An Interview with Fitchburg Mayor-Elect Jason Gonzalez :
A Full Agenda
|Jason Gonzalez grew up on the near south side of
Madison and is a graduate of UW Madison and the UW
Part 2 of 2
By Jonathan Gramling
On April 4th, Juan Gonzalez made local history. He became the first Latino elected
mayor in the city of Fitchburg and Dane County. It was somewhat of a bruising battle to
win the contest. And as wisdom would dictate — and as Donald Trump’s journey has
shown — the easiest thing to do is win an election. The hardest part is running the
machinery of government and governing in a way that positively impacts the residents
of Fitchburg and its long-term future.
There are a lot of issues facing the city of Fitchburg as it continues to evolve from a
relatively rural suburb of Madison to an urban area with strong commercial and housing
markets that still seeks to keep its unique identity.
In many ways, Northern Fitchburg historically developed within the orbit of Madison’s
economy and the Beltline and Verona Road corridors. Gonzalez would like to see the
North Fish Hatchery Road corridor undergo redevelopment — without gentrification —
into its own distinctive commercial identity serving Fitchburg markets.
There is an interested hotel for the Fish Hatchery Road corridor,” Gonzalez said during an interview at Panera Bread on Fish Hatchery Road.
“One might think that is out of place. But I think it will help spur economic development up there and hopefully help spur some jobs that people
could walk to from their residences. You will probably see in the next couple of weeks — once I get the standing committees and commissions
appointed — an exploration of a mayoral ad hoc committee in the area of redevelopment and reinvestment in the North Fish Hatchery
Road corridor. That might not only include that corridor, but also the Verona Road corridor as well. This is a ripe opportunity for that. I want to be
careful when I say redevelopment because my intent is not to gentrify in the sense of getting rid of housing up there.”
And this may prove to be a great opportunity for businesses of color to start up or expand if the spending power of the adjacent communities of
color also begins to grow.
“There are a lot of businesses of color up in that area,” Gonzalez observed. “I think Julia has been a great resource and will continue to be a
good resource for me as far as reaching out to the various businesses and entrepreneurs of color in order to see how we can work with them or
perhaps try to recruit more of them to the city of Fitchburg with the opportunities that we might have for them.”
Along with the economic development in the North Fitchburg, Gonzalez would also like to see more development of the community development
infrastructure in this area.
“I think there is a need, for example, for a community center over in King James Way, but I also think the North Fish Hatchery Road needs a
community center,” Gonzalez said. “We need to find a way where we can either partner with Leopold Elementary School as a community
school or try to have some private business partnership. But we need to find a way to address both of those areas. I think there is an identified
need. One way to address this is we have an ordinance that basically says any new development has to either give a certain amount of park
space or a fee in lieu of for parks. I think we need to broaden that to include not just the park space or green space, but also community
investment such as a community center or trying to get a satellite branch of the library or opportunities outside of just a park. Parks are great
and I support parks. But we need other venues outside of parks for people to engage in recreation and engage in community development in the
sense of finding an identity of the neighborhood. I think Wanda Smith has done a great job in the King James Way area seeding that. I plan on
meeting with her and some of her supporters during the week of April 24th to try to see how the city and she can team up in a cooperative
“Over the course of the past two years when the Boys & Girls Club funding has come up or the Verona Area Needs Network has been a hot-
button topic, I plan to depoliticize that and make both of those funding sources line items in the budget. They will have a department head that
they will report to in order to get the money. And we’re not going to have them on the chopping block each year and have a huge debate. I think
they are both worthy enterprises. We’ve made a commitment over several mayors. I want to be clear that we are going to continue our
partnerships with the Boys & Girls Club, since they are a vital resource for the northwest corner of our city. And the Verona Area Needs Network
is vital to many of our residents as far as just being able to eat.”
To the layperson’s eye, there is relatively little public transit in the city of Fitchburg beyond that which connects the northern tier to Madison and
its jobs and markets. Gonzalez would like to see the development of a more intra-city public transit system in Fitchburg.
“A lot of our bus routes are geared toward getting people to work in jobs in Madison,” Gonzalez said. “We continue to add jobs. I talked about
the employer that wants to expand in Fitchburg’s industrial park. People might choose to ride a bus to get to that employer. We need to balance
as we grow adding jobs, we need to give business owners the opportunity to have their employees get to work via bus. That’s when you will
start to see an investment in intra-city transit.”
With the need for public transit in Fitchburg, the city may have to look for a more regional solution.
“We are somewhat stuck because Madison Metro physically doesn’t have the resources and can’t add more buses because they don’t have the
space for it,” Gonzalez said. “I think this is a great opportunity to look at a regional transit authority once again for Fitchburg, Middleton, Sun
Prairie and all of the surrounding municipalities to see if we can come up with a good option, one that is cost effective and addresses the
demand and need for mass transit.”
Fitchburg is on the move and Mayor Jason Gonzalez wants to steer that movement so that all of the city’s residents benefit from the growth it will