Fitchburg City Council Member Julia Arata-Fratta
Making a Difference Through City Government
|Fitchburg Alder Julia Arata-Fratta is a full-time accountant, wife
and mother and still finds time to lead two Fitchburg city
complain and don’t do something. If I am going to make this a better city for all of us, I should do something.’”Arata-Fratta felt it would be a challenge to run because
she wasn’t the typical Fitchburg aldermanic candidate.
“It was very challenging and difficult running for office when you are a woman, a woman of color and you have an accent,” Arata-Fratta said. “I am very proud of
my accent. But some people feel that I don’t belong because of it. ‘Why is she running for office in Fitchburg? She’s not from Fitchburg. She’s not from Wisconsin.
She has an accent.’ That was something that was very challenging. I also didn’t have experience. I had to compete in a primary in the middle of winter. And I am an
accountant by training, so that is my busy season. But there were people who supported me and they ran around with me and helped me through the primary and
Arata-Fratta competed against two men in the primary and came out on top and then was elected in the general election in April 2015. One of the most important
things that helped Arata-Fratta win the election and serve well as an alder was the face-to-face meetings she had with her constituents.
“Knocking on doors is a good exercise because you get to know your neighbors,” Arata-Fratta said. “People say, ‘Oh, you’re Julia. I read about you in the
newspaper. I saw your mailing.’ They connect the two. You have to do both, knock on doors and do mailers. This is a way for people to know, especially in the
winter time with freezing temperatures, that you really care about running and have the stamina and the energy. ‘You really care about the city.’ You can have a
conversation with neighbors. When you get elected, you can say, ‘I heard this during the campaign. The traffic is an issue. We want more after school activities for
the kids in this neighborhood. They are complaining about the condition of some of the park shelters. It’s a good opportunity because you can ask those questions.”
In part through her introduction to community life through the non-profit world, for the most part, people appreciated Arata-Fratta’s contributions. But once she was
elected and started to make decisions that impacted people’s lives, all of that changed. She has words of advice for the political novice.
“I say, ‘When you decided to do this, you need to be aware that a lot of things are going to change,’” Arata-Fratta said. “You are never going to please everyone
when you make a decision. Some things are going to change. You are not that person that everyone loved. When you are running for office, even locally, you are
there to make the hard decisions for your city. You’re not there to sit and go to meetings and make easy decisions. It’s tough. We are making decisions that affect
30,000 people. It’s going to affect how we are developing the city and how we distribute the money from the city. Those decisions are hard. If you are here to please
people, you are in the wrong place. You need to understand that. There are consequences and you need to be able to accept that.”
Arata-Fratta has put in her dues on the city council over the past five years and now is chair of the Community & Economic Development Authority. As Fitchburg is
a fast-developing city, Arata-Fratta is in a place to influence the direction that development flows.
“One of the things that we created is what is now called the Healthy Neighborhood Initiative,” Arata-Fratta said. “In terms of economic development, we see that
there are disparities in some areas of the city. More than 40 percent of our residents live in poverty. And I know that some people say, ‘It’s not the city’s job to do
that job. It’s Dane County’s or the state’s.’ I disagree with that. I disagree that yes, we need to work with them as a partner. But as a city, we need to be proactive
and have a plan. If the state and Dane County are not involved in this local neighborhood, we need to be because they are our residents, our people. Fitchburg has
wealthy areas. And then we have poor areas. Sometimes it looks like there are two Fitchburgs. When everyone is doing okay, then the whole city is doing well.
This is what I always look at when development comes or companies come to the city. What kind of company do we want to bring to the city? Companies that are
going to provide good wages and they can hire the people who live in our city. That’s what we need to think about in that committee. Now we are talking to United
Way for the Fitchburg Plan for the Healthy Neighborhood Initiative. We are partnering with United Way in the Jamestown area to work, especially with the youth, to
give them access to programming there so that the kids are engaged in some activities instead of hanging out with nowhere to go.”
It is in the northern tier of Fitchburg closest to the Beltline where the majority of Fitchburg’s residents of color reside. It is also where some of the economically
challenged neighborhoods are. Arata-Fratta and others have been focused on making improvements to the area.
“We decided how we could improve the North Fish Hatchery Road corridor,” Arata-Fratta said. “Two years ago, we started planning. I was also working with
Forward Fitchburg. It’s a city economic strategic plan. I was the co-chair. Our goal was to see how we could improve that corridor. It is a gateway to the city. We
decided to work on a small tax incremental finance district in that area. And we decided to expand it. That was huge. Part of the corridor is covered by TIF to attract
development. We have affordable senior housing being built there by Plesko & Associates. Fitchburg needs more senior affordable housing. Where the juice plant
was on Fish Hatchery Road, an apartment complex will be built there with mixed use. Then there is some people from the art center who are looking at the corridor
to build an art center. And then Park Bank is coming to the corner of Fish Hatchery and Greenway Cross with a new development. It will be a three-story building.
UW Credit Union built a branch there. There was a plan to build a hotel across from UW Credit Union, but some of the investors backed off. It was where the church
is. But people want to see how we can bring a hotel to that area too.”
What will also attract new private investment will be improvements to the Fish Hatcher Road corridor.
“The big thing is Fish Hatchery is going to be under reconstruction for two years,” Arata-Fratta said. “We are going to change the intersection. We are going to
improve it. We’re going to put a bike lane in from McKee Road to the Beltline. That is a big project. It is a partnership with Dane County and the city of Madison. They
are the jurisdictions that have authority over some parts of Fish Hatchery Road. It’s going to be a $29 million project. It will go from Greenway Cross to McKee
Road. It’s going to be beautiful when it is done. It’s going to be painful, but beautiful.”
Making decisions can be very difficult in the public glare because the decisions are so impactful.
“There have been very difficult decisions that have affected my relations with many people and neighbors and people who were friends,” Arata-Fratta said.
“Sometimes it’s hard. But you need to understand that you made those decisions thinking about what is best for the city and its residents. Always listen to your
residents. Always listen to the people. Sometimes it is hard when you listen to your neighbors and you decide against the neighbors and they say, ‘You don’t listen
to us.’ I say, ‘No, we listen, but we disagree.’ You need to know how to balance that conversation.”
Arata-Fratta readily admitted that she has made mistakes during her five-year tenure. But it is what you do with those mistakes, which counts.
“You learn from your mistakes,” Arata-Fratta said. “You learn the hard way. And then when you are confronted with similar situations, you feel like you understand
the whole situation better. I think they are good exercises to go through. We have to go through that because we learn. It’s a learning moment. Sometimes they are
very powerful learning moments. You need to go through them even if we are happy in our own personal lives. I don’t consider myself a politician because it is a
community service. You can’t take it so personally. I have to work with everyone, even the people who we disagree with. On the council, sometimes we disagree
By Jonathan Gramling
Alder Julia Arata-Fratta, who holds one of two Seats 2 on the Fitchburg Common Council, began
her community involvement as the chair of the Latino Chamber of Commerce. Through the
Chamber, Arata-Fratta learned many organizational and personal skills that would serve her well
as she too her community service to another level.
In 2015, Arata-Fratta decided to run for the Fitchburg city council.
“One of the reasons I decided to run is first I was approached to run, something that I had never
thought I would be able to do,” Arata-Fratta said. “And then when I started doing the research and
looking at why I should run, I started looking at the composition of my city. 17 percent is Latino
and 15 percent is African American and I didn’t see that representation in the city council. The
council was majority male and white. I thought, ‘I can give it a shot. I have the skills to do this. I
understand the community. And I have lived in Fitchburg for more than 10 years. It’s easy for us to
with our council member. But sometimes we work together on a project and
sometimes we fight like cats and dogs. But always, I like to work with people on
the council with whom you can discuss, you can disagree, but always, you don’t
take it personally.”
Outside of friends, what keeps Arata-Fratta sane and on track is the desire to be
“Sometimes you make a decision because you don’t have the full information in
front of you and then you get the rest and you need to adjust your vote,” Arata-
Fratta said. “And then people say you are flip-flopping, but there is a difference.
There have been moments where my closest friends ask me, ‘Why are you doing
this?’ They know that it can affect my health. It can affect my humor. But I always
tell people 95 percent of the time it is great and five percent has been very hard
in my experience. You cannot imagine.”
A price is always paid to be represented in a democracy. Julia Arata-Fratta
knows because she has paid the price.