Jeramey Jannene

Donovan’s New Anti-Streetcar Allies

After three press releases in three days, the alderman holds a news conference with new right-wing allies.

By - Aug 16th, 2012 02:20 pm

It’s been a busy week for Alderman Bob Donovan. With three press releases in as many days, and a press conference today that will show up on the nightly news, Alderman Donovan sought to grab the spotlight while many of his colleagues are out of town.

Donovan started the week with a press release that began by stating he was on vacation, and ended with him attacking the Mayor… for being on vacation. He followed up with another press release on Tuesday, again attacking the Mayor. Wednesday he issued yet another press release, this time announcing a press conference to be held with representatives from two anti-streetcar groups. At his Thursday morning press conference, he announced he was expanding his anti-streetcar petition to the suburbs and the internet.

The press conference didn’t yield much new information regarding Donovan’s long-standing opposition to the Common Council approved project. The alderman announced he again intends to introduce legislation asking for a referendum on the project, something his colleagues have voted down in the past. Donovan also reiterated his belief that 70 percent of Milwaukee residents oppose the project, but after questioning admitted it wasn’t based on empirical evidence.

The press conference did give a rare chance for the leaders of two anti-streetcar groups to speak in City Hall.

Brett Healy, President of the conservative MacIver Institute of Public Policy, spoke about a study it conducted on the streetcar that relied on research by the noted transit critic Randal O’Toole. Healy criticized the projected farebox revenues, and also blasted the subsidies for the Pearl District in Portland (which he failed to note went for things like brownfield cleanup and roads).

For those that have been following the streetcar debate closely, it was Healy, as a citizen of Oconomowoc, who petitioned the Public Service Commission to rule on who is responsible (the City of Milwaukee or We Energies) for paying the relocation costs for utilities. A decision that the city is liable for the costs could force changes to the streetcar system, but also might open up Pandora’s box whereby even small road projects across a utility’s service area could be opposed by citizens of other municipalities.

Luke Hilgemann, Wisconsin Director of Americans for Prosperity, the Tea Party-affliated group with support from the Koch brothers, was on hand to speak about the release of a new anti-streetcar online petition. The campaign is called A Streetcar Named Disaster and is targeted at collecting online signatures.

Meanwhile, the campaign for old-fashioned, handwritten petitions that Donovan had in the past said he was working on appears to have taken a back seat. Donovan didn’t say why, but we’re guessing an open-ended online petition could attract a lot more signatures from suburbanites who are anti-transit.

Press Conference Photo Gallery

More about the Milwaukee Streetcar

For more project details, including the project timeline, financing, route and possible extensions, see our extensive past coverage.

Read more about Milwaukee Streetcar here

Categories: Politics, Real Estate

29 thoughts on “Donovan’s New Anti-Streetcar Allies”

  1. GT says:

    4 more years!

  2. T.M. Birch says:

    This idea proves our Milwaukee Mayor is an incompetant bonehead. Streetcars were proven obsolete 50 years ago.

  3. flyonthewall says:

    Proven, really? That’s the best you can come up with, wow you guys are really getting lazy.

    Besides, cars were proven obsolete 10 years ago. For SUVs & light trucks it was about 12, although I think conversion vans were proven obsolete about 1982.

  4. Marted Roem says:

    Has the city of Milwaukee’s Mayor gone deaf? Is he so proud not to admit that the idea comprises no merit or benefit? We must be cautious, as many banks are nowadays, to spend money with thrift and not in earnest to satisfy a perverted legacy.
    In this economy, it will be the leaders who exercise frugality and conventional foresight who will be remembered and held in esteem. Those who squander and waste do so at the peril of their legacy.
    M Roem

  5. Justin Bielinski says:

    Agree or disagree with the project, but hiring right-wing lobbyists to make your case? That’s just ridiculous. Personally, I think the streetcar will be awesome once it gets expanded to more parts of town. I’m sick of Milwaukee being so cheap that we miss great opportunities for modernization.

  6. duane spath says:

    Th,e city has many other problems that should be addressed before squandering away future money.
    Traffic tie ups because of lane restrictions due to the streetcar taking up a lane and with the regular roads in dire straits, it would be more productive to fix those first. Why would the Mayor serve only one portion of the city when he is the Mayor of the whole city? There are other areas in our city which could use improvements such as water mains, updated looks, etc. We already have a trolley system which could be expanded without any destruction of the streets and utilities.

  7. Dave Reid says:

    @duane Streetcars share the lane with automobiles so no lanes will be removed for this project. And strengthening the core through tax base building (as has happened on other modern streetcar lines) helps the entire city.

  8. Dave Reid says:

    @Marted Actually I take it the Mayor is moving forward on a project that was supported by a strong majority of the Common Council, who incidentally were elected by the citizens of Milwaukee.

  9. gleiss says:

    I’m constantly amused by the fear of a streetcar coming into downtown. Throughout history, it has been the bold moments, not the meek, that have shaped great cities and citizens. The constant fretting about traffic, density and transportation technology are just diversions from the productive conversations that have to happen to make Milwaukee better. I support more mobility options rather than less, more housing and employment options than less, more people downtown than less, and more investment in the city than less. Without a vision of how Milwaukee can and should evolve and improve as the economic driver of our region, and without the commensurate investment, we are doomed to miss the golden opportunities to grow and change. Milwaukee stands proud today because of innovators and investors like Kilbourn, Juneau, Koch and Zeidler who took on difficult growth and infrastructure needs and ventured for great things, not the lowest common denominator.

  10. jeff Jordan says:

    We have to realize that, to the folks that Donovan lines up to support his objections, evidence to the contrary is merely an annoyance.
    Almost any start on an a rail in the ground project is better than nothing. Across the country. realization of the shortcomings of a car culture in an urban environment are magnified and that safe, convient mass transit is the best option.

  11. Ed Werstein says:

    Good reporting, Jeramey. Speaking the truth about Donovan’s tactics and his allies. And you’ve got the naysayers out here commenting which only proves that you’re hitting a nerve.

  12. Danny Boy says:

    Bobby, me Boy-O, ya have traveled a long way from the gutters of Milwaukee to the Koch Brother’s Mansion in Vail….Or did’ya win the trip to Cali with Walker…Ya Sellout!

  13. Anon says:

    Investments in urban transit infrastructure generally bring about private investments by businesses. The younger generation, which trends towards wanting to live in urban environments, want urban transit systems. Thriving cities make for thriving regions.

  14. Jack says:

    Why does Milwaukee get stuck with so many backwards, pessimistic, buzz-kills? The City is on the rise, but it seems like there is alot of ignorant folks there that want to make the City go backwards rather than forwards. Come on Milwaukee……let’s move forward. Do the Streetcar, continue with the renaissance. I live in Minneapolis and people here that have visited the Cream City rave about how cool it is becoming. I think the time for many of the people who post the negative, do-nothing comments on various blogs should do the town a favor and move away. There is a new generation in town, one that is open to new ideas and opportunities. Anyhow, keep up the good work Urban Milwaukee. I regularly read your blog and always look forward to your Friday Photo’s. You’re great ambassadors for the City.

  15. There was a time, mostly in the 70s and 80s, when most of the fresh thinking on public policy issues came from the right. Agree and disagree with him, Milton Friedman often had interesting and oven novel ideas for different ways of approaching problems. But that era seems long gone. These days there is a company line on the right on a range of issues, of which mass transportation is a good example. There is no nuance or sophistication. Instead the efforts of organizations like the MacIver Institute and Americans for Prosperity are focused on finding justifications for previously-determined positions.
    Their intellectual bankruptcy is kind of sad, and not good for the country.

  16. Lewelln says:

    Automobiles are quite a cash cow for financiers and insurance brokers, parking garage moguls, media advertizers, big oil, big energy, car-dependent suburban sprawl contractors. They’re a Transportation Monopoly and a Constitutional Inequity. Their domination of personal travel is a severe impediment to walking, bicycling and mass transit and their own optimal function. I figure the Koch brothers are into this monopoly some way.

  17. Lewelln, Koch Industries is big in the oil industry, so it’s been widely noted that their political causes in many cases dovetail nicely with their financial interests. That said, whether or not Milwaukee has a streetcar will hardly make or break Koch Industries. So I have to believe that the prime motivation in this case is ideological, not self-interest at least in the narrow sense.

  18. Josh says:

    People are way too negative about this. When a plan is set, it is nothing but annoying and counter productive to try and derail it for political support. Childish really

  19. bill clinton says:

    well, not sure why we need an electric bus when hardly anybody rides the existing buses. and this is a boondoggle financially…………… most people have cars now……fyi….this is 100 yr old thinking

  20. bill clinton says:


  21. Dave Reid says:

    @Bill Do we not elect our representatives to make the votes? Is that not their job? Further, the Mayor and all but one (it passed on a vote of 10 to 5) of the Alderman who voted for the project were re-elected. We have voted on this, and the streetcar project won.

  22. gleiss says:

    Ah yes, and now here comes the ‘let the people vote’ argument. We live in a representative republic with the intention of having elected officials handle the job of representing the best interests of the city and the citizens. Direct democracy fails to work because the people that participate do not take the time to educate themselves about the issues, instead being swayed by whatever and whomever shouts the loudest. The tyranny of the masses in a vote disables the ability for unpopular but necessary decisions to be made. The best example is our current debate about the dissatisfaction with government coupled with the taxes that it requires. In a vote of the people, with a choice of yes or no, people will vote to reduce their taxes. In that same vote, they will want more services, better parks, safer neighborhoods and more amenities like museums. Because the masses cannot research and take a broader view of the big picture and its necessities, they cannot see they way to match the means with the ends. Let the elected officials do their jobs, and if they don’t do it well, vote someone else in. It is easy to forget that there exist a myriad of ideas and philosophies, not just the constant false dichotomy of right and wrong or yes and no.

  23. Lewelln says:

    And here comes the “let the people vote” argument.

    A representative republic with elected officials (handling) the best interests of the city and the citizens. Direct democracy (fails or succeeds) because people participate but fail to become fully informed on issues, and instead swayed by whomever shouts the loudest (or conveys the worst ideas so sweetly its proponents, heavens-to-Betsy, couldn’t possibly be mistaken or worse, absurd, which does happen with highway-related rail infrastructure. CAHSR is 4 years behind. Plan B was mine and many other engineer-types’ Plan A back then. The Altamont route is far better than Pacheco Pass past San Josie; mistake #2. Bakersfield Gap to LA should be Phase 1, not Phase 2.

    Tyranny of the masses voting impedes unpopular but necessary decisions to be made. An example is our current debate regarding disatisfaction with government coupled with taxation.

    In most initiatives, people vote to reduce taxes and vote for more services, parks, safer neighborhoods, amenities like museums. Not taking the broader view of the big picture and necessities, voters cannot see how to match the means to the ends.

    Let elected officials do their jobs, and if they don’t, vote someone else in. It is easy to forget there are a myriad of ideas and philosophies while the nauseating false dichotomy of right and wrong, yes or no clammer drowns sensible discussion.

    Look, I editted this tirade down to its source idea, main points, and must disagree on this:

    The Republic representation has created a cadre of strictly like-minded businessmen and favored female personalities who believe Gov should be run like a business FOR BUSINESS.
    All republican leaders act as representatives for business with trickle-down plans yet unrevealled but in place to come down the road. General Motors & Chrysler are still hoodwinking the public, and, I say they must pay back more than they received, a lot more, like affordable plug-in hybrids as the better, FORD, has done in its far more sensible R&D. Take THAT! GM! You suck.

  24. Mike says:

    As a UWM student I hope that the streetcar progresses, and is eventually extended to UWM. I see that even on this website, the AFP AstroTurf bots are out spreading propaganda.

    “and this is a boondoggle financially…………… most people have cars now……fyi….this is 100 yr old thinking”

    Keep hearing this argument, that streetcars are somehow outdated technology. Nothing could be further from the truth. The airplane is also 100 year old technology, but no one is comparing the A380 to biplane aircraft of the 1st world war. Upfront costs for streetcars are large for a starter system, but they pale in comparison to per capita cost we spend on maintaining our roads, cars, and freeways. Furthermore, if New York City can spend $17 billion on the 2nd Ave. subway system, and finance it with federal funds, in order to improve transportation and commerce in that city, I don’t think $60 million is too much to invest in the City of Milwaukee in order to help it grow and prosper.

    On the plus side, we got AFP and Ald. Donovan

  25. Anyone interested in the sad state of much of what passes for research these days should read the MacIver Institute’s report called “The Streetcar Scam.” The title tells it all. It reads like an effort to find information that supports the title and ignore anything else.

  26. David Johnsen says:

    This is a very bad idea. Another waste of taxpayers money!

  27. Jesse Hagen says:

    Dave, thanks for that exclamation point… now we know you’re serious about taxpayer money!!

    By the way, you also hate to see more money wasted on expanding freeways, right? After all, we have some of the lowest congestion levels in the country, it’s obviously wastefull to add lanes now. A serious person like you agrees with that, right?

  28. Lewelln says:

    Portland Oregon inaugurates the Eastside Streetcar expansion line this weekend. Search the Portland Tribune for this weeks coverage. Return on the investment will be seen in the way streetcar lines have spurred development, construction jobs, local shops and restaurant business, access to major entertainment venues.

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