Ten Predictions for 2016
A new downtown strip club, less crime, more Sheriff Clarke. It's all coming… we think.
In the coming year, virtually every local politician is up for re-election, hundreds of millions of dollars in construction projects is planned, Milwaukee Public Schools faces the possibility of an entirely new district forming alongside it and that’s just the stuff we know about. What else is coming in 2016? Time to gaze into the crystal ball:
1. Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. says something even more outrageous than his infamous arm yourself and fight back ad:
In 2013, Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke unveiled a radio spot that told listeners “with officers laid off and furloughed, simply calling 911 and waiting is no longer your best option.” Clarke encouraged residents to arm themselves and back against violent criminals. That was also the year he accused Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele of “penis envy.”
Here’s a prediction you can take to the bank: Clarke will say something just as wild in 2016. As with virtually anything he does, his law-and-order base will love it and call him a hero for boldly saying what no other politician would dare, and liberals will foam at the mouth in rage.
2. Tom Barrett cruises to re-election with 65%-35% win over Donovan:
Despite a hotly contested Republican Presidential primary in the April election, Barrett will smoke the more conservative Bob Donovan in the general election. Barrett beat Edward McDonald, a man most Milwaukeeans couldn’t identify in a lineup, with 70% of the vote in 2012. The only thing holding Barrett back from doing the same to Donovan is Donald Trump, who could bring out the sort of voters who like Donovan.
It’s widely expected this will be Barrett’s last run for Mayor, which sets up the real intrigue: who’s Milwaukee’s next Mayor?
3. Silk’s Downtown strip club is finally approved:
Silk has taken the city to federal court and won. It’s only a matter of time until Jon Ferraro is able to open his downtown establishment. The only question that remains is where will it go? And here’s the crazy thing with this controversial issue: once it’s open, virtually no one will care.
4. Bauman and Kovac fight the Bucks over arena design:
The pro-arena crowd would have you believe the new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks is a shovel-ready project. But there’s a reason the Bucks haven’t been showing you renderings from all sides of the building, and that’s been occupying plenty of time within City Hall. Expect the first half of the coming year to be filled with debate over the design of the least sexy parts of the new complex — the loading docks, the HVAC system, the parking garage, the sidewalks and the number of windows. Expect aldermen Robert Bauman and Nik Kovac to lead the charge for a better arena design, while the Bucks look to maximize revenue.
5. Presidential primary has unforeseen local consequences:
April 5th, 2016 is going to be a weird day in Milwaukee. Voters will take to the polling booths to vote for some combination of Hillary Clinton, Chris Abele, Marco Rubio, Bob Donovan, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Chris Larson and Tom Barrett. And those are only the executive races. Also on the ballot will be the entire Milwaukee Common Council and entire Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors. If Bernie Sanders can give Hillary Clinton a run for her money, expect heavier Democratic turnout which could aid candidates like Meagan Holman against incumbent alderman Tony Zielinski in Bay View. If the Democratic race is a bore and Donald Trump is still battling things out with Rubio and Ted Cruz, look for Chris Abele to win a large victory over likely general election challenger Chris Larson.
6. Abele unveils unconventional scheme to pay for BRT route to Regional Medical Center:
Milwaukee County is studying a bus rapid transit route in the Wisconsin Avenue corridor between Downtown and the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center. All indications are that Abele wants to get it running prior to the reconstruction of Interstate 94 through Milwaukee, despite the fact that no obvious source of existing funding presents itself (it’s the anti-streetcar in that regard). But the lack of a funding source didn’t stop Abele when it came to the New Bucks Arena. The county is likely to receive Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) funds from the federal government to pay for start-up operations (much like what pays for their existing operations), but a true bus rapid transit system will require a substantial capital investment and a long-term funding source to operate it. I’m betting Abele pulls a rabbit from the hat to finance the new line.
7. Milwaukee Streetcar becomes boring
Milwaukee reached peak streetcar intensity earlier this year. In less than a year the city had a mayor pushing for it, two mayoral candidates bashing it, a majority of the council supporting it, multiple, failed petition drives to force a referendum on having a referendum, unusual parliamentary moves to delay its approval, an alderman claiming black people were going to ruin the streetcar and that riders might get raped, Johnson Controls throwing their support behind the project, the streetcar’s ultimate approval, the city winning a federal grant for the first extension, the vendor being selected and ultimately utility work being undertaken. By the time the actual construction begins this year, the whole thing will be (yawn) old news and all the controversy will have disappeared.
8. Milwaukee Public Schools takeover produces positive outcomes
The new law enabling the Milwaukee County Executive to take over up to five failing Milwaukee Public Schools annually was born of poor public policy. Yet, I’m bullish on its potential to produce positive results. I don’t know exactly what Demond Means and Abele have in store, but I expect they’ll obsess over how to get positive results from the schools they take over. A positive side effect could be MPS middle management driving better results from under-performing schools.
The new “school district” won’t fix the fundamental problem of too many kids entering the system from lives of extreme poverty, but won’t hurt and could help.
9. Crime rate drops, no one knows why
Nor did they know why crime was higher last year, though everyone had their pet answer. Odds are, the crime rate will magically drop next year. Maybe caused by a single change in police policy. Maybe by a confluence of factors one could never hope to understand. What we do know is that rise or fall, Facebook commenters will tell us exactly why and it will certainly involve partisan politics.
10. More apartments, led by a groundbreaking for The Couture
This prediction might seem like shooting fish in a barrel, given the countless articles about all the new projects proposed we’ve written. Yet, I keep hearing from different sources about more projects in the pipeline. I’m skeptical the city can continue to support this many new apartments. Yet the rent on my 90-year-old apartment building has gone up each of the past three years, and anecdotally we’re hearing there’s still more demand.
The project that everyone will obsess over this year will be The Couture, and the city and county have too much invested at this point to let it not happen. But don’t miss the forest for the trees: the Mandel Group has lots of irons in the fire, there are a number of projects in Bay View including a huge one at the former Sweet Water Organics site, and Wangard and others just keep moving forward. It’s not the 30+ story tower that will transform the city, it’s the added pockets of density that transform desolate streets into vibrant, connected nodes. Yes, Milwaukee will still have momentum in 2016.