Bruce Murphy
Back in the News

Anti-Streetcar Petition Drive Fails

Streetcar opponents failed to get enough signatures in 60 days; now say they’ll relaunch drive in May.

By - Mar 5th, 2015 01:15 pm
The streetcar as it meets Broadway in the Third Ward.

The streetcar as it meets Broadway in the Third Ward.

Wow, what an anti-climax.

The much-ballyhooed drive to get at least 31,000 signatures from city voters to force a binding referendum for any streetcar project of more than $20 million has failed, as Sean Ryan of the Business Journal has reported.

Chris Kliesmet of the CR Network, which organized the petition drive, had declared that “sentiment in the city is wildly against” the streetcar. And the effort had assistance from the Koch Brothers-Funded Americans for Prosperity, which provided paid staff and volunteers to help it.

Yet the drive fell 6,000 votes short, according to Orville Seymer, longtime co-leader of the CRG. He continued to insist to the Business Journal that there was “overwhelming” opposition to the streetcar, but blamed the cold weather for the drive’s failure.

Word of problems with the effort had spread more than a week ago and when I contacted Kliesmet, he conceded this via email but said, “The fact is, you can continue a petition drive indefinitely, start and stop it, etc.  The only requirement is to turn in sufficient signatures dated over a contiguous 60-day period.”

CRG originally planned to have the signatures in time for the February Common Council vote on the streetcar (which approved it) and then extended the deadline to March 5. Now Kliesmet and company plan to start anew in May. As Kliesmet put it in his email, “Now that artificial deadlines connected to the dates of any particularly vote are moot, there really are no restrictions on a petition.”

CRG and their pro-bono lawyer Rick Esenberg have argued that even if Milwaukee has already started work on the streetcar, the petition drive, should it ever succeed, could still force the city to delay the project until a referendum on it occurs.

By contrast, a legal opinion by City Attorney Grant Langley suggested the council’s vote in July 2011 approving an early version of the streetcar project could make the petition drive moot, even if the signatures had been gotten before the February 2015 vote that gave final approval to the streetcar.

The call for a referendum actually goes back to July 2011, when streetcar opponent and alderman Bob Donovan argued in favor of it. “I from day one have asked for a referendum,” he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel today. Which raises the question why the CRG Network, which says it launched the drive on Donovan’s behalf, waited until January 2015 to do so.

The failure of that drive would seem to add difficulties for Esenberg or any lawyer attempting to argue that a second attempt, should it succeed, has legal validity. By this summer, when the petition would be presented, the city would have already spent considerable money planning the streetcar. Esenberg would presumably have to argue that in cold-weather Milwaukee, any petition drive launched during our rather lengthy winter should get a second chance, even if means taxpayer dollars are wasted as a result. That should make for an interesting day in court.

Update 10 a.m. March 6: CRG Network has released a press release saying the petition drive actually got 30,000 signatures but was 5,000 short of its goal of 35,000 signatures (which would have provided 4,000 extra signatures in case many get invalidated). I emailed Kliesmet regarding this inconsistency with the earlier figure (6,000 short) provided by Seymer and have not received a reply. The CRG press release also notes the impact of the “brutally cold weather” it faced and how much better the drive did on one exceptional winter day with a temperature of 42 degrees. For some reason global climate change was left out of the discussion.

Ald. Bob Donovan also released a press release promising that the war against the streetcar is far from over.  “Make no mistake,” Donovan thundered,  “this is not a retreat but a strategic withdrawal. We will regroup, and we will live to fight another day.” But preferably on a day with balmy temperatures.

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30 thoughts on “Back in the News: Anti-Streetcar Petition Drive Fails”

  1. PMD says:

    So they had paid staff and volunteers collecting signatures, and (allegedly) significant opposition. So how exactly did the cold stop them from reaching their goal? The paid staff and volunteers didn’t work had because of the cold? People didn’t come to the door to sign because it was cold outside?

  2. Beer Baron says:

    Such a sad group of people. So glad they live in Franklin and not in Milwaukee.

  3. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Could not get circulators out to ft to people. they do not go to doors, they go to various places like downtown where there are people. started great then we had the 6th coldest month in history. wish we had some Global warming. No one will stand outside and do this. The poling showed 80% opposition but no fervent opposition like Ament so we will see what happens at election time.

  4. PMD says:

    Come on this is Wisconsin. People are used to cold winters here. I don’t buy the “it was too cold” excuse. Just be honest and say we failed.

    What poll? Who conducted it? Can you please link to it here? Don’t tell me to Google it or “do my own research.”

  5. Observer says:

    I suspect they had far fewer than 25,000 legitimate signatures. In my swim class where the petition was circulated, not one of the signers actually lived in Milwaukee. This is a drive that started in the suburbs and had its most appeal in the suburbs. I’m sure we’ll hear soon from that voice of the Milwaukee oppressed who also lives in the suburbs as does Chris Kliesmet and Orville Seymer.

  6. Urban dweller says:

    Now there’s also time for someone to sue Chris Kleismet for failing to register as a paid lobbyist and operative of the Orwellian-named Americans For Prosperity.

  7. Bill says:

    I had a petition worker ask me to sign, said I would be signing to vote for the “Trolley”. Which in theory is true, but is misleading in the way she worded it. I waved her off, telling her I was in favor of it and she said I could still sign. The continued to tell passerbys that she was collecting signatures for the Trolley. I’ve had other friends that had similar confusing interactions.

  8. jake says:

    I never stepped on Bob Donavan s lawn, why did he have to take it out on the trolley?

  9. David says:

    WCD…… it was the 6th coldest February on record, not the 6th coldest month. You’re so fast and loose with data. Also, even though it was chilly, we only had one real snow event. Most days were kind of pleasant. Also,what polling information? The 2010 non binding referendum showed 76% in favor of the streetcar. This will give the opponents time to spread more misinformation about the project.

  10. PMD says:

    Still waiting for WCD to link to the poll that shows 80% opposition to the streetcar. Was it a poll Bob Donovan conducted of his relatives?

  11. Brisls says:

    Foolish foolish people. Have you done ANY research of other cities other than Portland where streetcars are in place? They DO NOT have the ridership predicted even with free rides. If you don’t think you’ll be paying for this boondoggle even though you’ll never ride it, you are sadly mistaken. Justifying that it’s Federal dollars is nonsense. Out of the 124 MILLION dollars to create this monster, only 55 million are Federal funds. Are you willing to pay more taxes/fees for something you’ll never use? Why are so many afraid to put this on a referendum? Afraid it won’t pass.

  12. Dave says:

    All I have to say is hahahahahahahhahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. Suck it, losers.

  13. David says:

    Brisls……. it’s clear we want this. Now just leave us alone.

  14. Rob says:

    The proponents of the streetcar seem to be against a referendum allowing the taxpayers to decide its fate. That is most likely because they fear they will lose the debate. You can see that from their snarky comments.

  15. Dave says:

    Lose the debate? That’s laughable. YOU lost the debate by huge margin. YOU failed to collect the measly sum of 31,000 signatures (not even 10% of eligible voters in the city, I would guess) and, despite 2 self imposed extensions, didn’t come close. YOU had mythical theories of widespread opposition and hundreds of hours of free air time on am right wing radio. YOU had Dave Sobelman and his Mayor hating friends using their businesses to promote your petty petition. All this and YOU still failed. Lost the debate? Give me a f***ing break.

  16. AG says:

    Rob, apparently only streetcar proponents are the ones that remember we already had a referendum allowing the taxpayers to decide it’s fate and they would like to finally get it in the ground and hopefully expanded as soon as possible.

  17. Adam says:

    @Rob- Anti-streetcar referendums have already failed in far more conservative cities than Milwaukee. It’s a shoe in that the referendum would fail here. We just don’t want anymore delays. Suburbanites have been trying to kill this project for several years now. It’s been debated to exhaustion. All the huffing and puffing of Donovan and Davis and they could not deliver. Looks like people are sick of talking about this thing, just start laying some track already.

  18. @Rich says:

    Brisis @ March 6, 2015 at 10:02 am “Are you willing to pay more taxes/fees for something you’ll never use?”

    Yes and I already do the same for many other things that build a better society, including the roads that lead to your house that I’ve “never driven on” too.

  19. PMD says:

    As of 2012 there were about 330,000 eligible voters in the City of Milwaukee. So 31,000 is indeed less than 10% of the city’s eligible voters.

  20. Todd says:

    “It was overwhelming. The people said we cannot allow this to go forward.”- Orville Seymour.

    Apparently it was so overwhelming that the equivalent of 7.8% of the voting age population signed it, of course we don’t know what percent of that group are actually Milwaukee residents. Man, talk about a landslide.

    Also, I keep seeing this 80% oppose number, but have seen no poll supporting it. Can someone show me a link? I doubt it, because that number probably comes from Bob Donovan’s butt, but I’m just curious if the number is really out there, and the methodology used to get it.

  21. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    This is not over by long shot. Milwaukee has so many major problems that will not be solved by Arenas, great article in Journal today blowing away the development BS, or trolleys for yuppies. will this take Milwaukee out of top ten most violent, worst poverty, worst schools, worst management, human trafficking, heroin epidemic, 57% youth unemployment? Think not and as long as it has leaders like ones on this blog it never will. need Kooyenga and Darling plus Clarke to save the day, the guys in the white hat.

  22. PMD says:

    WCD – “The poling showed 80% opposition”

    Where is the poll? Share a link please.

  23. Casey says:

    @PMD I’m sure the poll is located here

  24. PMD says:

    @Casey Either that or the poll was conducted at Bob Donovan’s house during Christmas dinner with his family.

  25. Bathroom Bob Donovan says:

    PMD That’s a poll WCD conducted in his head. Margin of error of -/+15

  26. Observer says:

    Bris sez: “Foolish foolish people. Have you done ANY research of other cities other than Portland where streetcars are in place?”

    Hmm, you remind me of someone but I just can’t put my finger on who? Do you have a brother that posts here?
    So many people lately wanting others to do research. Must be the change in seasons.

    I’m still waiting on “Frank” to get back with his proof. Do you know Frank?

  27. Tom D says:

    @Brisls (post 11) said: “Have you done ANY research of other cities other than Portland where streetcars are in place? They DO NOT have the ridership predicted even with free rides.”

    Let’s look at two other US cities that also operate new, modern streetcar systems:

    • Seattle (opened 2007) Ridership has exceeded predicted levels. It has not been free since 2007.

    • Tucson (opened July, 2014) Before it opened, ridership predicted at 3,600/day; it averaged 5,000/day within two months. It has not been free since its first week of operation.

  28. Chris Jacobs says:

    What about failing streetcars such as in Tampa, where nobody rides it? Or places like Arlington, VA where the county board voted to cancel a proposed streetcar? Austin’s failed streetcar proposal? San Antonio’s streetcar was 75% funded when it got the plug pulled. Although Kansas City voted to have a 2 mile city streetcar, and are taxing the downtown residents for it, the metro expansion efforts have failed. Even golden Portland was caught inflating its ridership numbers by 1.1 million rides (19%) last year. There is still a slim hope for a referendum to stop this next “Detroit People Mover” like disaster.

  29. Tom D says:

    Chris Jacobs,

    Tampa’s streetcar is very unlike Milwaukee’s. It does not use Milwaukee’s modern, low-floor vehicles, instead running relics designed back in the Model-T era. Unlike Milwaukee, Tampa’s streetcar is aimed at tourists, never running before 11 am; Milwaukee’s will serve commuters, always starting by 7:00 am (5:00 am weekdays).

    In Portland, the streetcar people did not “inflate” the ridership numbers. A separate, competing transit agency (“TriMet”) double-counted some passengers. There is no reason TriMet would deliberately “inflate” numbers for a COMPETING system. It was an honest mistake (triggered by a route expansion where two lines started partly overlapping) made by people OTHER than those running or responsible for the streetcar. Once discovered by an audit, it was promptly corrected. (And even after that correction, ridership was still up.)

    You also mention the Detroit People Mover. Milwaukee’s streetcar is very different from the elevated, 100% private right-of-way, People Mover. You would do better to compare Milwaukee’s streetcar to the new streetcar (called “M-1 Rail”) now being built in Detroit. Even Michigan’s right-wing governor supports it.

  30. David says:

    @Chris…… in addition to Tom’s comments, Milwaukee is not like the cities you mention in almost every way. We are a transit city, with one of the highest rider ships per capita in the Midwest. In fact, before our bus system was gutted, we had the highest ridership per capita for an all bus system in the entire country. We are much denser than all of the cities you mention and have a greater concentration of jobs in the downtown. And by the way…. who cares about Tampa and Arlington.

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