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WI Assembly Candidate Underscores Need For More Understanding About Racial Issues

June 16, 2020

Over the past weeks, we have all become more aware of how others might view or feel about certain events and actions taking place in society.  National sports organizations are addressing racism, as are college sports.  This past weekend Wisconsin Public Radio addressed how they view old time radio shows.  As we have watched events play out on television we all have thought about how it might be to fill the shoes of a black man or a police officer.  These periods in our national discourse can serve to allow for more understanding. More empathy.

This is why it seems so odd to read in the Wisconsin State Journal about an incident that would make anyone feel uncomfortable, but especially now for black Americans given the events playing out, along with the growing tensions in our society.

A Madison alderman running for an open state Assembly seat accused one of his opponents of harassment Sunday by driving by his home and taking photos, calling it “potentially threatening behavior.”

But Walt Stewart, an attorney who along with Ald. Samba Baldeh, 17th District, is one of four Democrats seeking the nomination to replace outgoing state Rep. Melissa Sargent in Assembly District 48, said Baldeh “misstated” the encounter in a news release. Stewart said he, his campaign manager and a videographer were touring the district to gather ideas for an upcoming campaign video.

In a news release issued Sunday, Baldeh said he reported the encounter with Stewart to police. He wrote that he confronted Stewart, whom he said he did not recognize, and asked why Stewart was taking photos of Baldeh’s home.

Baldeh said Stewart made a “nonsensical response” and identified himself as one of Baldeh’s opponents, and said he happened to be in Baldeh’s neighborhood on Crescent Oaks Drive on Madison’s Far East Side, saw his house and decided to take photos.

“This is not about me, this is not about him, this is about what’s happening in this country, so if he cannot see that it is absolutely threatening in these times for three white men to slowly drive by a black man’s house … then he has a judgment problem,” Baldeh told the State Journal. “What I wanted to send out there was a message, that in this moment and this time in our history, with what is going on around the country, we need to be conscious of each other, we need to respect each other, we need to see each other as equals.”

No one should need to explain why black American’s feel a deep sense of unease and discomfort in certain situations.  And no one should need to explain why driving around with video equipment, time and again, of anyone’s home is most inappropriate.  Several summers ago an artist asked if it was OK to sketch our house and flowers.  We said, sure, but the key was that the young man asked permission first before just settling down on the terrace.

I can not imagine the purpose Stewart had in mind with any photographic imagery of Baldeh’s home.  The only use of home footage I recall for campaign purposes was when Russ Feingold scored political advertising magic with his garage door—but that was his own home and desire.

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Stewart was not well known in his race for an assembly seat, but now has garnered some name recognition.  Surely not the kind of PR any seasoned politico would wish for.  It will be interesting to see if he can now turn this most unfortunate episode into a teaching moment and lead by example in how to be more sensitive regarding the issues of the day.

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