In Search of An Agenda
By John Hughes
Sure, it’s early in the race. But some lucky candidate could set the agenda for debate. Who will it be?
Early next year, The City of Milwaukee will elect its first new mayor in well over a decade. The field of candidates is crowded and still growing. So far Tom Barrett, Vincent Bobot, Frank Cumberbatch, Sandy Folaron, Martin Matson, Tom Nardelli, John Pitta and Marvin Pratt have declared. More entrants are expected.
Even though it’s early in the race, the unique circumstances of this election are already drawing attention to it. Thus far, no one has stepped forward to set the agenda for debate and thereby define the issues that will determine the winner. But the questions are out there. We contacted each of the candidates with four that we think must be addressed. This month, we hear from Barrett, Faloron, Matson and Pitta. The remaining candidates will give their answers in October.
Tom Barrett has served in the State Assembly, the State Senate and the United States Congress. This year he suffered a narrow defeat in a bid for the Democratic nomination for Governor of Wisconsin. His concerns include preventing increases in property taxes and mayoral accountability for Milwaukee Public Schools.
Martin Matson is former Deputy Director of the city pension offices, and has served Milwaukee for several years in the Department of Public Works, in accounting and business operations. His campaign slogan is “Giving the City Back to the People.”
John Pitta is a seventh grade math teacher at Roosevelt Middle School of the Arts. He holds two master’s degrees and is currently finishing a Ph.D at UWM. He has previously worked for J.M. Brennan Inc. and Johnson Controls. He currently serves on the advisory board for the Strive Media Institute, a local non-profit that provides mentoring and media training for Milwaukee area youth.
1. VITAL SOURCE: What specific steps will you take to make the police chief more accountable to the people of Milwaukee?
I, along with the new chief, will be accountable to the residents of this community, and I intend to work closely with whoever is selected. The state legislature is exploring a change in the selection process for the Chief, and I am interested in the outcome of the issue as well.
The current situation reflects a long, protracted, complicated degeneration of this Police Administration’s relationships – with the Mayor’s Office, with the police unions; with the community (the public at large, as well as specific community-based organizations); and with the media. Too often, the current situation has degenerated into tussles in the media among the Police Chief, the County Sheriff and other elected officials. While the arguments get more personal, more crimes are committed and residents begin to lose faith. The next Police Chief must work to build relationships, and I will be a mayor who is a partner in those efforts. I will work to provide ample resources for the department, but I will also demand accountability from the Police Department.
What is important now is how to keep our future Police Chiefs accountable as public servants to the mayor and the residents of Milwaukee.
I served on the Mayor’s Crime Commission for over a year. I worked closely with city residents and the Fire and Police Commissioners. With that first hand experience, I feel that the next mayor must:
Introduce legislation that enables the Mayor of Milwaukee to fire or discharge the Police Chief. The city cannot be held hostage when personal agendas interfere with job performance.
Empower our Fire and Police Commission to make decisions that address job performance. If they are to be the “checks and balances” then they truly need to have the legal authority to take action without fear of lawsuits or accusations.
Open up the selection process for public input. Residents need to see and hear for themselves the applicants being considered for the highest and most important position within the Police Department.
The system is not currently set up to control the Police Chief. His term is coming to an end, and what we need is an employment contract in place that will allow the Fire and Police Commission the ability to remove a standing Police Chief. I would ask the Council to freeze the police department’s overtime, and move to hold new recruitment classes as soon as possible.
The new chief will be established before the mayoral election. One idea I would propose is for the future chief be decided after the spring election of the mayor in the fall of that year, and for both positions to be four-year terms. The issue of crime is the police chief’s job, but as mayor and CEO of the city I would establish better communication and a professional relationship with the Chief to discuss issues related to crime and law enforcement, so that we could develop improve safety an services in the community.
2. VITAL SOURCE: To what extent is racism an ongoing issue in this city? How will you address it?
Racism still exists, as evidenced by the hateful brochures that ended up on doorsteps in Riverwest recently. I was heartened by the community’s response to this matter, and as mayor, I would lead efforts against racist acts head on. We can’t and won’t tolerate hatred and bigotry from our residents or from outsiders who would seek to inject it into our community.
The best way to attack racism and the racial tensions that still plague our city is to ensure economic opportunities for residents in every neighborhood in Milwaukee. In some central city neighborhoods, unemployment is 50�r higher, and we must work as a community to provide opportunities for residents of these and all neighborhoods to succeed. Opportunity comes from having the tools to succeed, including an educational system that addresses the specific needs of this community, employers who are ready to locate in places accessible to residents, and a transportation and housing system that recognizes the needs of city residents.
As mayor, I will work to change the often times negative perception of race in this city to what it really is — one of our greatest strengths! Diversity makes this city unique; a melting pot of ethnic and cultural backgrounds and history. We struggle with issues that are economic in nature, not race related. We need jobs that support families, stronger and safer neighborhoods, and a strategic plan for city development.
There is a larger division here in Milwaukee. A “disconnect” that stops people from working together. A “disconnect” that stops progress. A “disconnect” that separates the residents of Milwaukee from city hall. Bridges need to be rebuilt. We need to regain trust in our elected officials, and we need to include minority representation on every level as we grow and prosper.
Neighborhoods that reflect cultural differences should be destinations with vital business districts, not areas to avoid!
Milwaukee is now a minority city, and it is up to the government and private sector to train and utilize the fantastic assets we have within our population. But we need to go further. Not only do we need to work together, we have to come together socially to help break down any barriers. The Young Professionals of Milwaukee have taken the first steps in this regard. The Mayor’s office could be used as a focal point to bring about positive social changes.
Many people view Milwaukee as racist, segregated and conservative. As mayor, I will work hard to improve the national image of Milwaukee. If we improve our national image it will help provide more economic dollars for development and tourism to Milwaukee. I am a diverse person and as the mayor I would work hard to unite our community. Our diversity is an asset, but it has not been utilized to its potential. The single most important factor is visibility. As the mayor I would be visible throughout the community. I have campaigned in West Lawn, marched with children at the Police Athletic League (PAL) center and been present at many community events for children such as the Hoop-It-Up basketball tournament. As mayor I will work hard to unite our community!
3. VITAL SOURCE: Is that algae or sewage causing that unbearable stench emanating from Lake Michigan? What’s going on at the Metropolitan Milwaukee Sewerage District, and what specific steps will you take to rectify the situation?
While we have had some unfortunate and high profile lapses at MMSD, I believe that the main source of the smell emanating from the lake is algae. As a lifelong resident, I have spent time along the shores of Lake Michigan as a youth and now as a parent, and I have encountered some unpleasant odor almost every year. While we can’t totally do away with what nature provides, we can and should do everything possible to minimize odors that are not born of natural causes.
The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District must have a renewed focus on accountability. As mayor, I will set an agenda for accountability and results for MMAC in cooperation with business, labor, the suburbs and SEWRPC. We will lay out a plan that ensures that everyone knows what will be done, when it will be done, and how much it will cost. I do not believe that there should be any tax increases for MMSD capital projects, and that MMSD must live within its budget.
The goal we must achieve is 0 overflows. This is what is needed to really improve water quality in Milwaukee’s rivers and Lake Michigan. I have listened to many ideas about separating the combined sewers, building more detention ponds, lining existing sewers versus replacing sewer pipes to address infiltration and inflow, and addressing water quality with a watershed approach, among others. From these conversations and a recent meeting with the Executive Director of MMSD, I know there is no simple answer to the complex task of treating the Milwaukee area’s wastewater.
I have also heard the concerns of residents about substantial increases in taxes and user fees. I feel that solutions must address the overall water quality in Milwaukee, and that whatever we do, we must use our available resources to make sure the water flowing into our rivers and Lake Michigan from MMSD is continuously improved and does not deteriorate. The MMSD serves many suburban townships that add to our problems, not to mention suburbs that are not connected to MMSD, but are adding substantially to the flow through uncontrolled runoff. Overbuilding of parking lots, development of subdivisions, more freeways and less green space all add to the overflow problem. We have come a long way from the 60 or more overflows we experienced before the “Deep Tunnel” was built. I believe that there are many proactive ways to help reduce or eliminate overflows.
“Green Roofs” that trap and filter rainwater help prevent overflows. I would also endorse a program that rewards residents for disconnecting their downspouts. Minneapolis uses such a program to help displace rainwater. Establishing regional co-operative programs that enhance all districts would help.
Milwaukee has the facilities to handle its raw sewage. I believe the Mayor appoints some of the members of the Board that runs the Sewerage district. We need accountability from the Board and the managers working for the Sewerage District, as well as United Water. Having the DNR sue MMSE is not the answer, it is a training and knowledge issue within the District on how to use the facilities, and that is easily fixable.
I will be honest to the citizens of Milwaukee when it comes to responding to issues in the community. I really do not know what is the main source of the smell coming out of Lake Michigan. I believe it probably is a combination of many factors including algae and sewage problems. I am meeting with Kevin Schaeffer, who is the Executive Director of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) at which time I will tour the MMSD facility. I can present this question to him, although that response would be from only one perspective. My plan to improve accountability would start with better communication between MMSD and the City Hall.
As mayor, I would demand that contractors such as United Water, which are responsible for maintaining the sewage system, are held accountable to higher standards or face fines or termination of the contract for unwarranted sewage spillage. I would establish a communication person with the MMSD to inform me of any major issues or challenges that the city and residents should be aware of. As a resident, I regularly ride my bike to the lakefront. Lake Michigan is a wonderful asset and maintaining it will be a huge priority.
4. VITAL SOURCE: All the candidates promise that they will work hard to help make Milwaukee great, earn our trust, et cetera. How would your term as Mayor be different from that of your opponents?
The next administration must be prepared to provide both continuity and change, and I come prepared to inject both into City Hall. We must continue to build on the progress that has been made in attracting business, residents and visitors downtown — the city is on the verge of a true renaissance. But we must expand the economic opportunities to every neighborhood and direct resources where they can provide the most benefit to the areas of the community that lag behind.
My business background sets me apart from the other candidates and is essential to the management of City Hall. It gives me the first hand experience I need to understand the dynamics of business and neighborhood development. And business and neighborhood development is exactly what is needed in Milwaukee. With that background I am able to make hard decisions and put checks and balances in place to monitor progress. I am a firm believer in strategic planning, whether it is in a specific city neighborhood, the Menomonee River Valley or our beautiful lakefront. The vision of where this great city needs to go depends on our planning today.
Open and honest communication. The city should be run as a corporation, with the Mayor as the CEO, and the Council its board of directors. What corporation do you know of that communicates its CEO’s programs to its Board via the media? For all the communication that currently takes place between the Mayor’s office and the Council, you wouldn’t realize their offices existed on the same floor of City Hall. You might guess they were on opposite sides of the planet. Not only internal communication, but also between the citizens and their elected representatives. A monthly open forum might be the answer.
I am young and energetic. I bring a unique blend of business skills and street skills to the position of mayor. I have professional business experience in corporate America along with two master’s degrees and work towards a Ph.D., yet I also grew up in tough neighborhoods in Milwaukee and work with inner-city children and parents as an MPS school teacher and basketball coach on a daily basis. The question to Milwaukee is, “Who do you want to build your future around?”
Next month, Vital will feature the answers of the remaining candidates, and in future issues will ask these questions of any additional candidates who declare.