Tammy Baldwin Comes to Town
Baldwin offers an insider's look at the U.S.Senate. And Milwaukee Buck Samuel Dalembert buys a LOT of wine.
Democrat Tammy Baldwin has only been a senator since January 2013 but thanks to credit for her previous 14 years in the House of Representatives, she is already 88th in seniority there. Even so, she has to put in many hours as “Presiding Officer” of the world’s most deliberative legislative body, a lofty title for a rather routine job the party bosses typically give to rookies. Compared to the fast-paced house action, the pace of senate activity is slow. “It’s like watching paint dry,” she said on Thursday, March 28th on a visit to Milwaukee.
Wisconsin’s junior senator made her remarks to a group of about 75 supporters who gathered at the Hotel Metro, 411 E. Mason St. for a “belated birthday celebration” fundraiser. [Belated, indeed. Baldwin was born February 11th, 1962, the same exact day as singer Sheryl Crow.--Ed.]
Baldwin brought up a number of issues in her remarks to the crowd. While in the House, she “saw so much dysfunction and manufactured political crises” in Washington. The Senate, she said, hadn’t passed a budget in four years.
“But last week we did,” she said, calling it a “counterweight to Paul Ryan’s plans,” to the applause of the audience. “This is a great start to get back to an orderly political process.”
Baldwin acknowledges that the federal government has a deficit, and that any spending could be considered deficit spending, “but we have to invest in our own people,” and the economy will come around of its own accord.
She brought up some additional differences in her role as Senator versus her time in the House. It is good to serve the whole state, she said, rather than a district that is redrawn every 10 years, and is “sometimes drawn for certain political purposes.”
The Senate is smaller, “and you can get to know folks — not necessarily confined to your party.”
As an example, she said she has been alone in a senate elevator “three separate times with Republican John McCain. So I struck up a conversation,” rather than fidget with her cellphone or stare up at the ceiling. The one-on-one diplomacy comes naturally to Baldwin.
The Senate is on a spring recess, she said, and it was great to be “back to sanity.” But she “flew back to Washington for 24 hours to see the Supreme Court arguments” in the gay marriage cases the day before. She is “not confident on the outcome … but hopeful” that gay marriage will be recognized.
Among the attendees at the event were Mayor Tom Barrett, Milwaukee County Democratic Party Chair Sachin Chheda, realtor Jack Smith, longtime gay activist Jerry Johnson, Chris Ahmuty of the ACLU, Rep. Fred Kessler of the state assembly, Marsha Sehler, Thelma Sais, Mike Tate, state Democratic Party Chair, Bill and Melissa Nimke and Frank Blank.
After her remarks Baldwin greeted her supporters with personal remarks, and answered their questions. Intrigued by the differences between the House and the Senate, I asked a question that had been burning in my mind for awhile. “Is there any difference in your relations with the Library of Congress now that you are a Senator?” I asked.
Indeed there is, she said. “When I was in the House, if I had a book on loan that was one day late, they would call me up to complain. Now that I am a Senator, they give me some slack.”
Historical Perspective: A Senator’s Gay Son
As Baldwin noted, the Senate, with its 100 members, is an easier place to get to know people than the House, with its 435 members. I suggested if she happens to run into any Republican Senators with gay children, such as Rob Portman of Ohio, who announced his support of gay marriage in March, that she tell them the true story of a gay son of a senator.
The senator was Arthur H. Vandenberg, who represented Michigan from 1928 until his death in 1951. Throughout that period he was known as the Democrats’ primary antagonist. (Baldwin told me she was familiar with Vandenberg.) I just happened to be reading “The Private Papers of Senator Vandenberg” which were edited and published shortly after his death by his son, Arthur H. Vandenberg, Jr.
Intrigued, I looked up Vandenberg Jr., since I kind of remembered the name, and read a most distressing story that I related to Senator Baldwin. Vandenberg junior had served as aide to his father, and after his father’s death was on the campaign staff of Dwight Eisenhower, where he served in a senior capacity. President-elect Eisenhower then appointed Vandenberg to serve as his appointments secretary in his new administration. All seemed well for Vandenberg until a visitor called on the president-elect with a folder of bad news.
The visitor was J. Edgar Hoover, who told the new president that Vandenberg was gay. Therefore, he would not be able to pass the FBI security clearance and Eisenhower had better go find himself a new appointments secretary.
Vandenberg resigned, citing health reasons, and went on to a career in academia. That was ruined in 1956 by the publication of an entirely gratuitous story in a scandal sheet detailing Vandenberg’s gay lifestyle. He then was forced to quit his academic posts, started (or continued) drinking heavily, and died of unknown causes (some speculate suicide) at 59 in 1968.
A Metro Market Moment
Roundy’s Metro Market, 1123 N. Van Buren Street, is the upscale flagship store for the Milwaukee-based grocery chain. It is located just a couple of blocks from company headquarters and is a laboratory for new marketing ideas. It has long been the store of choice for downtown-dwelling celebrities, whose photographs line the entry corridor there. On Friday, March 29th, I was there to buy a four-pack of Sprecher Black Bavarian style beer. I noticed that the customer ahead of me was nearing the end of an epic purchase. He and his friend, speaking French, loaded box after box of the wines and spirits for purchase. The customer, who was a good 7 feet tall, kept up a pleasant conversation with John Underhill, the clerk at the store who is also the founder of the Retro Metro Milwaukee Facebook page, which features old pictures of our town.
The customer said his large purchase, done on a monthly basis, is needed simply to keep up with the very particular demands of his friends. May I join this club, please!
Finally, the last bottle of wine had been scanned, and the total appeared on the register screen: $734.
“Do you have a Roundy’s card?” Underhill asked.
“No, sir. I do not,” said the customer.
How could I resist? I offered my card.
Underhill said, “Michael here is going to save you some money.” Sure enough, the $734 purchase was whittled down to a manageable $680, to the amazement of the customer, Samuel Dalembert, of the Milwaukee Bucks. This brought the liquor purchase down to less than one ten-thousandth of his $6,699,000 annual salary.
In gratitude, the long-legged Buck offered me a bottle of wine. “Red or white?” he asked.
“Vin Rouge, bien sur!” I said, and was given a bottle of La Crema Pinot Noir.
Fun Fact: Ryan Braun recently shopped at Metro Market and bought a single bottle of Cul de Sac wine, which retails for under $5.00, and occasionally for half that with a coupon. You can bet he has a Roundy’s card.
Around the Town
The Marshall Building, 207 E. Buffalo St., has become almost entirely artist studio and gallery space lately. The newest tenant is the Katie Gingrass Gallery, which for years was located around the corner at 241 N. Broadway. Gingrass will take over Suite 100 in the Marshall Building, space vacated by the Reginald Baylor Studio when it moved into larger quarters upstairs. … Barry Blackwell has written a memoir entitled “Bits and Pieces of a Psychiatrist’s Life,” outlining his various escapades over the years. He is a retired psychiatrist, or a “shrunk,” as he puts it. He is married to Kathleen Eilers who was the chief executive of St. John’s on the Lake from 2003 to 2011. She will begin work on Monday, April 8th, returning to her old job as the chief of Milwaukee County’s mental health office, at $137,500 per year, pending board approval. … Crews are clearing out the old third floor library and dining space at St. John’s in order to squeeze in seven more assisted living units in the building at a cost of $2 million.
People: Chris Ahmuty, Fred Kessler, Jerry Johnson, John Underhill, Kathleen Eilers, Mike Tate, Paul Ryan, Ryan Braun, Sachin Chheda, Samuel Dalembert, Tammy Baldwin, Tom Barrett
Building(s): Marshall Building, St. John’s on the Lake
Government: United States Senate
Neighborhood(s): Downtown, East Side, East Town, Historic Third Ward, Juneau Town, Lower East Side