Toriana Pettaway Is a Write-In Candidate for Mayor of Madison
Looking at Governance through an Equity Lens
|Toriana Pettaway has worked for various levels of city and state
government for the past 25 years.
Part 1 of 2
By Jonathan Gramling
In listening to Toriana Pettaway, a write-in candidate for mayor of the city of Madison — perhaps it’
s because it is Black History Month — I imagine her as Fannie Lou Hammer, the Mississippi civil
rights activist. I can imagine her saying the words, ‘I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.’
Pettaway has worked in many different facets of government during the past 25 years after
studying sociology, political science and business law.
“I had worked in Justice, OSER, DOA, Revenue, UW-Madison, UW-Extension and UW Hospital,”
Pettaway said as we talk in her West Madison home. “I’ve worked for the state of Wisconsin. I’ve
worked in human resources as an executive human resources consultant. I’ve worked in payroll
and HR. I’ve worked at the bargaining table and in labor relations. I’ve done arbitration. I’ve done
all of that. That’s been my experience for over 20 years. Government has been my background.
And this is my second time working for the city. I worked under Sue Bauman when she was
mayor. And now I am working under our current administration.”
Pettaway tends to look at issues through an equity lens apart from her work as an equity coordinator in the Madison Department of Civil Rights. And she has a
critical view of local government. While government is often seen as a force for equity and change, Pettaway tends to look at government as a type of gatekeeper,
almost a conservative force that keeps things the same, which has negative implications for people of color and others near the bottom of the socioeconomic scale.
“I don’t think that we are addressing things from the root,” Pettaway said. “I don’t think that we are making the connections that we need to do now. I think that we
are still doing band-aid approaches. I don’t see the transparency. I see a lot of complacency. I see government as always risk-adverse. We’re safe. We play
comfortable. The issues have been the same. They have not changed. We’ve had the same disparities. We’ve been talking about them very comfortably. People are
very comfortable. But we aren’t really willing to do anything except status quo, to make significant, broad-sweeping changes that make a difference for all of our
residents. And I’m really tired of the complacency. I’m done because what’s going on right now in safe government is that we keep having disadvantaged
communities and our residents who are tax payers really being frustrated with complacency because we have debt service that keeps going up every year. And that
trickles down back to residents who have no voice, who have no participation and no interest in participating because they don’t think that their issues matter.”
In Pettaway’s view, there are those who have a lot and benefit from their participation in the political process and then there are those without who don’t participate
because it is of no benefit to them to participate. While Madison is rich in resources and has the capacity for change, things remain the same.
“For Madison to have the most non-profits to raise the most money in the nation, we continuously have the biggest disparities,” Pettaway emphasized. “And I
wonder why that is. This has been consistent for years. Why is that? Those two things do not compute to me. That’s because we are complacent. We are largely risk-
adverse and we are comfortable with the status quo.”
Pettaway has a biting critique of the non-profit sector and how governmental funds are distributed to meet city needs and initiatives. Pettaway feels that rules and
the processes are rigged so that a select few get funded and those closest to the problem are shut out.
“There are people whom I continuously hear from who say, ‘While I’m not the best grant writer, I have good programming,’” Pettaway said. “’Yet if I’m not connected
to the right non-profit, I keep getting disqualified from competing. I have to be a shining, hot non-profit to contribute to the solution. I have to be the right looking non-
profit to contribute to solutions. I have to be the best this or I have to have the 15 minutes of fame or I have to run with the right group of people. I have to have the
right letters behind my name.’ Our community is so driven about what things look like on paper, but we’re not really interested in solving the issues. We’re so
interested about having the committee about having the committee about having the committee, but not implementing the solutions. I want to get beyond all of that. I
think it’s time that we get beyond talking about issues and really addressing issues. I’m tired of talking about we need to just work processes because in this day
and age, we know that we have good processes, but if we have poor leadership, processes don’t work. If we have leadership that people don’t trust, processes
Pettaway feels that there is a perennial “good old boys” network in place, which keeps things the way they are and keeps certain actors in the community locked out.
“An individual, a non-profit or a for-profit could organize and get their EIN and get their non-profit status and however when they establish themselves, everyone
cannot compete and have that same level of opportunities to be funded because for whatever reason,” Pettaway said. “If one community organization or one
neighborhood association deems you worthy or not, you get shutdown in this community because they are risk-adverse. That has been the norm for the longest time.
The problem with that is from what I have noticed and what I have been granted as a resident because I have sat on some of these people’s boards and have been
invited into their space, how do we leverage opportunities where we make it truly fair in funded processes if any neighborhood association or board association that
has the ability to be a power broker or gate keeper, if anyone is bringing up someone else’s opportunity to access funds or compete in the process, if their names
are brought up in granting opportunities or application opportunities, they should be disqualified. We should be following them equitably. But we know these things
don’t happen. Or if a community organization or a neighborhood association leverages their white privilege or dominant cultural power to challenge someone’s
liquor license, those processes should be halted in their tracks. No one neighborhood association should be able to challenge a person of color or a minority
business owner’s liquor license for whatever reason. They are in disagreement, but the dominant culture business practices are never challenged for whatever
reason. These are practices that we have to stand boldly in our community and say, ‘Not on our watch.’ All small business owners should have the same treatment
On some levels, Pettaway wants to shake up the establishment in Madison because
there isn’t any progress being made on many disparity issues. Pettaway wants to take
risks to, in essence, to free up room for other non-traditional actors to become involved
and to thrive.
“I am the candidate who is willing to say, ‘You know what, if Madison is so forward as
we have always claimed to be historically, then I am the candidate who is saying I will
be the one who is going to take us there,’” Pettaway emphasized. “If you want to play
the middle or play neutral to the left or the right, I want to stand formally on what this
state has always said what we have been, forward. My campaign slogan is ‘We Are All
Madison.’ And are we not? So let’s move forward. We are all Madison and let’s move
forward because I am nor risk-adverse. I truly want to take all of our residents and all of
those areas where they say we should be by our own definition to thrive. I’m not risk-
adverse. I’m tired of complacency. I’m tired of the comfortable status quo. I really am.”
Next issue: Mass transit and other issues