Editor’s note: After this story was posted, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled to adopt district maps created by legislative Republicans, which will affect the boundaries of District 37. Unlike the maps proposed by Gov. Tony Evers, the boundaries for District 37 will not extend into Madison. Ald. Syed Abbas was not immediately available to answer questions about how this might affect his campaign plans.
Madison Ald. Syed Abbas is running for a Wisconsin Assembly seat currently held by a Republican.
Abbas, who is running as a Democrat, released a statement today announcing his campaign to represent the 37th district.
“I’d like to flip this Republican district. I see this as an opportunity to advance environmental justice initiatives. I also will make affordable childcare and workforce development priorities if I’m elected,” Abbas tells Isthmus. “Also, affordable housing is a huge problem and nobody can afford to buy a house for a reasonable price. Our housing policies need to be reevaluated to be more inclusive and so they help the broader community.”
Abbas, who was born in Pakistan, is a business development manager for the nonprofit Slipstream, which focuses on climate change solutions. He has served on the council since 2019 and doesn’t plan on leaving city politics.
“My plan is to continue to represent my district on the city council while serving in the Assembly,” says Abbas, who will have to move into District 37 if he’s elected to the Assembly.
At the moment, District 37 is home to communities just north of Sun Prairie in Dane County but does not include any part of Madison. The district extends into Columbia, Dodge and Jefferson counties and includes the cities of Columbus, Waterloo and Watertown. Under the redistricting maps proposed by Gov. Tony Evers, District 37 would still include Columbus but the lines would extend farther south and west into Dane County, reaching a small section of Madison near Madison College’s Truax campus. All 99 seats in the Assembly are up for re-election this November but the Wisconsin Supreme Court still needs to rule before new district maps are official.
“From what I’ve been told, the Supreme Court may make some changes to district lines near Milwaukee but it’s unlikely to change what Gov. Evers’ proposed for District 37. You never know, but that’s what I’m counting on,” says Abbas.
For now, the field is wide open for this Assembly seat and Abbas is the first candidate to announce a campaign. District 37 is represented by Republican William Penterman, who joined the Assembly in July after winning a special election. Penterman released a statement on March 11 announcing his intention to run in District 38 if Evers’ proposed lines for District 37 become official.
“While Tony Evers tried to redistrict me out of the heart of my district, he will not succeed,” Penterman wrote in the statement. “I am declaring my intention to run in the new 38th Assembly District, which comprises a majority of the current 37th Assembly District. I look forward to the opportunity to continue serving these areas.”
Penterman will have to move into District 38 if he’s elected. Scott Grabins, chair of the Republican Party of Dane County, tells Isthmus that he does expect a Republican to run in District 37.
“We are working on it. Historically, we’ve had a lot of Republicans interested in representing that district. The closer you get to Madison it gets harder to recruit candidates for obvious reasons,” says Grabins. “But yes, we are looking to compete in as many races as possible in Madison.”
Abbas says he holds “progressive values as a member of the Democratic Party” but he thinks he’s a good fit for a district that will likely include more Republicans than the other Assembly seats that include Madison.
“I think there are a lot of issues that can be addressed in a bipartisan way. My [council] district on the north side is very diverse in terms of ethnicity, professions, language, and politically,” says Abbas. “I think I have shown on the council my ability to work with and represent a lot of different people.”
Abbas has been floated as a possible challenger to Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, who is up for re-election in April 2023. Earlier this year, Abbas didn’t rule out running for mayor when asked by Isthmus but said he hadn’t made a decision.
Now, he says, that door is closed. “I never made any kind of announcement that I was running for mayor,” says Abbas. “But if you’re asking me now, the answer is no…. I’m super pumped about running for Assembly.”