned to La Crosse to be closer to family in 2017.
“We never expected to buy a house anywhere else,” Schwarz told The La Crosse Independent in a recent interview. “We love our home in District 10 and we love our neighborhood.”
Schwarz works at YWCA La Crosse, where she has facilitated dozens of workshops with community organizations and employers about equity, accessibility, and social injustice. She has developed a keen ability to enter into difficult conversations and help people bridge differences.
“My education and advocacy experience informs my desire to work with people to find creative solutions for problems in our community,” said Schwarz. “For me, it comes back to the idea that the people who are most impacted by the big decisions need to be directly involved in the decision-making process.”
Schwarz speaks convincingly about the need for ongoing two-way communication between residents and their council members. “For too long, community engagement has been defined as knowing who your council member is and how to contact them when you have a problem.” Schwarz sees value in a more circular communication process. “If I’m elected to council, I won’t just wait for solutions to be proposed to me. I hope to be out in the community, having conversations along the way, so that we’re solving problems as we go and not just responding to crises.”
“Our solutions need to work for everybody, for the long term. This is especially important in large systems with a lot of moving parts and competing priorities.” She points to the PFAS pollution in the Town of Campbell as an example of a complex, layered problem that illustrates how connected the city of La Crosse is to the rest of the county.
“There isn’t any way forward for our city that doesn’t involve our larger community. We’re all neighbors, and it is very clear that people in outlying communities are deeply involved in what happens in La Crosse, as well. They shop here, they spend time in city parks and our public spaces. We need to have strong mutual relationships that are based on shared end goals.”
The District 10 seat has been vacant since December when council member Paul Medinger resigned. Schwarz’s opponent is Richard Becker, who held the seat until he was defeated by Medinger in 2017; Becker was first elected to the council thirty years ago, in 1991. Schwarz expresses respect for Becker’s long tenure on the council but emphasizes the need for new voices in city government.
“The deciding factor for me was really wanting to see working families and caregivers represented on the council. We know that moms like myself take care of our community in so many ways, especially during the pandemic. I am ecstatic that there are a number of us who have little ones at home who are running for council. I think that’s a perspective that’s needed as we move forward.”