Michael Horne
House Confidential

Ald. Tony Z’s Odd Little Home

From his Bay View home surrounded by history, Tony Zielinski is a master fundraiser and seldom-active attorney.

By - Sep 22nd, 2013 01:57 pm
Tony Zielinski's home. Photo by Brad Blavat.

Tony Zielinski’s home. Photo by Brad Blavat.

As autumn encroaches and as the leaves fall, this modest home on S. Superior St. in Bay View will once again get a glimpse of the azure waters of Lake Michigan.

This view is thanks in part to a huge empty parcel located right across the street that once housed the giant Bay View Rolling Mill, Milwaukee’s first heavy industry. It operated from 1868 to 1929 and employed thousands. The site has been vacant since the plant was demolished in 1939.

In 1886 this neighborhood was the site of a massacre when seven workers were killed protesting for the eight-hour workday.  The event is still memorialized on the first Sunday of May each year, where a gathering is held at a State of Wisconsin Historical marker across the street. As mindful of history as the participants are, little might they know that this humble home is the residence of another man of history, T. Anthony Zielinski, since 2004 the alderman for Milwaukee’s 14th district, and County Supervisor for sixteen years before that.

It was while serving as supervisor that Zielinski and his then-wife Denise Ann Balistreri Zielinski bought this home in January 1996, paying $96,400 — a handsome discount from its $119,900 asking price. It apparently was the first time since it was built in 1910 that the home left the hands of its original owners, the Decesare family. Tony bought it from a guy named Enzo, which is coolness itself.

In October 1996 the city assessor took a look around the inside of the place and said it was in “good” condition. “Valid sale. Buyer uses both units,” of the duplex, he reported.

Those would be the 1104 sq. ft. first floor and the 460 sq. ft. half-story unit perched above.

Back in 1971 the place was a “2 family very low rent. Entire interior old. Neither has a complete bath.” The upstairs had a space heater. “Basically a 1 fam house,” the assessor concluded.

The assessor wasn’t too crazy about the place in 1990, when those incomplete bathrooms got more scrutiny. “Bathing facility is open shower … in bsmt. Basement accessed only thru outside entry for upper unit.” [This must have made shower day a neighborhood spectator sport for the poor resident of the upper unit.] “There is much functional obsolescence.”

With only 2 bedrooms in the cramped quarters, it was no surprise to learn that the “Living Room is used as Bedroom Downstairs.”

The home started out only 16-½ ft. wide when it was constructed in 1910. Ten years later the building was “underpinned” with a basement of 10 inch blocks. In 1924 more underpinning was underway for a 9 ft wide, 48 ft. deep addition to the north half of the building, which only added to its ungainliness while increasing its size. In 1946 insulated stone siding was added, followed by a $25 “tool shed” that owner/contractor August Decesari built to the south of the home. By 1988 the tool shed was properly called a garage, and repairs were made to it. In 2004 the whole thing was pulled down and rebuilt as we see it today. If you want to see what a $4,160 garage looks like, here is your example.

The shower has since moved out of the basement, and other improvements have been made to this once-neglected home.

Thanks to these investments, the residence is now rated as “D+” by the assessor, a full 12 steps below the coveted AA+ ranking.

The home’s records show us that now-hot neighborhoods once weren’t so hot necessarily. In 1942 it was assessed at $5,000. It was assessed at $6,100 in 1947. But 5 years later, it had lost nearly half of its value, and was worth only $3,100. By 1964 it was assessed at $4,500 as the old industrial neighborhood showed signs of being stagnant and tired.

Things are a bit brighter today. The 3,750 sq. ft. lot is valued at $43,300 while the aforementioned improvements amount to $154,100 for a total of $197,400. It was assessed at a high of $229,300 during the glory days of 2006.

Taxes are $5,720 and are paid in full.

About T. Anthony “Tony” Zielinski

Tony Zielinski

Tony Zielinski

“Every man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client,” goes the old adage. And therefore, we could add, is not eligible to collect attorney’s fees. Tony Zielinski found this out the hard way when he sued a woman in small claims court for about $500 — and also tried to collect attorney’s fees for himself in the process.

As the court commissioner ruled in the case, “Plaintiff is an attorney, but did not appear as attorney on court date. Plaintiff is not entitled to attorney fees.”

Plaintiff became an attorney in 2002 with a degree from Marquette University, earned part time while serving as county supervisor.

Or was that the other way around?

As Urban Milwaukee editor Bruce Murphy noted in a Milwaukeeworld article in February 2002, “Zielinski has been working toward his law degree from Marquette University. He says he’s a part-time student and will get his degree in four years rather than the usual three. Before that he got a masters degree from Cardinal Stritch while working for the county. ‘He’s a part-time board member and full-time student,’ says one lobbyist…” [This and other Milwaukeeworld articles are now archived at Urban Milwaukee.]

Zielinski was also among the large majority of supervisors who voted in favor of the infamous county pension plan of 2000-2001, which has cost county taxpayers hundreds of millions and led to the resignation of County Executive F. Thomas Ament and the recall of seven supervisors. But lucky Tony managed to avoid a recall, and then ran for and won an aldermanic seat in 2004.

Since receiving his law license, which is in good standing with the State Bar of Wisconsin, Zielinski has handled only a few cases as an attorney, since a seat on the Milwaukee Common Council is more a full time job than County Supervisor by any measure.

He earned a $300 fee for helping M Kenny Fashion Company win a $5,000 judgment against a purchaser who failed to pay his bills (or the judgment), and assisted in a child custody case. Small potatoes.

But most of the time, Zielinski is busy in his neighborhood supporting an art project at a bus stop, and was a tireless champion of the failed Sweetwater Organics aquaculture program in his district. Sweetwater got $250,000 from the city in the form of a loan. It is now being [partly] paid back  by the sale of the defunct organization’s assets.

Zielinski is also chair of the Licenses Committee of the Common Council, which is traditionally one of the best jobs there is, vis a vis fundraising.

Zielinski The Fundraiser

Left your checkbook at home? Run out of cash? But you still want to make a donation to Citizens for T. Anthony Zielinski?

No problem. There’s an app for that.

Zielinski carries a device with him that allows him to read credit cards and scan the information into his bank account, via his cellphone. He must be one of the earliest adopters of this technology, especially in the political sphere. But it helps nowadays for a politician like Zielinski to get the money while he can, and boy he does.

From January 1st, 2013 to June 30th, 2013, the most recent period for which information is available, Zielinski pulled in contributions of $18,553, largely from those looking for a new or renewed license from the city. Zielinski’s campaign spent $9,211 of that in the six months, leaving a handsome surplus to add to the $44,964 he had in his account at the beginning of the period. He finished it with $54,305 cash on hand.

The Rundown

  • Style: “Duplex Old Style”
  • Location: City of Milwaukee
  • Neighborhood: Bay View
  • Walk Score: 69 out of 100. “Somewhat Walkable” Some errands can be accomplished on foot like walking 199 feet down the block to Palomino. Club Garibaldi is on the next block, and Groppi’s Market sells all sorts of goodies 358 feet away. Plus, Tony can walk to the carferry if a trip to Michigan is in order. Bay View is the 16th most walkable neighborhood in Milwaukee with an average score of 76; Zielinski is likely penalized for being on the edge of development there. The 3,353,072 sq. ft. city-owned vacant lot across the street probably negatively impacts the score, as well.
  • Street Smart Walk Score: 63
  • Public Transit Score: 42 out of 100. “Some Transit” There are 4 bus lines nearby. Unfortunately, none of them run a regular route from downtown – east side to Bay View over the Hoan Bridge, which is just plain dumb.
  • Size: 1,563 square feet. It also has a 12 ft x 22 ft detached garage.
  • Year Built: 1910. A 9 foot wide 1920 addition added less than 500 feet to the place, bringing it to its current dimensions.
  • Assessed Value: Land — $43,300; Improvements — $154,100 Total — $197,400
  • Taxes: $5,720, paid in full.

How Milwaukee Is It? It is 4 miles to City Hall

Photo Gallery

Correction:The story originally reported that the sweetwater loan was for $125,000.  The loan was for $250,000.

6 thoughts on “House Confidential: Ald. Tony Z’s Odd Little Home”

  1. Annie says:

    The amount of the Sweet Water City loan was actually $250,000, not $125,000.

  2. Bill says:

    Very cool house. Glad to see it’s been taken care of.

  3. Bay View Girl says:

    Will he please just get rid of those dead potted trees in the front? They look so awful!

  4. Bill Sell says:

    Not sure if Michael includes Route 48 in his list of bus routes “nearby” but it serves the south end of Bay View and the burbs and it DOES use the Hoan. The other routes have riders to pick up all along KK, Howell, and First Street. This area of Bay View lost its bus service a few years back when Route 53 was cut short. Parking was made to be a huge issue when Cactus Club wanted to remodel. So, it’s puzzle the neighbors did not fight for the bus; perhaps “parking” becomes a useful issue with or without data, depending on the agenda.

  5. Bay View Girl says:

    Too bad you didn’t get inside the house. You would have seen his bust of Caesar, his portrait of Machiavelli, and his “Veni Vidi Vici” neon sign.

  6. uptown hottie says:

    I will tell you what is odd, Michael Horne, and that is this article that you have written. It seems to have some purpose, but what that purpose is, is undeterminable.

    To Bay View Girl, tsk, tsk, sour grapes, have we?

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