Tag Archives: alderman

Milwaukee alderman proposes ban on smokeless tobacco at sports venues

Milwaukee Alderman Michael Murphy has proposed an ordinance that would eliminate the use of smokeless tobacco products at Miller Park and other sports venues in the city.

An announcement from Murphy’s office said public health advocates would  join him at a Milwaukee Common Council hearing on the ordinance Nov. 10.

His proposal applies to all sports facilities at all levels — professional, collegiate, high school and amateur — within city limits and would cover everyone in the venues, including on the playing field, benches, vendor areas, spectator stands, parking lots and tailgating locations.

Murphy said Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco have enacted similar prohibitions. And a measure awaits the  mayor’s signature in Washington, D.C.

Also, next year, a law in California will take effect that would make 11 of the 30 Major League Baseball stadiums will be tobacco-free.

Public health experts, including at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Surgeon General, U.S. National Cancer Institute and World Health Organization, have concluded smokeless tobacco use is dangerous, containing at least 28 known carcinogens and causes oral, pancreatic and esophageal cancer.

The product also causes nicotine addiction and other serious health problems like gum disease, tooth decay and mouth lesions. 

“For too long tobacco has been a stain on the great game of baseball and it’s time to get tobacco out of baseball once and for all to set the right example for the millions of kids who watch the sport and emulate their favorite players,” Murphy said in a statement. “When they are on the job, major league players have a responsibility to set the right example. Let’s make Milwaukee a shining example for the rest of the game.”

The CDC has reported that high school athletes use smokeless tobacco at nearly twice the rate of non-athletes and smokeless tobacco use among athletes increased more than 11 percent from 2001 to 2013, even as smoking rates dropped significantly.

Among male high school athletes, smokeless tobacco use is at 17.4 percent in 2013.

“Our national pastime should be about promoting a healthy and active lifestyle, not a deadly and addictive product,” said Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “Milwaukee is sending the right message that baseball players are role models for our nation’s youth and that chewing tobacco is dangerous and should not be an accepted part of sports culture.”

In 2013, manufacturers of smokeless tobacco spent more than $500 million on marketing.

On the Web

For information on the Knock Tobacco Out of the Park campaign go to tobaccofreebaseball.org.

A real champion for the 14th District, Tony Zielinski has earned another term

Tony Zielinski is a real go-getter for Milwaukee’s 14th District.

Perhaps the most striking feature of the alderman’s website is the lengthy list of endorsements from businesses in his district. It’s one measure of the success he’s had at guiding development in the district, which includes the thriving neighborhood of Bay View. He actively recruits businesses he believes to be a good fit with the ward and uses all the resources at his disposal to facilitate getting them open and positioned for success.

If Zielinski seems to live and breathe his job, it’s probably because he’s been representing the area for so long. He was elected to the Common Council in 2004 and has served three terms in that capacity.

Now he’s seeking a fourth, and we endorse his reelection.

Much of an alderman’s job hinges on the little things — making sure the leaves and snow are removed, the garbage is picked up, the sewage is running properly and burnt-out bulbs on street lamps are replaced. Zielinski scores great marks from constituents for fulfilling those functions, but he takes his work many steps further. He’s a virtual ambassador for his area, constantly on the watch for new opportunities to benefit the 14th District. Those include everything from aiding new development, such as the restoration of the Avalon Theater last year, to ways of improving his residents quality of life, such as creating a new dog park and obtaining winter parking rights on both sides of his district’s two-way streets.

He created the city’s only public-art bus shelter at the intersection of Kinnickinnic and Lincoln Avenue. He’s integrated solar-powered lights into the area.

“If someone had told you 10 years ago that Kinnickinnic would be what it is today, they would have looked at you like your crazy,” Zielinski told WiG. “I know what kind of businesses my constituents want to see. I try to be pro-active in (developing those kinds of businesses).”

Zielinski has been criticized in the past for shutting down outdoor restaurant patios that bothered local residents. But he’s proud that he’s kept businesses from intruding into residential areas while maintaining walkable neighborhoods.

“People want to go home at the end of the day and that’s their castle,” he said. “Our business strips are thriving, but the side streets are nice and quiet.”

Zielinski said during his next term he wants “to just keep building on the template that we’ve been establishing for the last 10 years.”

One of the directions in which he’s moving is attracting “good-paying” light manufacturing jobs to the area.

He’s working to help his district get a company that wants to take waste wood from the city and turn it into usable products, as well as a manufacturer of LED lighting. He’s also working on a four-season skateboard park.

Beginning in the spring, Bay View will take part in the city’s first-ever curbside compost program, a project that he spearheaded. That’s one of many ideas he’s helped to promote on a citywide level.

The most important thing to know is that Zielinski is always working on something to enhance his district as well as Milwaukee. He’s a great alderman, a strong progressive with a stellar record on such issues as equality, worker’s rights and social justice.

Former Milwaukee school board member Meagan Holman, who did not seek WiG’s endorsement, is challenging Zielinski, so he needs your vote on April 5.

He’s certainly earned it.

Far-right Sheboygan alderman resigns amid charges of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy

A Sheboygan alderman has resigned following accusations he was sexually involved with a 15-year-old boy.

Sheboygan Press Media reports the city clerk’s office confirmed it received a resignation letter from Kevin MatiChek. The now ex-alderman didn’t admit to any wrongdoing, but some local media reports have quoted him as saying that he and the boy were “dating.”

In 2010, MatiChek, a right-wing Republican, challenged incumbent state Rep. Mike Endsley in a failed primary race for the state’s 26th Assembly District.

Posts on MatiChek’s Facebook page promote fundamentalist Christianity and right-wing ideology. One person posted on the page, “I see Kevin attended Sheboygan Liberty Coalition meetings — that’s where all of THE most extremist righties in the County gather to share conspiracy theories and hate on Obama.”

In his resignation letter, MatiChek said, “In light of the criminal accusation against me, it is clear that I am currently unable to effectively serve in my position as alderman for the City of Sheboygan. Because I do not want the charge to detract from the City’s business, please accept this letter as my official resignation as Fourth District Alderman on the Sheboygan Common Council.”

MatiChek is charged with repeated sexual assault of a child. He allegedly gave movies and a cellphone to the teen he met last summer.

According to a criminal complaint, MatiChek acknowledged having a “friendship” with the boy and kissing him but denied any sexual contact. His defense attorney has said he is presumed innocent.

MatiChek is scheduled back in court Feb. 18.

Right-wing bias, political jockeying conspire to derail Milwaukee’s streetcar proposal

Update Feb. 10: The Milwaukee Common Council approved the streetcar connecting downtown to the lower east side the morning of Feb. 10. 

***

Streetcars and light rail systems are central to America’s growing re-urbanization — the counterpunch to last century’s urban flight. Although critics often dismiss them as “trendy,” you’ll find such systems today in down-to-earth cities such as Oklahoma City, Kansas City and Cincinnati. Leaders in conservative metro areas such as Salt Lake City rave about them. They’re an integral part of 21st–century urban landscapes in nearly every corner of the nation — Portland and Seattle, Tucson and Phoenix, Atlanta and Nashville, Philadelphia and Boston.

Many of the cities that have added streetcars or light rail to their public transportation options over the past couple of decades consider them great successes. Portland, Oregon, which pioneered the streetcar’s return, reports that $3.5 billion has been invested within two blocks of its streetcar lines, resulting in 10,212 new housing units and 5.4 million square feet of office, institutional, retail and hotel construction.

Not every city can report the spectacular results of Portland’s streetcar, and some systems do have flaws that are touted by naysayers intent on finding them. But it’s accurate to say that the scores of streetcar projects that have been built over the past two decades have proven overwhelmingly popular. They’ve benefited their local economies and provided an additional mode of transportation that gets large numbers of people out of their cars and into their streets, where they can get around without dealing with parking hassles. 

Milwaukee is the most densely populated city in the nation without any rail component in its pubic transportation mix —yet.

The taste of Koch

Approval for Milwaukee’s streetcar initially seemed like a slam-dunk. The city’s major business interests are so firmly behind it that several of them took out a full-page ad supporting the project in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The ad, headlined as an “open letter to the City of Milwaukee,” read: “We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to propel Milwaukee forward in a bold new direction that will positively impact the future of our great city for decades. If we don’t reinvest in our community, fewer people will locate here, existing citizens will leave, and it will leave a deep hole in the pool of resources available to take care of people.”

The highest-profile business leaders in Milwaukee, including Michael Cudahy, Greg Marcus, Barry Mandel, David Lubar, Jeffrey Jorres, Alex Molinaroli, Gary Grunau, Linda Gorens-Levey and Greg Wesley, signed the letter.

The Milwaukee Business Journal reported that Johnson Controls Inc. is taking a “keen interest” in the Milwaukee streetcar as it considers places for possible expansion. Development giant Jon Hammes said the streetcar could spur construction of an $80-million building he’s proposed for downtown.

But there’s a name that’s missing from that list, and it’s not because he’s reluctant to get involved in the state’s local issues: David Koch. His groups got involved in two school board elections last April in Kenosha, turning them into to pro-voucher boards. They also tried to derail an expansion of that city’s streetcar expansion, Christopher Naumann, executive director of Downtown Kenosha, told WiG.

As in Milwaukee, there were few objections to Kenosha’s streetcar up until the weeks before the vote, despite the fact that it had been a priority for city planners since 2012. Unlike in Milwaukee, Kenosha’s aldermen stood up to the special interests and refused to play politics with their streetcar. They voted to move forward.

Kenosha’s streetcar development will cost $10 million — $8 million of which is coming from a federal grant.

“The momentum this thing took in the last weeks and the personalities that got involved were very interesting,” Naumann said. “Things seemed to be more about politics than about the streetcar.”

“The streetcar isn’t nearly as impactful as other issues, but they were going after this as low-hanging fruit,” he added. 

In the scale of things, a $2-million expenditure on building a streetcar line in a small Wisconsin city seems small potatoes for the mighty Kochs. But it’s an issue for which Koch and his fossil-fuel cronies have a distinct distaste. Any advancement of transportation that replaces driving is bad for their business.

In fact, the involvement of Koch interests in fighting streetcars seems to counter opponents’ claims that they’re underutilized. If the tea party and its fossil-fuel backers really thought no one would use the streetcars, then why would they waste so much effort trying to prevent them from being constructed?

Local opposition

Nevertheless, two 2016 challengers to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett’s re-election have joined forces with Koch brothers allies to turn the streetcar project into the hot-button political issue du jour. After several delays on voting for the project, the Milwaukee Common Council approved it on Jan. 21. But in a convoluted parliamentary move, aldermen also voted to delay its final approval until Feb. 10.

The delay is designed to give Ald. Bob Donovan and Ald. Joe Davis, both of whom want to unseat Barrett in 2016, a chance to collect 31,000 signatures to compel a binding referendum that would mandate voter approval for any rail spending over $20 million. A similar attempt to halt a streetcar in Kansas City failed.

But Citizens for Responsible Government, the ad hoc group led by Donovan that’s spearheading the referendum effort, has said it will not provide the needed signatures until Feb. 9. Milwaukee City Clerk Jim Owczarski said that he’s entitled to — and needs — up to 15 days to review the petitions for accuracy.

So, even though the Common Council has approved the streetcar, it’s unclear what its members will do on Feb. 10. The fate of the streetcar remains up in the air, and the project could ultimately wind up on a court docket.

One possibility is that the referendum would apply to future rail decisions but not this one, Owczarski said.

“You can’t use direct legislation to undo something that’s already been done,” he explained.

Meanwhile Americans for Prosperity, a Koch-brothers-advocacy group, is reportedly trying to steer the city away from the project. Their efforts are benefiting from the support of right-wing radio hosts such as Charlie Sykes, who’s provided a soap box for Donovan (who has formerly run for political office as a Republican).

Why are the Koch brothers and their interests so terrified of a 2.1-mile streetcar system that they would resort to denigrating the program as catering to the rich and would feign concern over public funding for the poor?

‘Ugly wires’

The rhetoric against Milwaukee’s modest streetcar starter plan has been all but apocalyptic. The plan, which would connect downtown Milwaukee to the lower East Side and the lakefront, has been blasted as everything from a racist plot to a rape magnet to a careless waste of taxpayer dollars. (The longterm plan for the streetcar would extend it up the east side of the city and west of the Milwaukee River.)

The introductory price for a ticket would be $1.

Steve Hiniker, president of 1,000 Friends of Wisconsin, and former Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist are infuriated that right-wing leaders have positioned the streetcar as “waste of taxpayer dollars,” while ignoring the $1-billion plan to expand I-94 through downtown Milwaukee. Traffic studies have proven the expansion is not needed, and it would be financed partially through Wisconsinites’ property taxes and federal money that Republican leaders usually make a great show of turning down. It will cause countless accidents, delays and loss of productivity but will offer no necessary benefits at a time when traffic on the corridor is declining.

The difference between the I-94 expansion and the streetcar is that road builders give millions of dollars to elected officials, but the streetcar does not offer them a comparable payday, according to Hiniker and others. 

It’s telling that Donovan wasn’t even aware of the I-94 expansion project when WiG spoke with him recently by phone.

“I haven’t looked at that issue, quite frankly,” said Donovan, who announced his mayoral candidacy for 2016 on Sykes’ radio program.

On the other hand, Donovan and Davis have looked very, very hard at the $124-million Milwaukee streetcar line. They’ve bashed the project with distortions and outright lies. 

Donovan’s complaints about the project are among the quirkiest. He said they represent “old-fashioned technology that’s going to take Milwaukee backwards.”

“It’s going to put ugly wires out in the streets,” lamented the alderman.

But the prize for most bizarre objection goes to Ald. Joe Dudzik, who called in to a live radio program to warn listeners that the streetcar would be a magnet for shootings, assaults and rape. 

Re-urbanization

The geography and sociology of the United States during the second half of the 19th century were transformed by the construction of vast interstate highway system   made possible by cheap oil and environmental blindness — and racism. From coast to coast and border to border, nature was resurfaced with thousands of miles of tar offering safe passage to white urbanites fleeing black and Latino newcomers.

The white-flight generation littered the nation with ugly, chain-store-studded strip malls and cookie-cutter housing developments that crowded out the plant and animal life that occupied the continent for eons. The one-two punch of chopping down the nation’s trees and filling the air with automobile exhaust helped change the global climate.

But in time, everything old becomes new again. Unpredictable gas prices, the lost productivity resulting from ever-longer drive times to ever-farther suburbs, falling real estate prices and the sociocultural sterility of the suburbs have grown tiresome to growing numbers of their residents.

Farsighted developers revitalized cities like Milwaukee, and empty nesters began opting to live in the vibrant new urban pockets they created, such as the Third Ward, which offers close proximity to entertainment, culture, chic boutiques and gourmet dining.

Their kids, meanwhile, began gravitating to their own urban neighborhoods such as Bay View and Walker’s Point, places that offer low-cost housing, diverse social interaction and freedom from wasting so much of their lives in automobiles, inhaling toxic fumes and contributing to the planet’s demise.

“People want to be close together for social and culture and business interactions,” Norquist told WiG by phone. “The city is a cultural creative soup that creates value. Even the great conservative think tanks are in cities. Being in the middle is important. The urban environment and transit brings people together.”

Norquist, who said the streetcar is a no-brainer for Milwaukee, has witnessed up-close and personal the decades-long struggle to bring rail back to Milwaukee. He notes that automotive interests eliminated the city’s streetcars in the first place.

According to Norquist, business interests connected with Firestone and General Motors owned Milwaukee streetcar systems for a while before eliminating them and the competition they represented.

“A lot of the people who participated in this were progressive,” Norquist said. “They thought streetcars were old-fashioned.”

Norquist said the final owner of a rail system that offered direct service from downtown Milwaukee to the Chicago Loop every hour not only ended the service but “burned down all the trains and equipment because they didn’t want the cars to go anywhere else.”

The federal grant that would cover nearly half of the proposed Milwaukee streetcar project has a long and checkered history, Norquist said. 

Back in the 1970s, the federal government appropriated $500 million for transportation in Milwaukee, Norquist said. The money was frittered away by a succession of governors until there was only $125 million left, part of which was used to tear down the Park East Freeway, he said.

“By the time I left there was $95 million left,” Norquist added. That amount is now down to $54 million.

No one seems to know what will happen to the money if it’s not used for the streetcar. Like the millions that Republicans turned down to build a high-speed rail corridor and expand Medicaid in Wisconsin, it might just go to another city and state with leaders who are more interested in their citizens than their political careers.

Ald. Tony Zielinski: Milwaukee streetcar is a luxury the city can’t afford

Update Feb. 10: The Milwaukee Common Council approved the streetcar connecting downtown to the lower east side the morning of Feb. 10. 

***

First and foremost, I am opposed to the streetcar because a majority of my constituents are opposed. No doubt, I have some vocal supporters but they are not the majority. 

My constituents are telling me their taxes are too high. Furthermore, we are in such apparent fiscal constraints that the police are being furloughed, the fire department are experiencing brown outs and we cannot even maintain our roads adequately. The potholes in particular are especially bothersome. 

Moreover, the city has been gradually cutting the work force in general due to tougher budget challenges. The city is struggling just to maintain the integrity of the delivery of its existing services.

How is it then that we have tens of millions of dollars to start a new project? And that is just the capital side of the price tag. There is also the excessive cost of operating the system into the foreseeable future. 

Proponents say this will not affect your property taxes. The money is coming from tax incremental financing districts. They are flat-out misleading the public. TID’s forgo tax revenue to pay for projects. 

To illustrate, the cost of the streetcar project is around $124 million and we are getting $54 million from the federal government. Meaning the city has to come up with the remaining money. And as I mentioned earlier, we will have to pay the shortfall for the annual operating budget. 

Nearly all my constituents believe we need a strong mass transit system that includes buses with rubber wheels, which are a lot less expensive. But the problem with that is the county has been so strapped for money they have continually been cutting back on their services. 

Lastly, I have a number of constituents who cannot afford our continually escalating property taxes. A number of people are being taxed out of their homes. 

Milwaukee cannot move forward with reckless spending practices. Detroit was spending money all the way to bankruptcy. The streetcar did not help them. If anything, their spending on the streetcar dramatized their reckless and irresponsible spending habits. 

People say the streetcar has worked in other cities. We are not other cities, just like we are not Detroit. We are one of the 10 poorest cities in the country. Every city has a unique set of variables that determines whether it is a right fit for them or not. 

Other cities such as Arlington, Virginia, voted down their streetcar proposals because of the cost. 

In summary, I do what the majority of my constituents want. A few years ago I voted for the streetcar because I received a lot of phone calls in support. When I started my door-to-door efforts, however, I quickly found out a majority of my constituents do not support the streetcar. So afterwards I let people know I will not be supporting the streetcar. 

I understand our economy is beginning to bounce back. However, until we can provide the necessary services to provide to our citizens, our city cannot afford this luxury.

Debunking objections to the Milwaukee streetcar

Update Feb. 10: The Milwaukee Common Council approved the streetcar connecting downtown to the lower east side the morning of Feb. 10. 

Ald. Bob Donovan claims Milwaukee’s streetcar project would divert $100 million of taxpayer money from education and other beneficial programs, but that’s simply not true. Here are some of the other popular objections to the streetcar, followed by responses from Jeff Fleming, spokesman for the Milwaukee Department of City Development.

1. The streetcar project will raise property taxes. This is false. Two downtown Tax Incremental Districts will issue $20 million in bonds to borrow money for the project. The money will be repaid by taxes that are based on the increase in value on properties in those districts only. That’s only fair, because real-estate owners in those two districts will benefit from an increase in value resulting from the streetcars. No one else’s taxes will be used for the streetcar.

2. The money for the streetcar project should be reallocated to something else, such as education. That’s not how it works. The $54 million federal grant for the project has been allocated specifically for rail in Milwaukee, and the city must either use it that way or lose it. The rest of the money cannot be reallocated, because it doesn’t exist. It’s being raised specifically to finance the streetcar. If the streetcar brings more economic activity and jobs to Milwaukee, however, it will increase the city’s tax base in a good way. The extra money could be used to finance other projects or provide property tax relief.

3. Streetcars have been colossal failures in other cities. While not everyone in every city with a streetcar system loves it, streetcars have been successful in measurable ways in most of the cities that have adopted them. Many of those cities have either expanded their lines or are in the process of doing so.

4. The tracks are going to hurt my tires and cause traffic jams. This hasn’t been a problem in the scores of other cities with streetcars. Streetcars reduce traffic in dense areas, so they are far more likely to thwart traffic jams than cause them.

5. Taxpayers will have to pay to maintain the streetcar. This is true. Taxpayer money is used to pay for all forms of public transportation, including highways, buses, airports and rail. There is no mode of public transportation that pays for itself. Most people mistakenly believe that gas taxes pay for highways, but that is not true. Gas taxes don’t begin to pay for the massive cost of maintaining roads. The money comes from a variety of funds, including your property taxes.

6. The strong economic development trajectory that downtown Milwaukee is on right now would continue without infrastructure improvements such as streetcars. There’s no way to respond to this definitively, but a large number of important business leaders want the streetcars. Some of them are unwilling to commit to locating their workforces downtown without a way to avoid building massive parking structures or a way to move people easily around the downtown area. Streetcars help resolve both of those concerns. According to city estimates, building the streetcar system could clinch several billion dollars worth of development deals, bringing more money and jobs to Milwaukee. That’s one of the reasons why hardcore Republicans and people in rural areas are against the streetcar: They don’t want to see the Democratic stronghold of Milwaukee succeed, even though the city is the state’s primary economic engine and its success benefits them, too.

Lesbian state Rep. Deb Mell named to Chicago City Council

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel on July 24 announced that Democratic state Rep. Deborah Mell, who is openly lesbian, will be the new alderman representing Chicago’s 33rd ward.

The mayor said, “After a thorough process, I am pleased to announce that Deb Mell will be the new Alderman representing the 33rd ward. Deb brings a strong legislative and voting record and a unique level of experience to the role, which separated her from other candidates for the position, and will allow her to immediately able make a strong impact on behalf of the residents of the 33rd ward. She is a proven legislator and will be a great addition to the city council.”

A five-member selection committee reviewed 12 candidates for the office. Last week, three finalists from the poll met with Emanuel, who made his decision over the weekend.

Mell had been considered the likely successor to the seat long held by her father, Richard “Dick” Mell.

She said in a statement, “I am excited to take on this challenge and responsibility, and look forward to working directly with the residents of the 33rd ward as their alderman. There is much work to be done to make Chicago a better city for all, and I look forward to getting started.”

Deb Mell has served the 40th district in the Illinois State House of Representatives since 2009, working on LGBT equality issues, gun control, housing and environmental protection.

She grew up in Chicago and has a culinary arts degree from the California Culinary Academy.

Ald. Michelle Harris, a member of the selection committee, stated, “We are pleased with the Mayor’s selection and appreciative of the opportunity to meet the candidates for this position. I look forward to working with Deb to make sure that the needs of the 33rd ward’s residents are met.”

Mell was to appear in front of the City Council’s Rules Committee before a confirmation vote by the city council.

The 33rd ward includes parts of Ravenswood Manor, Albany Park, Irving Park and Avondale.