Brian Benford Is Running for the State Senate District 26 Seat
A Lifetime of Service
|Brian Benford served as an east Madison alder from
specialist for Operation Fresh Start. For kids who aged out of foster care, I was passed to them as their independent living resource specialist. There are so many
places, it boggles my mind.”
It has also allowed Benford to see the cyclical nature of poverty for many families.
“I’ve been at a lot of places,” Benford said. “For me, it never really mattered because unfortunately, I continued to work with many of the same amazing people
because there is generational poverty. Back in the 1990s when I first started, I am now working with the grandchildren now of some of my first original people
whom I served. While that is very sad, the cyclical nature of poverty, it has also allowed me to build partnerships and trust over the years and serve thousands of
people. I feel really blessed to have done that.”
In the early 2000s, Benford got politically involved and ran for and won a seat in 2003 on the Madison Common Council where he served for two terms representing
Madison’s northeast side.
“During my time as an alderperson, I served on over 15 boards, commissions and committees including the Board of Estimates, Affirmative Action, and the
Community Development Block Grant,” Benford said. “When I was president of the Equal Opportunities Commission, I helped shepherd in homelessness as a
protected class. I am really proud about that. And that sets the tone now as our society dives deeper into issues of the marginalized. I was an alder from 2003-2007.
When I was running, I always started with it was healthy for democracy that people didn’t stay in power forever. A true political leader is like the shepherd behind
the flock driving them and all of the time, they don’t notice they are being guided. We wanted to reach and pull in new leadership. If I was the traditional politician,
our current mayor would never had been mayor. She came in after me. I was a low-income father of four at the time. It was good for democracy and it was good to
have my voice at the table, which traditionally wasn’t there. I was real proud of that. We opened doors to public policy for people who normally didn’t have access.
We also amplified the voice of those who were underserved.”
It was near the end of his second term that Benford attended and matriculated from the UW-Madison Odyssey Project, which works to get adults reengaged in life-
long learning. Benford eventually went on the get a bachelor’s degree from UW-Madison in social work. And then through a Rosenbaum Foundation scholarship,
Benford received his master’s degree in social work in May.
“All of these years, I’ve been really lucky,” Benford said. “And it feels like it has come to this.
I just got my master’s in May at 60-years-old. I work for the UW-Madison Odyssey Project. So I have this great job where I have about 500 plus people that our team
tries to support to eliminate the barriers where they can obtain higher education just like me. I am the epitome of the great work that the Odyssey Project does. I got
my bachelor’s from the UW late in life in social work and just finished my master’s in social work. They instilled in me that no matter where I am in life, we have a
right to be life-long learners and we have a right to free, quality, culturally-informed education.”
Working for Odyssey as a social worker has allowed Benford to stay in touch with the issues he has dealt with during his entire professional career.
“Every day, it’s the same old thing,” Benford said. “It’s the same problems. COVID-19 amplified things and stripped away the veneer and illusion and spotlighted all
of these horrible inequities that we’ve seen all of our lives. Over the past 30 years, it seems like things have gotten a lot, lot tougher because of COVID-19, racism
and oppression. I’m helping to eliminate those barriers like housing insecurity during the time of COVID-19. So many folks are navigating trauma. There is the lack of
health care and quality and culturally-informed mental health services and all of these barriers.”
And so, Benford is also hearing the call to serve the community on a different level. When long-time State Senator Fred Risser decided to retire this spring, Benford
decided to run for the 26th Senate Seat.
“The 26th Senate District is the absolute heart of the city of Madison,” Benford said. “It’s the Isthmus, UW-Madison and goes all the way out to Middleton. And it is the
heart of Madison. For people who are in the know, it has forever been the most progressive district in the whole state of Wisconsin. Granted great Senator Risser
has been there forever, longer than I’ve been alive. But in this district, every candidate is progressive. The district really is at the core of the city of Madison and a
model for the whole state.”
And with the present movement for change, Benford wants to be a unifying voice to enact that change and move the state forward.
“Right now in this world we are living in, this really uncertain world, there are two horrendous diseases like anything I have ever seen, something that humanity
ever saw,” Benford said. “That is COVID-19 and for centuries, systemic racism and oppression, which have come together to create these two monster diseases.
The biggest issue is getting people from diverse backgrounds to come together, now more than ever, in unity and respect and love to try to forge a safe, socially just
and equitable Madison and Wisconsin. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to go back to the way things were. We know the tremendous impact of the pandemic.
But we’ve seen social inequities have a horrendous impact for centuries and all of my life. We have an opportunity to forge a new future and think about things in the
past we once considered bold, new ideals. But now we have an opportunity to dive deeper than ever before.”
Part 1 of 2
By Jonathan Gramling
Brian Benford has been on the human service scene in the Madison area for about as long as I
can remember. When we first met, he was a low-income father of four children. In juggling family
duties with earning a living, Benford has worked in many human service areas.
“I put in maybe five years at Neighborhood House,” Benford said. “I’ve worked for or collaborated
with the vast majority of community-based organizations within Madison and Dane County. I
worked at Neighborhood House and The Respite Center working as a family service worker and
childcare specialist. I taught parenting classes. I was also part of the Fatherhood Alliance bringing
parents together. I worked at Domestic Abuse Intervention Services where I went into the schools
and taught young men of color how to redefine their masculinity with the hope of ending rape and
sexual partner violence and domestic abuse. I’ve worked at so many places. I was a resource
When he is elected, Benford feels that one of the highest priorities is getting the state
past COVID-19 on many different levels. And that means doing it together.
“We’re in very troubling times,” Benford emphasized. “We need folks to come together,
now more than ever. And I’m seeing that. Despite all of the horrible uncertainty, I’m
seeing these amazing acts of kindness and love and resiliency. We need informed
policy makers with real-life lived experiences to help unite us all. And that is the
biggest issue. There are real visceral issues. How do we get out of COVID-19? The
science tells us and the CDC recommendations and our public health agencies tell us
that we need to wear a mask. We need to expand our health care. We turned down the
federal Medicare money. During this time, more than ever, we need to make sure we
can treat people and we can test people. The testing needs to be free for all of our
citizens to get us out of COVID-19, which is our most immediate danger and look at
expanding to have universal health care and really raise the level of awareness. I
often say that just like poverty, COVID-19 will kill you no matter what your background
is. But the disparities that Black, Brown and marginalized people experience are
greater and make them more vulnerable. We need to come together to do that.”
Spoken like a true social worker.
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