Every Politician in Town
Well, not quite, but the City's Birthday Party had a big turnout of politicians and insiders.
The City of Milwaukee was incorporated on January 31st 1846. The Milwaukee Press Club celebrated the birthday exactly 167 years later at the Grain Exchange Room of the historic Chamber of Commerce Building, 225 E. Michigan Street.
According to club president, retired Milwaukee Magazine writer Mary Van de Kamp Nohl, over 400 “business leaders, elected officials and newsmakers” paid $25 each to attend. The proceeds go to scholarship fund reserved for the pitiable souls who expect to make a career of a miserable, dying profession, that of journalism.
Among the elected officials at the event were Mayor Tom Barrett, and his county counterpart, County Executive Chris Abele. Common Council President Willie Hines and County Board Chair Marina Dimitrijevic represented the legislative branch leadership, intensifying the symmetry, which was ruined since Sheriff David Clarke was a no-show. Thus Police Chief Edward Flynn represented law enforcement leadership solo. Nobody bothered to call 911 to see where Clarke was, and his absence was not fatal to the success of the party.
Flynn wore a simple blue uniform, with a black tie, which must be his party dress, since he usually wears white for Common Council hearings.
The mayor was accompanied by his wife, Kris Barrett, who wore a stunningly vivid ensemble, including red boots and a zebra-patterned purse. It would take several more layers, though, to provide protection from the bitterly cold temperatures downtown.
President Hines was joined by colleagues Robert Bauman, Michael Murphy, T. Anthony Zielinski, and Terry Witkowski, who made their way through the large room. Former colleague Paul Henningsen provided a much-needed blast from the past.
There was a bit of squaring-off of forces in evidence, as Abele and Dimitrijevic seemed to favor opposite poles of the room, as well as in everything else. Other than the chair, and Supervisor Steve F. Taylor, county board members seemed scarce. They may have been elsewhere applying for part time jobs in advance of the legislative juggernaut that bids fair to cut their pay to $15,000 per year. The guests were too polite to speculate on exactly which board members would qualify for employment in the private sector.
Mary Claire Fagan, a longtime campaign organizer, is heading the Protasiewicz bid to replace Rebecca Bradley, appointed to the bench by Gov. Scott Walker to finish the term of Judge Tom Donegan, who retired late last year. “It’s good to see the name Janet Protasiewicz on the ballot,” I told her. It is certainly easier than writing it in.
Les Johns, who has run many campaigns himself, agrees. “When they see that Polish name on the ballot, especially on the south side, it means votes,” he said.
Although Judge Bradley was not there, her colleague Chuck Kahn was, and he spent some time chatting with adopted Milwaukeean Ted Bobrow.
The mayor spent most of his time escorting Wisconsin Department of Education Superintendent Tony Evers, who is spending a good deal of time in the city in advance of the April election. A couple of Barrett’s neighbors were also in attendance, including Pat Curley, his chief of staff, and Rocky Marcoux, commissioner of the Department of City Development.
The theme of the party was Milwaukee’s “Hidden Riches,” and participants had been asked beforehand to submit their choices in the category, won by Leon’s Custard, which is hidden behind a million watts of neon on South 27th St.
Two cash bars served the guests, with complimentary Miller Lite, Sprecher sodas and Buffalo Water Bison Blonde Beer, brought to the party by longtime PR man Craig Peterson, who has revived his beer brand. As usual, abundant sausages were provided by Usinger’s. Sadly, they were unaccompanied by Debra Usinger, a longtime fixture at the event who died last year.
Journal Sentinel “No Quarter” reporter Dan Bice, who is often the dreaded voice on the other end of the line that politicians so much fear, made a personal appearance with colleague Bill Glauber, a former Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow who covered “four wars and eight Olympics” (busy fellow) before covering the big circus that is Milwaukee. The feared “Watchdog” Mr. Bice, by the way, is more like a puppy dog in person.
Other reporters at the event (there aren’t many reporters left these days) included James B. Nelson of the Journal Sentinel, who is actually an editor, Larry Sandler, formerly of the JS, who is now a freelancer, husband-and-wife combo Mike Zahn and Marie Rohde, also late of the daily paper, and others too few to mention. A $25 cover is a stiff tariff for writers.
Jeff Bentoff, a former reporter and briefly aide to Abele, was at the party in his new guise as author of “Just the Facts,” a centennial history of the Public Policy Forum. Rob Henken, the director of the forum, said he was proud to be a “geek” in response to “Good Government Geeks,” the Urban Milwaukee article about his organization. Tom Heinen, who once faithfully wrote about religion for the daily paper, was also in attendance representing the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee, where he is the executive director. Evan Zeppos also came by from his new offices at Laughlin Constable, which bought his public relations firm last year. His new digs, in the historic Mitchell Building, have a direct connection to the Grain Exchange via 19th century skywalks.
The great Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company was represented by urban chicken farmer Alex Runner, former assistant to Hines, whose poultry prowess was written about on Urban Milwaukee this week, and Mark Lucius, who looks forward to the construction of the company’s new headquarters downtown.
Many of the details of the party, including the Hidden Riches contest, were coordinated by Mueller Communications, represented in person by head H. Carl Mueller, and joined by Lori Richards, who told the audience that one of her favorites was the “Pirate Party Barge” that is docked south of the Port of Milwaukee.
A different sort of Pirate Party [Motto: “No safe harbor for the enemies of liberty”] was represented by Joe Klein, who was there with his wife Mary Jo Klein. Klein has organized the Wisconsin outlet of the international political group. He says there is a law in Illinois that prohibits registration of parties that exist in other countries, which makes it tough for the Pirate Party (or Communist Party, or Fascist Party, for that matter) to gain a foothold in the Land of Lincoln. That can’t possibly be the only thing wrong with politics in Illinois.
The party ended a little after 8 p.m. with the serving of the City Birthday Cake, which came emblazoned with the logo of Lead Presenting Sponsor Potawatomi Bingo Casino. The casino also handed out party favors, including lip balm, breath mints, and used dice from the casino. The dice had had holes drilled in them, effectively rendering them the equivalent of “loaded,” and suitable for legitimate use only as beads on a string.
Other Interesting News
Milwaukee native Donald F. Hornig, whose father, Chester Arthur Hornig, was named after an obscure U.S. President, died at 93. The former president of Brown University was “the last person to see the first atomic bomb,” according to his obituary in the New York Times. He had to baby sit the bomb in its 100 foot tower until it was detonated in its initial test. Hornig’s finger was on the button that would have aborted the blast should anything have gone awry. He was educated at Milwaukee’s old Country Day school (now University School) and Harvard.
Also dead at 92 is Country Day’s last headmaster (and Unischool’s first), Francis Gardiner Flint Bridge, whose name alone destined him for an academic career. … Fresh Healthy Eatery and Juice Bar at the Shops at Grand Avenue is moving, according to a guard there, who did not know the new destination. The store, which replaced a long-running Chocolate Factory, opened in March 2012. … Rep. Jon Richards held a fundraiser at Cafe Benelux on Monday, January 28th, 2013, giving supporters a chance to have an informal chat with him over free pints of Miller Lite beer. Rep. Fred Kessler joined his colleague, as did county Democratic Party Chair Sachin Chheda and others, including Mayor Tom Barrett, who popped in after stopping at a nearby fundraiser at the Milwaukee Public Market for Ed Fallone, a Marquette University Law School associate professor and private practice attorney with Gonzalez Saggio and Harlan who is running in the February 19th primary election for the allegedly non-partisan Supreme Court race against attorney Vince Megna and incumbent Patience Roggensack. At the earlier event for Fallen, Barrett enjoyed some face time with Attorney David “One Call, that’s All!” Gruber.
A Valentine’s Day Lecture on Milwaukee’s “Crimes of Passion” by Michael Horne
I will be giving an address on “Crimes of Passion” to warm you up for Valentine’s Day. I will discuss a remarkable murder that happened on busy Wisconsin Avenue in broad daylight, October 14th, 1852, when John M. W. Lace (a cad if ever there was one) got his due, right in the back of the head, by a single bullet fired by his jilted lover, Mary Ann Wheeler. After two spectacular trials, that were followed nationally, Miss Wheeler escaped the hangman (Wisconsin still had capital punishment then) when a jury found her not guilty by reason of temporary insanity, the first such verdict in Wisconsin jurisprudential history.
Come join me Wednesday, February 13th, 2013 at 6 p.m. at Shaker’s Cigar Bar, 422 S. 2nd St. Call 414 272-4222 to register for this free event.