Michael Horne
The Roundup

The Governor and the Empire Builder

By - Jun 14th, 2004 10:26 pm
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Governor Jim Doyle made a brief appearance at Milwaukee’s Amtrak station Friday, 11 June on the 75th anniversary of the Empire Builder, Amtrak’s service from Chicago to the Northwest coast. Before boarding the train, Doyle mixed the romance of the rails with the Great American Novel. “In the final passage of the Great Gatsby, the protagonist boarded the train we take today to return to his home in St. Paul,” Doyle told the crowd at the station. Sure enough, Nick Carraway, who found his personality to be “subtly unacceptable to Eastern life,” did hop on the rails to his midwest home at the end of the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel.

Although the Governor’s literary allusions are a welcome change from previous administrations, his history is a bit weak, since Gatsby was published in 1925, some years before the Empire Builder got its name.

Certainly railroad nuts will be able to tell us the name of the train Nick Carraway rode, and whether it, indeed passed through Milwaukee. There were plenty of the railroad aficionados at the event at the station, handing out buttons for the Wisconsin Association of Railroad Passengers and unveiling banners asking for increased passenger rail traffic hereabouts.

The funny thing about rail fans, is they don’t seem to be the type who you would expect to travel anywhere by any means. They seem to be of the sort that just likes to stand at a station and watch the trains go by. Perhaps I’m wrong.

Doyle was met at the station by David Gunn, the president of Amtrak since April 2002. Gunn has formerly run passenger rail systems including the Washington, D.C., the New York City and the Toronto, Ontario rail systems. These are probably the big three on the North American continent.

I asked Gunn about the Amtrak Reform Council, the group headed by Paul Weyrich that once included our former mayor among its members.

“Oh, they’re dead,” Gunn said. Sure enough, the reform council’s website, which listed “Hon.” John Norquist as a member seems to be inactive. The website was last updated in April 2002. So, apparently everything is fine with Amtrak.

After the remarks, which caught some bona fide travelers off guard. (“Who are these men, and why are they giving us a speech?”), Gunn and the mayor hiked to the end of the platform where they entered Gunn’s private car, the “Beech Grove” for the trip. The governor was accompanied by Transportation Secretary Frank Busalacchi.

As you remember, Busalacchi missed out on the groundbreaking for the Holton Marsupial Bridge a couple of weeks ago. Why?

“Unfortunately, my schedule changed at the last minute and I was unable to attend the groundbreaking. I did have a representative from the Department attend the event in my place. I’m sure that you’ll have continued success in the implementation of this project.”

Anyway, as Doyle boarded the platform at the rear of the train and waved to the non-existent crowd (there were cameras present) he said it reminded him of Harry Truman and his famous whistlestop campaign.

I told Doyle we need a train to Madison since I am sick and tired of seeing our legislators boarding a bus to the Capital. “Yes, we do,” the governor said, and perhaps that is what he and Dunn talked about, in addition to Amtrak’s importance to the Wisconsin economy.

As the train pulled out from the station, it left with a jerk. (Actually that’s from an old newspaper story about the time another Governor – Thomas Dewey – was on a train. Just another literary reference.)

Oh, yes, about the Great Gatsby business. As the train pulled out of the station, unjerkedly, two of the governor’s aides were busy packing up the portable podium. One asked the other, “did you put that Gatsby reference in the speech?”

“No,” his counterpart replied, “he came up with that on his own.”

For more information on passenger rail service in Wisconsin, check out the WisARP website at http://www.wisarp.org.

Here Come Daley’s Boys

Mayor Tom Barrett modified a press release from his office shortly after Chicago Mayor Richard Daley made comments that Milwaukee should be held accountable for dumping raw sewage into Lake Michigan.

Barrett expressed his concern about the sewage dumping, and “applauded” Mayor Daley for his Great Lakes City initiative, and then ended the press release with this paragraph:

“In the next few weeks, Mayor Daley is sending a team to Milwaukee to look at our water treatment plants. This is a signal to me that Mayor Daley is interested in best practices that will help our Great Lakes’ cities.”

Apparently that final paragraph read as if Daley was planning an invasion of the city with his gang, so minutes after the first release was issued, it was modified. [Changes in boldface.]

Mayor Daley’s office called and expressed his desire to work with us to solve these problems. To that end, in the next few weeks, Mayor Daley is sending a team to Milwaukee to look at our water treatment plants.”

This slight change does make it seem that it is Barrett who controls access to MMSD, and not the Mayor of Chicago.

In other mayoral press news, Kathy Gaillard, the mayor’s interim press secretary, has left her post to return to her business, Mosaic Communications, Inc. Until a permanent press secretary is named “in the next few weeks,” Scott Gunderson will be taking on those duties, with Patrick Curley filling in on the weekends.

Movin’ On Up

1522 N. Prospect Avenue is east side Milwaukee’s newest “deluxe apartment in the sky,” and it is already known that Vernita Lee, the mother of Oprah Winfrey lives there. (Vernita’s personal assistants took a limousine to Aqua last week for a meal and a night on the town.) It looks like Oprah controls the keys, though, since the Lee condo is owned by Overground Railroad LLC of 110 N. Carpenter St., Chicago. Overground Railroad is one of Oprah’s front organizations. The 2,126 square foot apartment is valued at $450,600, which is about what Ms. Lee –er, Oprah – paid for it. Overground Railroad is not the only corporation with property in the condominium. Wispark LLC (a division of WE energies) owns 2,012 square foot unit 706 for whatever reason. Superattorney Pat Dunphy paid a million for his pad in the building, but the best crib of the lot belongs to James H. Keyes, whose 4,741 square foot palace is valued at $1.8 million, eclipsing that of other tenants like Emory Clark and that of any condominium in the city, as far as can be determined.

A Move for MSOE?

The Kern Center is nearly complete at Juneau and Market streets, and will be the home of the Milwaukee School of Engineering’s sports programs. President Herman Viets says his grapplers won their league championship, and the team certainly qualify as athlete-scholars with a collective grade point average of 3.75. “Could you imagine being the wrestler with a 3.6 grade point average, and being the guy bringing the team’s average down?” he asked at a reception at the new headquarters of the J.P.Cullen construction firm. The Kern Center, designed by Uihlein Wilson Architects and built by Hunzinger, is a somewhat arresting structure, particularly from the north and the east. Its west walls will someday (soon) be obscured by other development in the Park East corridor. It also sits quite tightly to the Grace Lutheran Church, which could use a little remodeling in the form of demolition of its 1970’s annex. Beyond the Kern Center, plenty of former freeway land is available for construction. I asked Viets if MSOE would consider consolidating its campus to the north and the west of the Kern Center. Particularly, I thought its existing Walter Schroeder library and its Fred Loock building, both of which front on Cathedral Square, could be torn down and relocated to the Park East. He didn’t shy away from the question, and admitted that the move could make some sense, since the Cathedral Square location could be quite desirable for development. “But we would need to get $200 million for the property, so the price would be a sticking point.”

Hats in the Ring

Rep. Lena Carolyn Taylor will throw her hat in the ring Monday, 14 June in her quest to replace Sen. Gwendolynne Moore, who is running for congress. Once the hat is in the ring, she will be packing her bags to actually move into Moore’s district. Moore, herself had to do the same when she ran for Senate. … Joan Ballweg, former mayor of Markesan declared her candidacy for the 41st district assembly seat way back in March. She admits contemplating a run for the seat ten years ago when Bob Welch vacated the seat for this run for the State Senate. She is, you bet, a republican, born in Milwaukee and a graduate of West Allis Nathan Hale … Tim Carpenter has announced that “seasoned consultants” (his term) have joined his campaign, including Todd Robert Murphy, “president of his own marketing and political consulting firm,” who will manage placement of Carpenter’s message. Carpenter also hired the Democratic polling firm of Bennett, Petts and Blumenthal. Fundraising will be directed by Cunningham, Harris, Cline & Associates. Matt Flynn, Carpenter’s rival, has announced endorsements of Supervisors Gerry Broderick, Marina Dimitrijevic and John Weishan, along with Aldermen Joe Davis, Mike Murphy and Jim Witkowiak. … One hat that should be getting in the ring: the well-worn fedora of District Attorney E. Michael McCann. I think he will keep it on his head, where he can use it to tuck away his generous pension.

Witkowiak’s New Ride

Milwaukee Aldermen usually do not have pimped-out rides, but Jim Witkowiak is an exception due to his business as a funeral director. I saw him Saturday, 12 June in the Third Ward en route to pick up a friend for an evening at the symphony. (Who woulda thunk?) Witkowiak is driving a new Cadillac Escalade EXT, all shiny and black (of course.) Can he fit a casket inside? “Yes,” the alderman said. What does he think of the new Common Council? “I think it’s fine, and President Hines is doing a good job.” Hines chaired the Steering and Rules committee, composed of all Common Council committee chairs during debate last week on prevailing wage payments for workers on Park East Corridor construction projects in those buildings that would receive direct city financial involvement of over $500,000. The committee was against the proposals, which will be heard by the full council.

At the hearings, one individual, a black contractor, spoke against the proposals and against unions. This is not necessarily an unusual stand for a contractor, but his reasoning was choice: “When you use union firms, all you get are white workers.” Ouch! But, let’s face it, cement finishers, a skilled union trade, are virtually all black in the District of Columbia and virtually all white in Milwaukee. The same can be said of masons. And, if there is any city that is built of concrete and brick and mortar, it is our nation’s capital.

Mark Your Calendars

The Milwaukee Urban League Young Professionals will host the 2004 White Linen Gala at Pere Marquette Park Saturday, 19 June at 7:30 p.m. The event will be held outdoors for the first time, according to Nepherterra Skala of the organization. Tickets for the event are $40 each, or two for $70, according to MULYP president Courtney Hunt. The gala will fund several projects of the Urban League. For more information, call 1 414 349-2695, or log on to the website www.tmulyp.com. … Walker’s Point Center for the Arts will be the site of a Chocolate and Champagne reception benefit for the Milwaukee Birthing Project, Wednesday, 30 June from 6 to 9 p.m. at 911 W. National Avenue. The suggested donation of $25 includes admission to the gallery, live music, chocolate and champagne, according to Kathy Blair of the Milwaukee Health Department. According to Blair, the project matches a community volunteer with a pregnant woman. “Imagine is every mother, baby and family were embraced and welcomed into the worm fold of the community.” Blair is the person who has told us Milwaukee’s infant mortality rate is that of a Third World country, so a project like this seems to be a most timely one. For more information call Amy Peterson, project coordinator at 1 414 276-1911, ext. 31. … Mayor Tom Barrett’s maiden campaign voyage will be on the Edelweiss from 5-7:30 p.m. Thursday, 17 June at the Third Street Pier, 1110 N. Old World Third Street. Gus’s Mexican Cantina has vacated adjoining space in that building. Lucille’s, a piano bar, has opened in the space … The United Performing Arts Fund will hold its 2004 Campaign Finale Monday, 21 June at the United Community Center from 4:30 to 7 p.m. Christine G. Rodriguez and Edward J. Zore were the co-chairs of the campaign. … Moceans restaurant, 747 N. Broadway will open 21 June, the longest day of the year. Johnny V’s seafood spot will occupy the former Grenadier’s. … This weekend will include Polish Fest, the 42nd annual Lakefront Festival of Arts, the Walk Against Family Violence, the longest day of the year and hopefully some decent weather for a change.

Get Your Tickets Here!

Ken McMonagle, artistic director of Men’s Voices Milwaukee has been busy rehearsing his choristers for The Music of the Night, to be performed Saturday, 19 June at 8 p.m. at the Bader Concert Hall in the Helene Zelazo Center at UW-Milwaukee, 2419 E. Kenwood Boulevard. Men’s Voices is a local gay chorus, and the tickets — $15 advance, $20 at the door are a steal. However, I’ll do you one better and offer a pair free to the first to call me at 1 414 978-8039 or to email me at horne@milwaukeeworld.com. Unfortunately, I will be otherwise engaged that evening attending a wedding reception, which, for me, is a more rare event than hearing a gay chorus. Let’s hear that phone ring!

“Correct Me If I’m Wrong”

“Correct Me …  If I’m Wrong,” is a column in the Markesan Regional Reporter, “Markesan’s Official Newspaper Now In It’s Seventh Year.” O.K., you’re wrong. Or is that your wrong? Columnist Jim Wolff is apparently an expert on race matters in Milwaukee, and in a recent column he wrongly states, “We need look no further than this state’s largest city to observe how little priority education is given in the black neighborhoods of Milwaukee. The high school dropout rates, acceptance of unwed mothers, shoulder-shrugging reactions to fatherless families, and the young-blacks-killing-young-blacks acceptance that permeates that community is not only affecting Wisconsin’s economy, but is creating a divisive societal wound that may never heal.”

I beg to disagree, but as real as the problems are that Wolff outlines, I do not think it is fair to say that education in the “black neighborhoods of Milwaukee” is given little priority here, since it has been the focus of debate and policy for nearly a decade. I’m afraid we have to “accept” unwed mothers, if the alternative is to ostracize them, and I do not think it is fair to say that the only response to fatherless families in this city is “shoulder-shrugging.” I also do not believe decent people “accept” young black males killing others. Of course, we never hear about the problems blacks have in Markesan, so maybe Wolff is right.

The Morford Case

The City of Oak Creek’s community center was packed with about 3 percent of the community’s 30,000 population Monday, 7 June, protesting plans to house convicted sex predator Billy Lee Morford at 445 East Oak Street. Like the preacher on sin, they were agin’ it. Judge Mary Kuhnmuench has delayed until Tuesday, 15 June plans to finalize the order to house Morford and up to four other offenders at the relatively isolated property near the airport. Community leaders are concerned that Morford’s placement, near churches, playgrounds and day care centers, could be a problem in the city and that police will have to be detailed to the residence 24-hours a day to keep an eye on the place.

The house at 445 E. Oak Street is owned by Faith D. Paradowski and Marcyanna L. Ratcliff, who would sell it to the state. The property is valued at $33,300 for the land and $120,400 for the improvements, for a total of $153,700. The tax on the property, after a school credit of $206.78 and a lottery credit of $76.99, was $4,129.37 this year. The tax next year would be $0.

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