Who is “Lobbying” For the Streetcar?
Money is being spent and wild rumors are flying. So what’s the truth?
Rumors are circulating regarding lobbying being done to push the streetcar and that in turn has generated some very funny stories by the Wisconsin Reporter that purport to tell us what’s going on in Milwaukee. There is certainly a story to be told, but not quite the ones offered by the Wisconsin Reporter.
The online publication writes infrequently about Milwaukee. It is one of 55 news sites covering state government in 39 states launched by conservatives: its funding can be traced back to the conservative Bradley Foundation and it also has financial and staffing ties to the Koch Brothers and the man who might be called the third Koch Brother, their longtime associate and Wisconsin Club for Growth leader Eric O’Keefe.
Two weeks ago, the Wisconsin Reporter did a story by M.D. Kittle on the “powerful special interests” promoting the Milwaukee streetcar whose “point man” is H. Carl Mueller, the PR man who runs Mueller Communications Inc. The publication quoted streetcar opponent Craig Peterson, who estimated the effort being led by Mueller could cost as much as $200,000.
“This isn’t a cabal, it’s a cottage industry for Carl Mueller,” Peterson fulminated. “The incestuous relationship among clients and the firm’s close contacts with City Hall has slammed the door on representative government. This is a marriage of first cousins.”
And Peterson is the head of Zigman Joseph Stephenson, a public relations and lobbying firm that has sometimes competed with Mueller for customers, which the story didn’t mention.
The story also claimed the civic leadership group, Greater Milwaukee Committee, is a “trolley supporter.” But Julia Taylor, the group’s president, says “We have not taken a formal position.” She says the group has members on both sides of the issue.
Just a week later, without running any corrections, the publication had a completely different story to tell, once again written by Kittle, some of it laughably false, including some howlers about me. It seems that Bruce Murphy is now almost as large a figure in the streetcar cabal as Carl Mueller. Or at least in this week’s story.
The article does get some things right. It reports that Kris Martinsek of Martinsek & Associates has been hired by the city for handling public information on the streetcar. True, except she is actually a subcontractor working for HNTB, which gets funding from the city. It says she’s been paid $173,000 but City Engineer Jeff Polenske, who oversees the streetcar effort for the city, says the correct figure is $183,000.
Martinsek did subcontract with the marketing company 2-Story to create the website, themilwaukeestreetcar.com, to spread the word about the project, but this cost more than the $15,000 figure in the story; Polenske says the website development and maintenance cost $25,000. Also left out of the story: Martinsek has also subcontracted with the P3 Development Group, a local consulting group.
The story reports that Jeff Bentoff and his Bentoff Communications serves as “centralized media point” for the streetcar project, according to Polenske and has so far received $77,000 under that contract. True, though Bentoff is actually working as a subcontractor for the Concord Group.
But let’s get to the juicy stuff about me. Kittle notes that a story proving a Koch Brothers-funded group was backing the anti-streetcar petition drive “was written by Bruce Murphy, editor of Urban Milwaukee, one of the biggest streetcar cheerleaders out there.”
The story offers no link to a pro-streetcar story by me, perhaps because in more than three decades as a journalist, I’ve never written a story either favoring or opposing a streetcar. Not one. I have edited stories on both sides of the issue for at least two different publications.
I am quite aware that my two partners at Urban Milwaukee, Jeramey Jannene and Dave Reid, are pro-streetcar, but I have purposely avoided taking a stand on the issue and have solely reported the politics on all sides of the issue.
Building its case against me, Kittle next reveals that “Murphy is buds with Milwaukee Journal Sentinel watchdog columnist Daniel Bice.” Seriously, buds? On the contrary, we’re not friends and have been bitter journalistic competitors at times. And what does Bice have to do with the streetcar, either pro or con? The story doesn’t say.
Kittle (who never checked any of this with me) also tells readers I’m “buds” with Bentoff. I have had a couple lunches with him over the years, but I’m a much better friend of streetcar opponent Craig Peterson, who partnered with me in creating Milwaukeeworld.com and handled the PR when I joined Urban Milwaukee as editor.
But enough about my meager social accomplishments. Let’s move on to Business Journal editor Mark Kass, whom Kittle says is “real good pals with” Bentoff, which I guess means way more friendly than a mere “bud.” The Business Journal, we’re told, “is another news outlet that has, according to critics, written fawning pieces on the streetcar.” Yes, so fawning that Kittle couldn’t provide a link to even one such story.
Getting back to Bentoff, we learn he has “powerful friends inside the public and private sectors.” No, Kittle doesn’t offer any examples because, you know, it sounds so much more ominous that way.
As for the city funding to HNTB, Martinsek, Bentoff and company, Polenske says 85 percent of it comes from federal funding for the streetcar and 15 percent from a city Tax Incremental Financing District. The federal guidelines stipulated that “During the final design and construction phases of the project, the City of Milwaukee will conduct additional public involvement activities, which may include: Periodic updates sent to the project’s mailing list and to property and business owners in the vicinity of the projects alignment; Meetings with citizen, neighborhood, environmental justice and business groups to discuss and receive comment on current or future design options; Updates to the project website;… Media releases, as appropriate.”
Kittle and Peterson, however, contend that all kinds of lobbying is going on. Kittle quotes alderman and streetcar opponent Tony Zielinski, who says that Martinsek twice told him to support it. Martinsek declined to discuss this, but it’s worth noting she lives in Bay View and is a constituent of Zielinski. We also learn that Bentoff has put up at least one tweet favoring the streetcar (more worrisome, I’d say, is his aggressive Twitter handle, “Jeffbomb”), and that a Facebook page created by Martinsek or her subcontractors has been “extolling the glorious potential of the proposed streetcar.”
Kittle does leave you thinking the city has skirted the boundaries a bit on lobbying. But the funny thing is that, as he works ever harder to show how everyone in Milwaukee is part of this cabal, including business people, civic groups, the media (including the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “perhaps the streetcar’s biggest cheerleader,” Kittle writes) and “powerful” people in government, it begins to look like the entire power structure in Milwaukee favors the streetcar.
Which leaves those poor, outnumbered anti-streetcar leaders Peterson and CRG Network organizers Chris Kliesmet and Orville Seymer — all suburbanites — and the paid staff of the Koch funded Americans for Prosperity, to battle those powerful forces. Kliesmet, who has long experience in mounting petition drives, originally said his group hoped to have 35,000 signatures from city residents opposing the streetcar by January 21. “The sentiment in the city is wildly against it,” he contended. But he later moved the deadline back to February 8th, and the group now says Peterson the new deadline is March 5, as BizTimes.com has reported.
That would be nearly a month after the Common Council takes its final vote on the streetcar next week (approval is expected) and nearly four years after the council first approved an earlier streetcar plan in July 2011. The courts, I suspect, will have to decide if Kliesmet and company have arrived a bit too late to rain on the parade.
Streetcar Renderings and Maps
Urban Milwaukee Streetcar Coverage
- Will Streetcar Help the Inner City? – Bruce Thompson – February 4th, 2015
- Millennials And The Streetcar – Bruce Thompson – January 27th, 2015
- Koch-Funded Group Backs Anti-Streetcar Drive – Bruce Murphy – January 20th, 2015
- Streetcar Backers Say They Have the Votes – Jeramey Jannene – January 20th, 2015
- Who is Funding the Anti-Streetcar Effort? – Bruce Murphy – January 20th, 2015
- Will Anti-Streetcar Referendum Succeed? – Bruce Murphy – January 9th, 2015
- The Story Behind the Streetcar Referendum – Michael Horne and Bruce Murphy – January 8th, 2015
- Council Delays Streetcar Until January – Jeramey Jannene – December 16th, 2014
- Committee Takes No Action on Streetcar – Jeramey Jannene – December 10th, 2014
- Committee Approves Milwaukee Streetcar – Jeramey Jannene – December 9th, 2014
- RACM Approves Tax Funding for Streetcar – Michael Horne – December 8th, 2014
- How to Sell the Streetcar – Michael Horne – November 28th, 2014
- Next Stops for the Streetcar – Michael Horne – November 24th, 2014
- Barrett Moving Forward with Streetcar – Jeramey Jannene – November 18th, 2014
- Who Will Be Streetcar Operator – Michael Horne – May 8th, 2014
- A Streetcar Named Cooperation? – Dave Reid – April 27th, 2014
- How a Streetcar Spurs Development – Angie Schmitt – November 3rd, 2013
- Streetcar Social – Michael Horne – September 12th, 2013
- Mayor Says Streetcar is a “Trojan Horse” – Michael Horne – April 17th, 2013
- Whoops, We Changed Our Mind – Dave Reid – September 27th, 2012
- Battle of the Bobs: Donovan vs Bauman Streetcar Press Conference – Jeramey Jannene – May 18th, 2012
- Important Hoan Bridge and Milwaukee Streetcar Meetings This Week – Dave Reid – November 14th, 2011
- Milwaukee Streetcar Passes Common Council – Jeramey Jannene – July 26th, 2011
- Keep the Milwaukee Streetcar Moving Forward – Jeramey Jannene – July 8th, 2011
- Milwaukee Streetcar at Apex – Jeramey Jannene – June 16th, 2011
- Milwaukee Streetcar Takes Key Step Forward – Jeramey Jannene – May 6th, 2010
- Milwaukee Streetcar Meeting This Thursday – Jeramey Jannene – October 5th, 2009
- Milwaukee Streetcar Routes Unveiled by Mayor Barrett – Jeramey Jannene – September 21st, 2009
- Milwaukee Streetcar Round-Up – Jeramey Jannene – April 19th, 2009
- Vote for your Favorite Milwaukee Streetcar Route – Jeramey Jannene – March 25th, 2009
- Design Your Own Streetcar Route – Jeramey Jannene – March 23rd, 2009
- Streetcars Coming to Milwaukee – Dave Reid – March 14th, 2009
More about the Milwaukee Streetcar
For more information on project details, how the operator will be selected, what the vehicles will be like, and possible extensions, see our extensive past coverage.
- Milwaukee Streetcar Construction on Target to Meet Residential Preference Program, DBE Goals - City of Milwaukee Dept. of Public Works - Jul 21st, 2017
- Friday Photos: Streetcar Tracks Getting Road Tested - Jeramey Jannene - Jun 30th, 2017
- Eyes on Milwaukee: $30 Million Spent on Streetcar - Jeramey Jannene - May 19th, 2017
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Streetcar Track Getting Installed - Jeramey Jannene - May 12th, 2017
- Eyes on Milwaukee: County Gets Waiver on Streetcar - Jeramey Jannene - Apr 17th, 2017
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Streetcar Rails Being Welded - Jeramey Jannene - Apr 7th, 2017
- Eyes on Milwaukee: City Won’t Delay Streetcar for County - Jeramey Jannene - Mar 28th, 2017
- Eyes on Milwaukee: County Board Okays Bid for Streetcar - Jeramey Jannene - Mar 23rd, 2017
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Streetcar Track Steel Has Arrived - Jeramey Jannene - Mar 16th, 2017
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Should County Operate Streetcar? - Jeramey Jannene - Mar 8th, 2017
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Streetcar Track Construction Starts in April - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 17th, 2017
- Streetsblog: 80 Transit Projects in 2017 - Angie Schmitt - Feb 6th, 2017
- Eyes on Milwaukee: The Milwaukee Streetcar is Hiring - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 20th, 2017
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Streetcar Project Receives Federal Grant - Jeramey Jannene - Oct 12th, 2016
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Cincinnati Streetcar Opens - Jeramey Jannene - Sep 19th, 2016
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Council Okays Streetcar to Bucks Arena - Jeramey Jannene - Jul 6th, 2016
- Eyes on Milwaukee: $6.5 Million in Streetcar Savings - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 26th, 2016
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Donovan Lies About Streetcar Suit - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 15th, 2016
- Eyes on Milwaukee: BID Sells Streetcar-Related Development - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 15th, 2016
- Murphy’s Law: Do Millennials Oppose the Streetcar? - Bruce Murphy - Dec 15th, 2015
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Pennsylvania Company Wins Streetcar Contract - Jeramey Jannene - Nov 13th, 2015
- Plenty of Horne: City Accepts $14 Million Federal Streetcar Grant - Michael Horne - Oct 29th, 2015
- Back in the News: Anti-Streetcar Petition Dies - Bruce Murphy - Aug 28th, 2015
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Scott Walker Aids Milwaukee Streetcar - Jeramey Jannene - Jul 13th, 2015
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Streetcar Construction Starts in October - Jeramey Jannene - Jul 10th, 2015
- Murphy’s Law: The Strange Politics of Anti-Streetcar-ites - Bruce Murphy - Jun 18th, 2015
- Plenty of Horne: Bucks Plan Envisions Arena Streetcar - Michael Horne - Apr 8th, 2015
- A Short History of Milwaukee’s Old Streetcar System - Ken Smith - Mar 31st, 2015
- Plenty of Horne: Davis Sets, Cancels Meeting on Streetcar - Michael Horne - Mar 17th, 2015
- Back in the News: Anti-Streetcar Petition Drive Fails - Bruce Murphy - Mar 5th, 2015
- Friday Photos: Streetcar Signing Is Quite a Celebration - Michael Horne - Feb 13th, 2015
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Milwaukee Streetcar Approved - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 10th, 2015
- Murphy’s Law: Who is “Lobbying” For the Streetcar? - Bruce Murphy - Feb 5th, 2015
- Data Wonk: Will Streetcar Help The Inner City? - Bruce Thompson - Feb 4th, 2015
- Back in the News: City Attorney Says Streetcar Petitions Might be Moot - Bruce Murphy - Jan 30th, 2015
- Data Wonk: Millennials And The Streetcar - Bruce Thompson - Jan 27th, 2015
- Op-Ed: Why I Support the Streetcar - Russell Rossetto - Jan 26th, 2015
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Streetcar Responses Shows Wide Support - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 22nd, 2015
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Streetcar Approved, but Held - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 21st, 2015
- Murphy’s Law: Koch-Funded Group Backs Anti-Streetcar Drive - Bruce Murphy - Jan 20th, 2015
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Streetcar Backers Say They Have the Votes - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 20th, 2015
- Murphy’s Law: Who Is Funding the Anti-Streetcar Effort? - Bruce Murphy - Jan 20th, 2015
- Op Ed: Why the Streetcar Won’t Work - Samuel Jensen - Jan 14th, 2015
- Murphy’s Law: Will Anti-Streetcar Referendum Succeed? - Bruce Murphy - Jan 9th, 2015
- The Story Behind the Streetcar Referendum - Michael Horne and Bruce Murphy - Jan 8th, 2015
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Council Delays Streetcar Until January - Jeramey Jannene - Dec 16th, 2014
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Committee Takes No Action on Streetcar - Jeramey Jannene - Dec 10th, 2014
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Committee Approves Milwaukee Streetcar - Jeramey Jannene - Dec 9th, 2014
- Plenty of Horne: RACM Approves Tax Funding for Streetcar - Michael Horne - Dec 2nd, 2014
- Plenty of Horne: How to Sell the Streetcar - Michael Horne - Nov 28th, 2014
- Plenty of Horne: Next Stops For The Streetcar - Michael Horne - Nov 24th, 2014
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Barrett Moving Forward With Streetcar - Jeramey Jannene - Nov 18th, 2014
- Plenty of Horne: Who Will Be Streetcar Operator? - Michael Horne - May 8th, 2014
- Back in the News: A Streetcar Named Cooperation? - Dave Reid - Apr 27th, 2014
- Streetsblog: How a Streetcar Spurs Development - Angie Schmitt - Nov 3rd, 2013
- Plenty of Horne: Streetcar Social - Michael Horne - Sep 12th, 2013
- Republicans Move to Kill Milwaukee Streetcar - Jeramey Jannene - May 9th, 2013
- Plenty of Horne: Mayor Says Streetcar is “Trojan Horse” - Michael Horne - Apr 17th, 2013
- Streetcar Meeting on Tuesday - Jeramey Jannene - Oct 29th, 2012
- Donovan’s New Anti-Streetcar Allies - Jeramey Jannene - Aug 16th, 2012
- Battle of the Bobs: Donovan vs Bauman Streetcar Press Conference - Jeramey Jannene - May 18th, 2012
- Milwaukee Streetcar Hearing at Frontier Airlines Center - Jeramey Jannene - Nov 15th, 2011
- Important Hoan Bridge and Milwaukee Streetcar Meetings this Week - Dave Reid - Nov 14th, 2011
- Milwaukee Streetcar Passes Common Council, Proceeds to Final Engineering - Jeramey Jannene - Jul 26th, 2011
- Alderman Donovan Proposes Delaying the Streetcar Project - Dave Reid - Jul 19th, 2011
- Barrett says Streetcar is an investment in growing Milwaukee - Patti Wenzel - Jul 13th, 2011
- Keep the Milwaukee Streetcar Moving Forward - Jeramey Jannene - Jul 8th, 2011
- Milwaukee Streetcar at Apex - Jeramey Jannene - Jun 16th, 2011
- Milwaukee Streetcar Takes Key Step Forward - Jeramey Jannene - May 6th, 2010
- Streetcars and Trams Around the World - Dave Reid - Feb 1st, 2010
- Milwaukee Streetcar Meeting This Thursday - Jeramey Jannene - Oct 5th, 2009
- Downtown Streetcar Open House - Jeramey Jannene - Sep 23rd, 2009
- Milwaukee Streetcar Routes Unveiled by Mayor Barrett - Jeramey Jannene - Sep 21st, 2009
- Common Council Creates Streetcar Committee - Dave Reid - Jun 18th, 2009
- Milwaukee Streetcar Round-Up - Jeramey Jannene - Apr 19th, 2009
- Vote For Your Favorite Milwaukee Streetcar Route - Jeramey Jannene - Mar 25th, 2009
- Design Your Own Streetcar Route - Jeramey Jannene - Mar 23rd, 2009
- Milwaukee Streetcar Map - Jeramey Jannene - Mar 21st, 2009
- Streetcars Coming to Milwaukee - Dave Reid - Mar 14th, 2009
- Palomar or Streetcar? - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 22nd, 2009