In Search of An Agenda

By - Nov 1st, 2003 02:52 pm
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By John Hughes

In February of next year, the people of Milwaukee will elect a new Mayor to preside over our city in what promises to be an era of accelerating change. With the role of leadership more crucial than ever, the agenda set during this election, which will frame the debate among voters, is still emerging. In previous issues, Vital Source put four questions to mayoral candidates Tom Barrett, Sandy Folaron, Martin Matson, John Pitta, Frank Cumberbatch and Tom Nardelli. We believe the candidates’ answers to these questions reflect some of the leadership style which they would exhibit if elected.

This month, we continue our candidate forum with Marvin Pratt, Vincent Bobot, and David Clarke. For those interested in comparing and contrasting the answers of all the candidates, see the other articles on this website.

1st District Alderman and Common Council President Marvin Pratt will serve as interim Mayor beginning in January, when Mayor John Norquist steps down. He has been an elected official since 1987, and prior to that spent 15 years working in city government. He is a United States Air Force veteran, and holds the rank of major in the U.S. Army Reserve.

Vincent Bobot recently resigned as Municipal Judge in Milwaukee’s First District. A former assistant city attorney, he also spent 20 years with the Milwaukee Police Department. He received a Purple Heart Award in 1976 for courage in the line of duty.

David Clarke has served the Milwaukee Police Department for 24 years, during which he was commanding officer and captain of the intelligence division. He was appointed Milwaukee County Sheriff in March of 2002, and elected to that post in November of the same year.

1. What specific steps will you take to make the police chief more accountable to the people of Milwaukee?

Marvin Pratt:

By mid-November our city will have a new chief of police. That woman or man (Ed. Note: Nan Hegerty has been officially appointed at press time) will continue to be challenged to not only keep our streets safe, but to build upon and improve police-community relations.

Although under present state law the Fire & Police Commission appoints the chief of police, I believe the key to ensuring that the chief is “more accountable to the people of Milwaukee” is by giving the Mayor the power to hire — and, if warranted — dismiss the chief.

Communication is essential. The Mayor, the Chief and the community must take ownership for the type of public safety measures that are enacted. As Mayor, I will work with our next chief to hold regular meetings at the district station level with command staff and residents to discuss concerns and questions about crime. The Police Department’s Community Services initiatives such as PAL (Police Athletic League) are positive, ongoing efforts that, as your Mayor, I will continue to actively support.

Vincent Bobot:

When I’m elected Mayor the first thing I would want everyone to know is that we are part of a team. Everyone should share the same goal. We should never lose sight of the fact that the bosses are the people that live in the city of Milwaukee. I think we need to put our egos aside and realize what the mission is. The overall mission is to serve the public.

David Clarke:

It is short-sighted to rest blame and the absence of accountability solely on the position of the police chief, while ignoring the need for more responsibility for all tax-paid positions. However, it is imperative that we discuss change in this particular area. Elected officials, who are elected and held to task by the public, understand where their responsibility lies. However, the Mayor of Milwaukee today does not directly hold the police chief responsible. Rather, a Commission does this. Not only is this one of the oldest and most outdated protocols in the nation, it in recent times has shown to be unquestionably ineffectual.

The Mayor of Milwaukee can no longer be allowed to remain insulated from the accountability of the appointed police chief. As of today, the Commission for both the Police and Fire Departments serve as oversight, and the Mayor resides over the Commission. This insulation creates a vacuum of liability and, ultimately, an absence of goals and results.

The administrators of both the Police and the Fire Departments should report to the Chief Executive. The voters will hold the Mayor accountable, and in return it should be the Mayor’s obligation to protect the voters, show results in the reduction of crime, and enforce changes when these needs are not met. A system of measurement is vital, so that standards, performance and goals can be established and achieved.

2. To what extent is racism an ongoing issue in this city? How will you address it?

Marvin Pratt:

First we need to define racism. Racism is the systematic exclusion and disenfranchisement of a group of people based on race. Slavery was racism not because it was cruel but because it was systematic. Jim Crow was racism not because it was demeaning but because it was systematic. The thinking that made these practices possible became part of the culture in which we live. Therefore, racism is still a part of our culture and the evidence is all around us.

I will make it an important part of my tenure as Mayor to make Milwaukee work for all of its citizens to counter the effects of racism. I will encourage minority participation in government as well as in the private sector. I support programs like Encompass, a partnership between Milwaukee County, the City of Milwaukee, Milwaukee Public Schools, Private Industry Council, area colleges and universities and others, whose mission is to expand and diversify the labor pool of professional engineers.

The responsibility is all of ours, collectively, to eliminate the behavior that allows racism to continue to find a home in our community.

Vincent Bobot:

I was born and raised in Milwaukee. Racism is awful. It’s constantly visible to me. How else can I explain that when I go to a banquet that there are 500 African American people and I’m the only Caucasian and vice versa. We’re seeing some improvement in our city, which is good. I guess the simplest way I want to combat it is to let the people know what I stand for. Individual differences are not something I want to concentrate on. I don’t want to focus on a person’s appearance. I want to look at what the person represents; what they are as a human being. I believe that all human beings should have a minimal level of treatment we should give them, and that’s with dignity and respect. If we educate people we can stamp out ignorance. With education, we’re going to go a long way towards combating racism. And until we do that, it’s not going to work, no matter what we try.

David Clarke:

We must discontinue the practice of looking at Milwaukee’s problems through a racial lens. Racism is no longer an issue that can be categorized as a black problem, a white problem, or a minority problem. Racism in its true form, whether we are speaking in regards to the City of Milwaukee or nationwide, is a problem of society as a whole. With that being said, however, we must approach this issue progressively with understanding, communication, and common sense. As your next Mayor, I will speak out in regards to race related issues in the same manner that I will approach all public related issues, with resolve.

We must build trust, as a community, in order to achieve a form diversity that is rewarding and fulfilling. I will speak out not only to those who detract but also to those who distort, so that this trust is built on a foundation that lasts, grows, and prospers. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, “in the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

In the end, for Milwaukee, it is imperative to reach the comprehension that finding solutions to racism or ending our differences through the appreciation of diversity is not, and never will be, a safe harbor or a place where rest awaits. Rather, this advance to equal liberty and the pursuit of happiness shall not only remain a continuous priority, but an ongoing search for improvement and accord.

However, it is not the solution to our problems. We have made significant advancements in civil rights, and we must acknowledge this fact. The voters can be assured that I will always do what is right, and never use the race card in opportune times. It is divisive, unproductive, and only exacerbates the problem at hand. Milwaukee is a community, and as a community we will bring change, with agreement, so that all lives are improved.

3. Is that algae or sewage causing that unbearable stench coming out of Lake Michigan? What’s going on at the Metropolitan Milwaukee Sewerage District, and what specific steps will you take to rectify the situation?

Marvin Pratt:

As the former commissioner (1989-1993), I can appreciate the vital role MMSD plays in safeguarding our water and public health. In 1997 and 1998 an area in the First Aldermanic District, along with several other neighborhoods in Milwaukee, underwent severe flood damage. MMSD is to be commended for expediting the construction work that occurred as part of the Lincoln Creek Flood Management Project.

Last summer’s report by the State Legislative Audit Bureau highlighted several problems with the number of overflows and the quality of water in the Milwaukee area. These are areas that must be addressed. MMSD is undertaking a Water Quality Initiative joining with SEWRPPC (Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission) and the DNR (Department of Natural Resources) to find ways to reduce overflows and improve water quality. As Mayor, I will meet regularly with stakeholders to monitor the progress of this endeavor. I also pledge to aggressively monitor the progress of MMSD’s “Three Point Agenda for Accountability” that is being developed to improve contract performance with United Water Service (the contractor who operates the sewage and treatment plant for MMSD).

While acknowledging the problems facing MMSD, I am strongly opposed to suggestions from the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute and some members of the Wisconsin Legislature that a change in the governance of the MMSD will solve all the problems. At present, the Mayor appoints seven of its eleven commissioners. The attack on governance is really about who pays and who gains. The people who want to change the governance of the commission want city taxpayers to pay a higher cost for clean water and sewage treatment.

Vincent Bobot:

The fact that we are still trying to figure out what the problem is points to what the problem is. The city of Milwaukee, the state and MMSD are all entrusted with the responsibility of protecting our water. The fact that we are still trying to find out what the problem is and agencies are pointing fingers is the problem. Cooperation right now is lacking.

The Mayor controls the MMSD board. I would appear in front of the MMSD board objecting to increasing the operational and management budget. I will not reappoint any commissioner that votes for higher operational and management budgets. The community demands that all the commissioner’s work toward providing clean water to our city. They must be held accountable as they manage our treatment facilities.

David Clarke:

Milwaukee’s finest resources are Lake Michigan and our area rivers. MMSD has certainly been a source of irritation and confusion for the taxpayers of this city. The first step that I will take is to hire an outside independent auditor so that we can take not only a financial look into this operation but a performance measurement as well.

You currently have board members who reside over MMSD. These members have become a docking area for political appointees and favors by the existing Mayor. This ultimately creates waste and futility.

An outside audit would accomplish the needs for a barometer so that voters can understand where exactly this operation stands, what course of actions should we take next, and how is the bureaucracy of board members disturbing MMSD’s ability to operate efficiently.

4. 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?

Marvin Pratt:

We have a number of qualified candidates in this mayoral race. I, however, stand alone on a number of issues.

First, I have a practical pro-growth vision for Milwaukee centered on economic development, neighborhood development and fiscal responsibility. While the other candidates may have thoughtful ideas, many of them are not grounded in the nuts and bolts of how city government operates. My vision is not election time rhetoric. My vision is grounded in the reality of city government and what can actually be done.

Second, I have the experience and commitment to lead Milwaukee into a new phase of development. I have worked in city government for over 16 years. I worked on many projects that brought jobs and industry to the city.

Lastly, it is time for a mayor to represent all of Milwaukee. I have worked hard during my political career to be fair and honest. I have not shied away from the hard issues, and I have made it clear that the buck stops here. You know what you are getting when you vote for Marvin Pratt.

It is time for a mayor with vision, real experience and trustworthiness… it is time to vote Marvin Pratt.

Vincent Bobot:

I would bring a different attitude to the position. I am going to ask all employees to put in a full day’s work for a full day’s pay. In return, the city of Milwaukee and its citizens will reward them with work where job satisfaction can be obtained. I pledge to the people of Milwaukee that city government will do more with less.

David Clarke:

My campaign is not about electing David Clarke for Mayor. Unlike my opponents, you will not see me parading resumes, references and requisites. Instead, the voters will see a campaign that is built around the people of Milwaukee, their call for change in city hall, and everyone’s desire to put an end to business as usual. Unlike any of my opponents, I can honestly say that I will reach out to all citizens. Whether you are a Democrat or Republican, independent or libertarian, rich or poor, young or old … your voice will be heard. I believe that the people are what make this city great. I miss the hometown that I grew up in, and I think it will take real solutions to our real problems if we want to return to our achievable potential.

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