Photos by Adam Ryan Morris
Get us up to speed on the Congress for the New Urbanism, what is it and what have you been working on?
It’s an organization that was founded in 1993 to promote urbanism. It’s made up of a little over 2,500 members who are mostly architects and planners, but also real estate developers, social neighborhood activist types, local officials and there’s a few real estate financial-type people. We have a staff of eight people and I’ve been in the job since Jan. 4 of ’04, the day after I stepped down as mayor. The kinds of things we’ve done over the years ... if you look on our website, cnu.org, and looked at the charter, which is pretty easy to read, it’s really short, it’s just like a page-and-a-half, it pretty well describes it. And we haven’t changed it since it was adopted in 1996. People have tried to, but the wording of it is so good, it was really carefully prepared, so people are proud of it.
Anyway, we, just for example, re-did the design standards for public housing when Henry Cisneros was at HUD [Housing and Urban Development], which is the Hope VI program. So in Milwaukee, the impact that had in Milwaukee was that it helped finance the renewal of public housing, the removal of some of the high rises and replaced them with more neighborhood-scale buildings that had front porches and looked more like Milwaukee than the stuff before. The original standards were written by Catherine Bauer back in 1938. She was the head of the Berkeley school of design, and they were hyper-modernists. She did high-rises, you know, you got concrete and steel, and if you did low-rises, you got this two- or three- or four-story brick buildings with the little tiny step, no porch, with steel windows. And they’re pretty much the same all over the country. The ones in Milwaukee looked exactly like … like Parklawn used to be like that, and they’re exactly the same as the ones that were in New Orleans or Norfolk, Virginia or Boston, Massachusetts. They were all the same. Catherine was a Bauhaus follower. She was a disciple of Walter Gropius. So when Roosevelt put her in charge of the public-housing program, she took advantage of that to create the design standards. And some of those buildings, if they were just by themselves, they look pretty good. But if you have a whole neighborhood of those, it’s pretty overwhelming.
So anyway, we did that. And another big thing we did was, along with the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE), we did a new urban-design guide that came out two years ago. And the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) said that they were for it. They were represented on the committee that created it. And then two weeks ago, they put on the federal registry their conclusion that the ITE CNU street guide should be the recommended practice to apply flexibility in the AASHTO “green book.” AASHTO is the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, otherwise known as the highway lobby. So this is really good because when the state of Wisconsin tries to impose their suburban sensibility on the city of Milwaukee on a street that they have jurisdiction on, the city of Milwaukee can hold this book up like a cross to a vampire.
And that’s already happened. In Texas, El Paso did a surface avenue instead of a grade-separated highway. And the state of Texas DOT was trying to tell them they had to do the highway and they pulled out this book and said, “Well the FHWA helped put this together and the Institute of Transportation Engineers,” which is hardly a radical group. It makes it easy for engineers to think of how to do a surface street instead of a freeway. You know, engineers, they don’t automatically try to do the wrong thing. They basically follow guidelines and rules and recommended practices. It depends on what you tell them to do. They can create the Taj Mahal. Or they can create Waupun State Prison. Whatever their orders are, that’s what they’re going to do.
So anyway, we’re really proud of that. And right now, one of our big projects is to try to get the Federal Housing Administration, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, HUD to change their rules, which really discourage mixed-use buildings. In fact, thanks to the federal government, “Main Street” is basically a code violation around the United States. If you take Brady Street, you know, anything built before the federal-housing programs were started, like Brady Street in Milwaukee, you couldn’t build that new. I mean if you ask Julilly Kohler, she did that mixed-use building that’s right toward the eastern end of Brady. It’s actually more than one building, but it wasn’t eligible for FHA financing because it had commercial on the first floor. I mean in fact, if you take the fictional Mayberry with Floyd’s Barbershop and Andy Griffith’s girlfriend living above in an apartment, I think her name was Thelma, and you know that form of building is almost impossible to finance because of FHA, Freddie and Fannie.
And so our group is a little bit eclectic. We have really conservative people that, they’re a minority in the group. I mean most of the people are probably more like Democrats or liberals or environmentalists. But we have people like Phil Bess, who’s the head of the graduate architecture program at Notre Dame and he’s, you know, hard-core conservative, a conservative Catholic, you know, virulently anti-abortion, all that kind of stuff. But he’s for community. And he lives in South Bend [Indianda] and he saw what happened to their downtown. He doesn’t like the “malling” of the edges of the city. And he wants to see the village center kind of development come back. So we have people like that. Paul Weyrich even came to one of our meetings once, you know the right-wing guy who grew up in Racine. One of his assistants, his number-two guy there, has showed up many, many times to our meetings.
So anyway, I think we’re having a pretty significant impact. My most recent article that you can read is something on Streetsblog, where I gave a speech last Friday promoting freeway-free. The article is “Time to Consider a Freeway-Free San Francisco.” That’s something that I carried over from my work in Milwaukee.
Oh, Bill Lind, there’s a guy named Bill Lind who’s a real right-wing conservative, particularly a social conservative and he worked at the Free Congress Foundation with Paul Weyrich. So we have people like that. And then we have people like Peter Calthorpe, one of our founders who’s very to the left, except on one issue: He’s for school-choice vouchers. Because he thinks they’re good for cities. Same reason I do. Without school-choice vouchers, you end up with a choice system where people with money try to live in a school district where poor people aren’t. And that’s basically the American pattern. It’s not the pattern in any other Western country. I mean in Canada, like if you went up to Winnipeg, the government pays for Catholic, Jewish, public education. Private, they pay 90 percent to $12,000 Canadian. They have vouchers, they don’t call them that, but that’s what they amount to. It’s school choice. And the same thing is true in most Western European countries. Even Sweden has private-school vouchers. That’s an issue our board actually took a position on about six years ago in favor of school vouchers. And I’ve spoken on it, I even wrote an op-ed when [Scott] Walker first got to be governor, supporting expansion of school choice so that it wasn’t just restricted to low-income people. Any program that’s restricted to low-income people is going to last very long. Social Security would have been gone a long time ago if it was just for people that desperately needed it. But it’s for everybody and that’s why it’s still around.
Who are some of leaders, political, business or otherwise, that you think are doing a good job?
I said we’ve been really putting pressure on the Federal Housing Administration. You know there’s a lot of talk about sustainability and the federal government under Obama has got the sustainability coalition they built between, I mean a compact between EPA, US DOT and HUD and you know a lot of rhetoric. During the worst of the recession, they had a stimulus program that paid for planning projects, I don’t think Congress is going to pass that again, but you know with a recession, you want to get money out on the streets fast. And planners are not usually very rich, so that money gets spent right away on food and things like that. So that was a good thing. But one of the biggest problems with creating sustainable urban development, or suburban development for that matter, is that the federal government has all these rules that actually force sprawl. And Fannie and Freddie and FHA and HUD all do that. They put restrictions on, for example, Fannie Mae’s secondary mortgage market for residential, you can’t have more than 20 percent of the building be commercial. And it’s not that any of that money finances the commercial, you know, Floyd’s barbershop or the corner coffee shop or whatever, none of the money goes to that.
But you can’t even attach the condos to something that’s more than 20 percent of the value of the building. And that’s because they treat mixed-use development as high-risk. It’s not a problem on say the Upper East Side of New York, where you’ve got the typical building is 16- to 20- or 30-stories tall, I mean apartment building. So if you have a building on Lexington Avenue, you can have three floors of retail and it’s still going to meet that restriction. You go almost anywhere else, if you go to Des Moines, Iowa, you go to Wausau, Wisconsin, or Brooklyn even or most of Milwaukee, I mean the only place that would really qualify, maybe Prospect Avenue, there’s parts of Prospect Avenue that you could qualify without having to worry about that rule. But almost all of America, and Main Street, Midwestern, America, you can’t do it. I was down in Montgomery, Alabama, meeting with a bunch of bankers and I was explaining this problem to them and one guy said, “Well, you know, I know about this, and it’s been a problem for years. I’m glad you brought it up. But it’s even worse than you say.” I said, Well, how’s that? And he said, “Well, I don’t mind keeping a loan home,” in other words, not selling it into the secondary market, “the bank is less likely to make as much money, but what really bothers me about it is I’m screwing our customers.” I said, Well what do you mean by that? And he said, “Well, when they want to re-sell it, it’s going to lay heavy on the price. It’s gonna knock the price down if it’s not FHA eligible.” And he’s right. That’s why you get to suburban locations, and you get the mall, you get the, you know malls have gone out of fashion. There’s been almost no malls built in America since before the Recession. The only one I can think of offhand is the one in Syracuse, and that got a $500 million subsidy from conservative Governor George Pataki … all these phony conservatives out there. So, there’s nobody doing the malls, they’ve gone out of fashion. And you get stuff like Bayshore, since it transformed itself from an enclosed mall to like a village center. It’s on streets and blocks, but it doesn’t have apartments above any of these commercial buildings. It’s got some nearby, but not in the commercial buildings. There’s fake second floors because they know that’s the feel that young people want. I mean young people are looking to things like Cedarburg or Milwaukee. I’m saying Cedarburg because I don’t want people to think it’s just about cities. You go to downtown Cedarburg and they’ve got a couple of coffee shops and they’ve got the basic essentials you would need to have a community. And the real estate in Cedarburg has been really strong. Now you go to other suburbs, where it’s all separate-use zoning and strip malls, say, you know I haven’t looked at the prices, but I would guess like New Berlin probably hasn’t performed as well as Cedarburg. This urban form, which the market wants, and it wants it for a number of reasons, it’s not just aesthetics. The Boomers who have children, like my wife and I have two kids, we maximized our need for space in the 1990s. And now Boomers are reaching the point where most of their kids are gone. And so they don’t need it. They’re shedding housing. If somebody has a five-bedroom, three-car garage in Brookfield, the young people, the Millennials coming up right now, that’s not where they want to go. And if it’s just two people living in a giant house like that, and they want to get out of it, where’s the market to buy it? And that’s what’s happening right now. And the recession brought that out. So places like Yorkville, Illinois, which is way out in Kendall County, they had over 1,000 buildings, houses that were just sitting empty. You know, spec houses that had been built. And a lot of them are still empty because the market has changed. It’s not that there won’t be any housing like that. But there’s a professor at the University of Utah, Arthur Nelson, who’s written about the demographics of all this stuff and he predicts that over the next 30 years, the net supply of single-family housing in America is already, we already have more than we need for the next 30 years. Now that’s, it depends on the area you’re in, how that plays out.
In Austin, Texas, where people are still moving in like crazy, the University of Texas is there, Dell is there, Whole Foods is there, you know, it’s a very vibrant city, there’ll still be a demand for new single-family housing. But if you’re talking about places that aren’t growing at a hyper level, there isn’t. There’s going to be a lot of houses that have prices that go down substantially because there’s not a market for them. In fact, in some places, what’s going to happen is going to be like what happened in the ’60s where you had a lot of rooming houses created in mansion-type neighborhoods in cities, like the East Side of Milwaukee, like Shepard Avenue. You know places like that, all of a sudden you had four doorbells. Now that’s all recovered. It’s high-priced real estate. But I can remember back in the ’60s, I had a girlfriend who lived on Shepard and the house next to theirs had four doorbells. You know that’s what was happening to the East Side. And that’s what’s going to happen where you’ve got these McMansions, and the market’s really changing. The market wants urbanism and the federal government is standing there, you know, kind of in the way of the whole thing. So, that’s the kind of thing, you know we’ve been very critical of HUD and FHA. And if you look at our website, we have a little section called “Live/Work/Walk.” The good thing, though, is that the head of FHA, Carol Galante, who used to be a developer in the San Francisco area, she was appointed by Secretary [Shaun] Donovan and President Obama, and she listened to us. At first, she didn’t. She thought we were attacking her because everybody, like Fannie and Freddie, they get blamed for the recession and they get yelled at in Congress all the time. Well, we went and met. Finally, she figured out we weren’t attacking her. We just wanted them to consider the change. So they raised the standard at FHA on their secondary-mortgage market from 25 percent of value could be non-residential to 35 percent. And that’s a step forward. It still doesn’t solve the problem in most of the Midwest, with Main Streets and all that. But it’s in the right direction. And intellectually, they can see that there really isn’t a reason for these kinds of restrictions and they’re now trying to work their way through it. We’re not just trying to throw down ideological markers. We’re trying to change this stuff. We’re trying to allow urbanism to happen.
That’s the thing with transportation. You know streets and blocks, boulevards and avenues instead of freeways and cul-de-sacs. If you look at real-estate value, you’re much better off with that stuff. The best performing city in North America, from a real-estate standpoint, over the last 20 years, is Vancouver, British Columbia, which has no freeways whatsoever. And that’s not the only reason their real-estate market is strong. It’s sort of the first choice for, the house of refuge for high rollers in China and all that in case the government goes Maoist again, they’ll go live in Vancouver. Not only has Vancouver done that, they actually passed an ordinance two years ago that restricts any lane width on any street in Vancouver from being more than 3 meters, that’s 9 feet, 10 inches. The AASHTO green book says that the minimum width has to be at least 10 feet. So they have a maximum in Vancouver, and it’s 3 meters, which is two inches narrower than the minimum width in what the U.S. uses as a general rule. And the thing we did with ITE is 10 feet. We tried to get it lower by two inches, but the ITE guys just rolled their eyes on that one.
We’re trying to remove obstacles from urbanism, allow urbanism to express itself in the marketplace. If people want to live on 4-acre lot and have a six-car garage and seven bathrooms, or whatever, we’re not trying to stop that from happening. We’re not big on trying to put growth restrictions in place and things like that. They usually don’t work. They work in Germany, you know, like Hamburg has a really hard line around its development. You know, what’s nature is nature and what’s not is fairly compact. And it really works well. But America’s different. Property rights are really important. And we support property rights. We’re really big on that. I wrote a brief for Kelo vs. New London. The American Planning Association and the U.S. Conference of Mayors and all that took the side of New London to be able to condemn. But I thought it was an abuse of eminent domain to take these old houses like Susan Kelo’s, tear them down so that Pfizer corporation could play in the development game. And they were going to create a suburban-style mall. They were ruining an historic neighborhood and turning it into a mall that was never built because there wasn’t a strong market for it. So they won the case, they won the right, the city of New London and State of Connecticut won the case. It was a 5-4 Supreme Court decision and Sandra Day O’Connor cited my brief in her dissent. She wrote the dissent for the minority. And in my brief, I said that the municipal government had a miserable record of picking winners in the economic-development game. And the idea that they should use eminent domain to enrich an individual property owner at the expense of other property owners, that’s not the use of eminent domain. If they want to do it to build an important infrastructure … hang on a second here. [Norquist takes a call.]
That was Jack Davis; he’s on our board. He used to be the managing editor of the Chicago Tribune and the publisher of the Hartford Courant, and he’s on our board. He lives in New Orleans now. Oh, that’s one of our projects. We’re helping the Tremé neighborhood try to get the Claiborne expressway torn down and put Claiborne Avenue back to the way it was. That was the upper-middle class black street. That’s where Louis Armstrong was. And in 1966, in order to battle congestion, they put a freeway on top of it. They had 247 businesses then, on the street. Now they have about 29. The last time I checked it was 29. So they created an economic desert so that people that live in the suburban parishes can travel through New Orleans instead of going around New Orleans.
So this kind of leads into my next question, then: If you were asked by a newly elected governor what moves he or she must make to ensure the health of Milwaukee, what kind of advice would you give?
Well, the state of Wisconsin has basically been a bad deal for Milwaukee from the beginning. I mean, it’s not what the state does for Milwaukee. It’s sort of what the state does to Milwaukee that they should stop. State government is kind of an artificial creation. Cities usually form around trade routes or the river coming into Lake Michigan. Milwaukee is near the supply of steel, which is in Gary [Indiana] and places like that because of the iron ore on the Great Lakes. It’s sort of a natural thing that formed. And what has Wisconsin really done for Milwaukee since the state started? In 1955, they froze the city’s boundaries. They took away most of its taxing authority in 1913 when they created the Wisconsin income tax. They promised to share 90 percent of the revenue that came in from that with local governments. Now it’s gone down, way down to not very much. Well, I wouldn’t say it’s not very much, but it’s a lot less than was promised back in 1913. You look at the highway program, well, at the end of WWII, before the state really got deeply into the transportation business, Milwaukee had over 350 miles of streetcar, almost 200 miles of the urban trains. It had great avenues and boulevards, some of them designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, which are really perfect for moving around a city. In a city, traffic is more about distribution and less about throughput. And the state of Wisconsin looks at Milwaukee as an obstacle.
So they widen I-43 and the Marquette Interchange. And they want to widen I-94. For what? Why do they have to route through traffic through the middle of Milwaukee? Traffic is a little bit like cholesterol. You have good cholesterol and bad cholesterol. If somebody’s driving because they have business in Milwaukee, they’re going to shop or work or live there or whatever. But making sure that it’s easy for Schneider [National] to route their haulage from Green Bay to Memphis or wherever they’re going, they go right through the middle of Milwaukee. That didn’t help Milwaukee. They didn’t add value to the city. It reduced the value of the city. The state has created mandates that cost the city enormous amounts of money. It’s incredible to me that the state of Michigan is looking down their nose at Detroit. The state of Michigan ruined Detroit with all kinds of mandates that cost lots of money. They didn’t have a freeway revolt like Milwaukee did. So they built a mall there. You know it was the auto city, so how could they? All they did with spending billions and billions of dollars, just in Detroit alone, they created a situation where people travel further and further between increasingly insignificant destinations. That’s what they achieved. And the other thing they achieved was their objective: At the end of WWII, the state of Michigan wanted to eliminate or reduce congestion in Detroit. They succeeded. Congestion is not a problem in Detroit. They’re about to dip below 700,000 people. By the next census, they’ll have less people than Milwaukee. They’ve done the SEWRPC plan, the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission. In Michigan, they’ve done it to Detroit. I mean, they built every single freeway. There’s a few more that they could probably add on. There’s always talk about the Jefferson Expressway, which would make it possible for people in Grosse Pointe to drive downtown without having to contaminate themselves on the streets of Detroit. But there’s no traffic challenge left. It worked. In fact, by that measurement, the project to decongest Detroit is the most successful in the world. They have decongested the city. But congestion is like cholesterol. You need a certain amount of it. There’s good cholesterol, bad cholesterol. And congestion, a city without congestion is dead. But most DOTs in the country, they have as their single-minded purpose, even when they talk about transit, they’ll say, Well, this will reduce congestion. But the places with the best real estate value, the places with the strongest economies, the places where people really want to live, those are the ones that are really congested. Not that you want to try to have congestion, but if you try too hard to get rid of it … Look at Greenwich Village. Greenwich Village is probably worth more than the entire city of Detroit in real-estate value. And it’s this little place in Manhattan where everybody wants to be and the streets are narrow and it’s a terrible place to drive. But people with tons of money in their pockets want to live there. And the real estate values and the retail sales and all that stuff go with it. Cities are complicated, and they become more valuable when you have lots of players, when you have people in close proximity buying and selling and transacting all the various things that happen in a city. And most of what state governments do is to bust that up. They have specialists who specialize in whatever it is, whether it’s road building or sewer technology. They’re going to tend to look at the city as something that needs to be … the complexity of the city gets in the way.
And it’s not just the Republicans. The Republicans have a very nasty attitude toward Milwaukee that borders on racism and, in some cases, it is out-and-out, rank racism. But the Democrats do it too. I mean the guy who did the Marquette Interchange was Jim Doyle. Sometimes, I thought Doyle thought just because he had adopted a couple of minority kids that that’s all he needed to do in Milwaukee. His attitude toward Milwaukee was really strange. He’d see the value in Madison, but he didn’t see the value in Milwaukee. He thought of Milwaukee as a collection of pathologies, where he had to help. He didn’t help very much because he couldn’t, the budget was very constrained. And he actually did a good job on balancing the state budget. I give him credit for that. But his attitude toward Milwaukee was not to see the value of Milwaukee, but to see it as a place that needed help from the state. Please. If the state had never had been formed, Milwaukee would be a rich city. Its boundaries would extend way out beyond where it already is and it would still have its transit system. The freeways would have never been built. Milwaukee built one little stretch of freeway before the state really got big into spending money on highways. And that was built in 1949. That’s the Stadium North, going north from where the ball stadium is up to Lisbon. And that’s the only stretch of freeway that the city of Milwaukee ever paid for. And they never would have done it again because it cost a lot of money, it destroyed property, it destroyed the Washington Park Zoo, which was really popular. Once you do the math about the maintaining and everything else, there’s no way that Milwaukee would have been able to afford to maintain that thing. Milwaukee had to use a property tax to pay for capital expenditures. So they never would have built another one. It was only when the federal government came along, particularly after the Interstate Highway Act, with the 90 percent federal, 10 percent state, 0 percent local, all of a sudden the freeways started to make sense to people, particularly the business leadership in Milwaukee. You know people like Fran Ferguson and Dick Cutler and so forth. Then they imposed all this stuff. And in Milwaukee, there was a freeway revolt led by people like Cindi Kukor who’s now Cindi Broydrick, she’s a lobbyist now, lobbys for damn near anything, but she was a real hero. She was on the city council and she stopped the Stadium South. And Ted Seaver, who got a little tiny street that the buses use at Summerfest was named after, may he rest in peace. I did that to honor Ted because he’s one of the most significant, probably the most significant person in the anti-freeway fight. We lived in the same neighborhood and when I was running for office in ’74, I used to go over to his house after I’d go door to door to smoke because my mom wouldn’t let me smoke in the house. I’d go to talk to Ted about freeways and urban issues, all that stuff. I haven’t smoked now since I was 31-years-old. But anyway, because Milwaukee stood up against this intrusion of the state, it made a big difference. There’s no way you were going to avoid having a state government, but when the state government got really big and starts thinking that it’s only through their charitable acts that Milwaukee exists, I mean, please, go away. Look at Canada. There’s no national-highway program, there’s no national transit program, and all the cities have pretty good transit. Some of them have great transit like Toronto. And somehow, without an interstate, interprovincial highway program from the national government, the roads connect across provincial boundaries. But the cities, like Toronto, even places like Hamilton or Winnipeg or Calgary, that’s where Senator [Ted] Cruz was from, Edmonton, you know the conservative part of Canada, they have rail transit, they have all that stuff. And the cities are, they’re all in good shape. And they don’t have a national government that’s trying to dominate everything and they’re provincial governments pretty much understand that they need to build the value of the city. You know, infrastructure should add value to the city, not degrade it. So when Walker wants to widen I-94 through, uh, what’s the neighborhood right across the street from the stadium? Something Hill. I’ve been away too long, I can’t remember the name. You know Gretchen Schuldt lives there. Anyway, that’s going to hurt that neighborhood. It’s going to hurt property value. And it’s not going to accomplish anything other than sort of pushing the retail sheds further out into the countryside. The road builders will like it, but the road builders could make money just building small streets too. They don’t have to have everybody traveling on these giant roads. It’s kind of interesting that Walker’s big project for Milwaukee is one that the city doesn’t even want, widening I-94. And that’s what the state of Michigan is doing right now in Detroit. Here’s Detroit, totally bankrupt, which Milwaukee, by the way, isn’t because we paid our bills. I got elected four times without most of the public employees. I never had AFSCME (The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees). I never had the cop union. When Tommy Thompson was governor, he had the AFSCME in two of those elections and he had the cop union every time. But, anyway, the pension plan in Milwaukee, of the 50 largest cities in America, it’s the best funded. I don’t know what the exact number is now, but in 2010, it was 113 percent of obligations to retirees and current retirees and city employees at the time, that’s the best in the country. And that’s because we balanced the books, we didn’t sell the city out. In Detroit, the public-employee unions got everything they wanted and now they’re out of a job. We managed the city carefully and I think [current Mayor Tom] Barrett has done a good job on that as well.
The state government, I really, you know, the idea of what could they do to help, it’s mostly things they could do to not hurt. And if the Republicans really want to shrink the state government, that’s probably, in the long run going to be better for Milwaukee than if they expanded it. Just to understand how that works, look at the Republicans at the national level. The most conservative anti-federal government Republicans generally come from the states that are the biggest parasites of the federal government. Mississippi, Alabama, Wyoming, Alaska. They’re damning the federal government, meanwhile they pay very little in compared to all the money that they suck up. And that’s pretty typical. That’s also mirrored somewhat in the way things are distributed in Wisconsin. Remember Pabst Farms TIF that was created to take care of the friends of the Republicans in Oconomowoc and all that stuff? This idea that somehow they’re needed to help Milwaukee is just … I remember when Alberta Darling showed up at some YWCA opening in Milwaukee, and she was supporting tax policy that would have cut the amount of state aid in Milwaukee and raising the amount of state aid in Chenequa, you know that kind of thing. And then here she is in this poor neighborhood in Milwaukee, acting like she cares about these people, and she’s screwing them. You know she’s supporting the flow position on sewers, which would have raised the cost of going to the bathroom to everybody in the inner-city. And they wouldn’t have known what hit them. And by the way, that’s exactly what happened in Detroit. That was one of the factors that created Detroit. When they build new facilities, when they have to widen the pipe in Detroit to carry stuff from Macomb County into the sewage-treatment plant in Detroit, Detroit pays for that whole widening. The people in Macomb County pay nothing because the blacks in Detroit should be so thrilled to be able to process the shit from Macomb County. Detroit lost every battle like that. That’s one of the many reasons, I mean the most immediate reason it’s bankrupt is spelled Kwame Kilpatrick who looted the place. I don’t want to blame it all on the suburbs. The most immediate reason their bankrupt right now is him. OK, so I’ve vented. I haven’t even started on SEWRPC.
Could you go into one or two things you think of as your highest achievements while you were mayor of Milwaukee?
Yeah, you know I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about that, the legacy-mode stuff, because I named nothing after myself while I was there. It’s kind of tacky. But, what would I take credit for? The Riverwalk, tearing down the Park East freeway. This is one that everyone said it was political suicide to do it, but it was the right thing to do, we went to full value reassessment every year. And there’s almost no appeals to assessments because people see them every year and they understand that their taxes are a combination of the rate and the assessed value. Whereas before, everybody, I think successfully, was using the assessment as, you know, “It’s not my fault,” alderman could tell their constituents. “Well, it’s not my fault taxes went up; it’s the reassessment.” At one point, Waukesha went 17 years without a reassessment. You know, and the confusion and the unfairness of that was really bad. So, when I was in the legislature, I got a law passed that required reassessment every five years, and it’s still state law. And it’s really good tax policy. And it takes away a lot of the confusion. Like in Illinois, there’s two bad things about it: There’s no requirement to reassess any particular year. And the city of Chicago, for example, when Daley was mayor, he blamed the assessor for the taxes going up. And the alderman all blame the assessor, like the assessor is this evil person who raises your taxes and it has nothing to do with anything the alderman do. And the other bad thing is there’s a whole industry made up of lawyers who do assessment deals. So everybody, anybody who’s got any money in their pocket, including my wife and I, we appeal our assessment automatically because we know they’ll lower it a little bit. These lawyers all give money to the alderman and the mayor and all that kind of stuff. And Wisconsin doesn’t have much of that because they have to do it every five years. And Milwaukee has none of that. The assessments are accurate. You can check on them. The whole system is online, so the citizens of Milwaukee or anybody else can go online and find out what their neighbor down the street just sold their house for. It’s really transparent.
And that’s not something that politicians normally would feature. You know, they always want to have it be public-works projects. I always thought public-works projects are overrated. When you see a bunch of politicians with shovels, grinning at the camera, I don’t think anybody ever got elected because of that stuff. In fact, I think it probably costs a few votes because you look like such an idiot sitting there smiling, throwing dirt. It just shows that there’s some kind of egomaniac. Everybody knows you didn’t really do the plan. I used to tell department of economic development, If there’s no ground breaking and no ribbon cutting, you get extra credit. If somebody builds a building, and there’s no ribbon cutting or ground breaking that means it’s very likely that taxpayers didn’t get shaken down to support the developer. And it makes it much more likely that it’ll be something that the market actually wants. Whereas, when the government gets involved and subsidizes stuff and when you have politicians standing around taking credit for it, it’s usually something that the market really wouldn’t have supported otherwise. And it’s usually something that’s not very sustainable.
What we did with coding and zoning, we changed the code to support urban development instead of making it easy to tear buildings down and put a parking lot in front of a building. We made it so that you’re more likely to do urban. If you did follow the code, then you got permits really fast. But if you wanted to do something suburban in the city, if you want to tear down the building next to you and put in a parking lot, that kind of stuff, we’d either say no very quickly or no very slowly. But very rarely did any of that stuff get through at least toward the end. And when we stopped subsidizing stuff, and this happened, uh, Dennis Klein was a developer from Waukesha who came into my office and he had some lobbyist with him, I forgot his name. Shel something or other. Anyway, the lobbyist comes in, you know, like he’s introducing me to this guy, and says, “Mayor we wanted to see what we could get at this end of the hall. And then we’re going to go down to the other end of the hall and see what we can get down there.” So I told him, I said, You’re not going to get anything at this end of the hall. Nothing. At first they showed me the project; I didn’t say that the minute they walked in the door. But they showed me the project, I said it looks really good, 26-story building on Prospect near Brady, looking over Lake Michigan. Sounds wonderful. Then they said they wanted a capital subsidy. They wanted the taxpayers of Milwaukee to pony up and pay them money to build this building. And that’s when I said, We’re not going to do that. You’re not going to get that. And they were packing up and the lobbyist was all pissed off. And I looked at the developer, I said, Except one thing: I’ll get you all the permits for this in three months. Well, we did pretty close to that. There’s one permit that took longer, the plumbing permit because the three guys that worked in the plumbing section, man were they tough. “We’re here, and we can slow you down, and we will.” But, anyway, ultimately, he got his permits really fast. He took the deal. They didn’t go to the other end of the hall to get a handout. And the building got built. And Dennis Klein is still in business today. You can talk to him about this if you want.
But that started a trend. When other developers heard about that, we started to get more developers. Before that, you had like, you know, a handful, the holding company of the electric power company, you know, and one or two other guys that would do stuff in the Downtown. And they all had their hand out. That was the first place they went. To me, what that sounded like was, OK your city is so crappy, is so defective that the only way we’re going to do business here, the only way we’re going to build anything is if you pay us to do it. There’s a gap. To me, that was a loser’s game to buy into that. About 1997, we stopped doing all, any kind of subsidies in the Downtown. I mean, there still were a few like federal, the 3rd and Wisconsin [inaudible] and the Gorman Company got low-income housing tax credits. But that wasn’t money from the city. That was federal money. But we tried to not even do that, because we wanted to see how the market could work. And the market worked great.
You know, first of all, in the Third Ward. But then look at the Beer Line, my God, you know, whatever it’s worth now, half a billion or something. What we did there, we sort of rolled the clock back to like 1920 in the way we did it. We platted it, we coded it, we hired a guy, Dan Solomon, a guy from San Francisco, he coded it so the building envelopes were all set. Then we put in the streets, and the sewer, and all that stuff just like a city would have done back in the 1920s. Now the designs are very contemporary. You know, we used this old method. And then we did a new thing, we divided it, this is Peter Park’s idea, we divided it into six sections and then had a design competition. The winner of the design competition got buy the land with this street and sewer, water and all that stuff, you could buy the land at a little bit below market rate. That was the incentive to win the design competition. The whole thing was built out in three years, without subsidy other than a little bit of reduction in the price of the land. That shows you that Milwaukee is actually worth something. Instead of wrapping yourself in all these programs, you let the market express itself and it was worth something. People did want to live next to the Milwaukee River. People did want to live next to Brewer’s Hill. People do want to live in a 26-story apartment building on Prospect Avenue looking over Lake Michigan without having to be subsidized. And look at the tall buildings, the one right on the corner of Kilbourn and Prospect. You know you had the Regency across the street, which the big rich people that live there, that’s where Herb Kohl lives, he didn’t say anything, but the other owners there wanted us to block that building. They said, “We don’t want a city project.” City project? We’re not putting a dime into that building. We’re just letting them build it. And they built it. The Kilbourn Towers. And then when Kilbourn Towers got built, Barry Mandel got control of the land from the University Club and wanted to build his building. And then my former friends from the Kilbourn Towers, all of a sudden they become anti-free market. They want to block Barry. Barry didn’t get any subsidy for that building just like they didn’t. I told them, I said, You know, it’s a city, you can have more than one building on a block. It’s not Brookfield where if you have a block, you can have only one building. You have a church and its own block. An apartment building, its own block with a parking lot around it. A store, it has to have its own block. Everything has to have its own block. The city’s spread out over all these miles and miles of land.
And they learned that, the developers learned that. And then they started doing stuff themselves. And you get guys like Balistreri, no relation to Franco, who did a building down on Burnham or Lapham. He rehabbed an old factory. And then later on he did one right on the southwest end of the Water Street Bridge, not far from where your office is. And he did it without subsidy. This was a guy, all he wanted was his permits. And we got a lot more of that. And it showed the city was worth something. You know that we didn’t need to have the state or we didn’t need to have the federal government come in and pat us on the head and all that kind of stuff, that the city was actually worth something. And then save the subsidy stuff that was available, you know, you could go to a neighborhood like 20th and Walnut, maybe. But, actually, 20th and Walnut, we did two blocks of housing there. And that was all market rate, in the inner city. Those two blocks are still healthy.
There’s a lot of little things that I’m proud of like St. Josaphat’s Basilica. The archdiocese was really reluctant to come in and pull that out, because it’s another, you know it’s a national, I mean it’s another, it’s not the archdiocese, per se, that owns the basilica, it was, I forget which part of the Catholic Church it was. But anyway, this monument, this beautiful, beautiful building that the Polish community had built 100 years before, and nobody really seemed to give a shit except for people like Connie Jankowski or whatever. There were, you know, these South Side business guys. But they didn’t have a lot of money, at least that they were laying on the table. And the archdiocese didn’t want to pick up on it and everybody was going to sort of just let it go and then I got together with Don Schanke who grew up on the South Side and we put together quite an effort. And I’m not a Catholic, but I thought, Wow, we’ve got to save this building. And now it’s the second-most popular tourist attraction in Milwaukee. So I’m really proud of that. I went out of my way to push that one. I’m also proud that Milwaukee has school choice and I played a role in that. Tommy didn’t want to extend it to religious schools. And I joined in with the pro-choice people and [Jim] Klauser was telling Tommy not to do it. By the way, Klauser was, one of his best friends is Morris Andrews who was head of the teachers union many years ago. You know, you can be friends across ideological lines and that’s ok. So two years later, Thompson finally put that in his budget. So I’m proud of that. I also pushed for raising the income limits on that so it wasn’t a poverty program. And I think that’s one of the reasons Milwaukee’s population hasn’t gone way down like it has in places like St. Louis and Detroit, Cincinnati and so forth.
Do you have any regrets?
Ok, things … I wish I would have fought harder for light rail than I did. I think, you know, standing up to the talk shows more on that stuff and explaining it better. It was a tough sell because people had forgotten about streetcars. The population that had used transit intensively was dying off. You look at all the successful cities in America right now, almost all of them have it, transit systems. A lot of Sun Belt cities that you would have never expected to do it, Houston. Houston has passed a referendum that’s going to create more than 100 miles of light rail. They have one line now that’s 11 miles long, but that’s moving along. Dallas has a big, the DART [Dallas Area Rapid Transit] system, it’s a light-rail system that’s over 100 miles now. The fastest-growing rail system in America is in Salt Lake City, which has the most Republican politics of any state in the country. The Mormons are smart, they know it adds value. They didn’t follow Detroit’s example. It’s a fast-expanding system. They added two new light rail lines just this year alone. They have a commuter line that goes along the whole face of the Wasatch Front, which is about a little over 2/3 of the population of Utah is just in this one stretch between Ogden and Provo with Salk Lake City in the middle. They have 28 trains a day round-trip, going between Ogden and Provo. Milwaukee, by comparison, has seven trains a day to Chicago. And those trains, they really help a lot. They help people with money in their pockets living in downtown. When you have really good transit, people move without a vehicle, that saves a lot of money, it saves on real estate. There like red corpuscles in your blood, they’re bringing nourishment to the city. When you have a city that’s dominated by automobile traffic, you’re spreading everything out. You’re degrading the middle. Europeans never did that. Most major cities in Europe have no freeways, and those that do are eliminating them. There’s one freeway in Paris that’s being tore out right now. If you look at Seoul, South Korea they just took out a freeway in the middle of the city, well that took it out in 2003 and replaced with a street with two moving lanes, a surface street and it didn’t hurt at all because the street grid is rich in Seoul and they have transit. And it exposed the Cheonggyecheon River, which runs right through. It had been covered by the freeway. It re-exposed the river which is now the second-most attractive tourist attraction in South Korea. In fact, it’s the second-biggest tourist attraction in all of Korea because there are no tourist attractions in North Korea. You can’t go there right now, unless you’re Dennis Rodman.
So anyway, I wish I would have pushed harder on that. Just look at the Hiawatha line in Minneapolis. Did that hurt Minneapolis? Did that cause any problems? No. Would anybody tear it out who opposed building it in the first place? No. It’s helped the suburb of Bloomington, the Mall of America, it’s helped the downtown, it’s helped the Twins, it’s helped the Vikings. And they’re building the line to the University of Minnesota along University Avenue right now. That’s almost finished. They’re planning another line. Portland. Do you think Portland suffered from uh … And people say well those are big cities. Milwaukee has higher population per square mile than Portland. Milwaukee was the number-one city on the U.S. DOT’s places to build light-rail system because the population density was high. And the reason it was high was because the city was built on street car lines, they were built in the late 19th and early 20th century. So anyway, that’s a big disappointment. I mean there’s all kinds of things that, uh … When I was in the legislature, I regret having joined with the conservatives on eliminating the hospital rate-setting commission. Not because I believe that the rate-setting commission actually worked. But it was a tool that, if we would have kept it, we could have leveraged that into Wisconsin having a health-insurance plan like Massachusetts. It could have happened before Massachusetts. And I looked at the rate-setting commission, what they were doing was closing hospitals in Milwaukee and opening them up in the suburbs. And I found that Linda Reivitz did that under [Gov.] Tony Earl. It was another example of the state of Wisconsin screwing Milwaukee, you know, viciously. In my anger about that, I built a coalition of a handful of Democrats and Republicans and we killed the hospital rate-setting commission. The guy who helped me on the Republican was Don Stitt from Cedarburg. In hindsight, I regret that. I sort of did it out of anger. And it was an act of arrogance that I repent for.
For many of your supporters, the lasting image they have is you on your porch admitting to the extramarital affair. I’m wondering if when you’ve encountered supporters or even if you want to take the opportunity now, what have you said to them or what would you say to them that they feel kind of let down after that.
Well, my wife and I will celebrate our 27th anniversary this December. I really don’t want to talk about that. I don’t see any reason to. If you want to interview Bill Clinton and ask him about stuff he did, you can do that. And he probably wouldn’t answer it either. I mean I regret what happened. I wish it hadn’t. I wish I had behaved perfectly, but I didn’t. Nobody talks to me about it. I mean I was just in Milwaukee on Friday night, nobody says anything about it at all. The only ones who say it are you. I’m not surprised you asked about it if that’s, you know. If I were a reporter, I’d do the same thing.
I hope you don’t take offense.
No I don’t. I don’t.
And we kind of touched on it a little bit earlier, but do you have any thoughts on the proposed streetcar here in Milwaukee?
It’s a good idea. They should do it. It will add value to Milwaukee. The widening of I-94 will reduce the value of Milwaukee. It’s a total waste of money to widen I-94. Story Hill, that’s the name of the neighborhood that it will damage. The streetcar will add value. The real estate all along it will increase in value that makes the downtown more important.
Another thing, on regrets, I regret that we didn’t confront more directly the Grand Avenue. The Grand Avenue is a form, the suburban-style mall in a downtown that’s failed wherever it’s been tried. The only one left in the country like that, that’s actually functioning, and it’s not thriving, but it’s functioning, is Horton Plaza in San Diego, which happens to be right where the two rail lines they have cross. So it’s got a pedestrian population coming into it. Maybe that’s helped maintain it. But even in Toronto with its fantastic rail system, the Eaton Centre on Young Street, which is the main commercial street that would be the equivalent of Wisconsin Avenue, failed. And so, the idea of an enclosed mall with multiple stores in it is not really an idea that works. The food court on the third floor, food courts went out with bell bottoms. They’re trying to maintain this thing, and I understand you’ve got Boston Store, which maintains a high-quality store without enough customers for them to justify it. Some high percentage of their customers are their own employees who work in the offices above. And they’re wonderful. They deserve tremendous praise for what they’ve done. But even Boston Store would function better without being part of a mall. Before the mall was created, you had a lot of things that now they wish they had. You had the Plankinton Hotel with over 200 rooms and it had beautiful woodwork in its main room, in its entry room in its lobby. These were railroad hotels. The Antlers Hotel, which had hundreds of rooms. It was owned by Frankie Balistrieri, the head of the mafia. It had a ballroom in it that was one of Frank Sinatra’s favorite places to sing. He loved the acoustics in there. And then you had the Randolph Hotel, right across the street from the Boston Store on Wisconsin Avenue, across from where the convention center was. That had 90 rooms. So altogether you had like almost 600 rooms, you have hotels and you had Boston Store, you had Gimbels, you know all that stuff was there. The department store was going to get stressed because of the freeway building and the centralization of the economy that was associated with that. Ultimately, building a suburban mall, that was like trying to copy Brookfield, copy Southridge or Northridge or whatever. You’re going to do the same thing. And nobody is building malls now. Nobody. Except for that Pataki mall in Syracuse. It’s a form that had its day and apparently doesn’t work. The old urban arcade could work, you know, like in Milan, they have the grand arcade in Italy. But that’s urban. You can walk in lots of doors. It’s open. Like the Plankinton arcade, you know, it was like a public space. You’d walk in, it wasn’t private. It was public. You’d walk through it, it was part of the sidewalk. And it was great architecture. And it had a nice mix of businesses, Daly’s Pens, Van’s Shoe Shop, you know all these things. And offices, dentists offices above, all that kind of stuff. And it was really beautiful. They should have just left that alone. Instead they mangled the place. And I didn’t like that stuff, I tried to put my brakes on it. I wouldn’t let my development DCD people you know contemplate these big subsidies and all that stuff. But I didn’t push hard enough. We really needed to push the Grand Ave into not being a mall anymore, to not have mall management, to let the buildings be separate. The food court on the third floor is so ridiculous. The restaurants are what give the life to the street. And you’ve got this subsidized food court on the top floor.
And you talk about subsidies, Northwestern Mutual poured, you know what, $170 million into that thing back 30 years ago when that was serious money. And the city put like $75, $80 million into it. That’s just the stuff on the surface; there were probably a lot of other subsidies involved in it too. It just didn’t work. And Milwaukee shouldn’t feel ashamed of that. They didn’t work anywhere. They didn’t work in Cincinnati. It didn’t work in Kalamazoo. It didn’t work in St. Louis. It doesn’t work. And it didn’t even work in Toronto. But it’s time to move on. Wisconsin Avenue needs to become Wisconsin Avenue. The east end of the avenue, on the east side of the river, it’s fairly intact. But on the west side, where they spent the most government money, it’s not working. The expansion of the convention center, which I resisted and was attacked by the Sentinel and the Journal and everything for not being progressive in wanting a bigger convention center, we finally did it. Council wanted by over 2/3 majority, I was going to lose. So then we focused on designing it so it had windows that faced the street. But even so, all these communities across the country, they build bigger convention centers, they lose money with a smaller one, “Hey let’s make it bigger, then we can lose even more money.” If it was such a great deal to build these things, the hotels would do it themselves. Even Chicago is losing their shirt now because of McCormick Place. The only ones making money off of big convention centers are Vegas and Orlando. Those are the only ones that really have a positive balance sheet on it. And it’s not the convention centers that’s, you know if Vegas it’s that whole “What goes there, stays there,” whatever. And in Orlando, you’ve got Disney World and Universal City and that kind of stuff. So it’s really a loser game. And in Wisconsin, you had it spread all over. Stevens Point has a convention center. Wausau has a convention center. The conservation league and the bankers association, you know there’s only so many convention meetings that they can have. You know the Future Farmers of America or whatever, the Dairy Council. So Madison expands their convention center, in that case they actually did a pretty good job with the Frank Lloyd Wright, I have to give them credit that. They didn’t overbuild it. It isn’t big enough for a lot of conventions, so they actually did a decent job there. But you look all over the state. La Crosse, all these places that build these convention centers and they’re just losers. Milwaukee needs to cut loose on some of this stuff that didn’t work.
The downtown itself, the urban form in the Downtown is great. And you look at some of the players Downtown that aren’t subsidized, like that guy with the Best Western Hotel on 2nd and Wisconsin, he makes money. He never got a dime from the city. He minds his own business. He pays his taxes. Leave those people alone. The next time the utility comes around, the WISPARK comes around with their hand out, and I like Jerry Franke actually, he’s probably the best guy over there, you need to let the small developers, the individual property owners, let them express themselves. Give them fast permitting. When they’re going to do something good, let them do it. And the city has got to stop trying to be the master real estate developer. That doesn’t work.
Here’s one other regret I have: With the Park East, even thought the Park East has yielded tremendous value, I mean I don’t think Manpower would have come down there if the Park East hadn’t been torn down. The Beer Line, all that stuff is related to the Park East being gone. But the land on the Park East itself, the county put all these Soviet-style restrictions on it, you know, “You’ve got to have this wage, and you’ve got to have this, you’ve got to hire this contractor, do this, that and the other thing.” You know, those are all noble ideas, but they’re not noble ideas to do the one strip of land. Because all you have to do to avoid those restrictions is just go across the street or just go somewhere else. So you end up with the county putting all these noble restrictions on and then nothing can get built without a subsidy. And then they tear down the Sydney Hih building, that made my … oh, I was so mad. There was no reason to do that. They had plenty of empty land already and they tear down this Sydney Hih building, which was, you know musicians got their start there. Will Critin, one of the great drummers in jazz history, that’s where he started. Davis, the bass player who teaches music now, in, uh, Richard Davis, up in Madison, he’s an emeritus professor in Madison, he got his start in that Sydney Hih building. That was like a counter-culture haven and they tore it down. For what? I mean it’s just amazing. What would they get to go downtown if they didn’t have subsidy and if they didn’t try to have a mall and all that stuff? They might get Target.
Target’s got a store a block from my office in Chicago on State Street in the old Louis Sullivan, Carson, Pirie, Scott building. They have a store just south of the Loop. They’ve got another store on Petersen. They have a store at the Wilson stop on the Red Line, which is how I get to and from work every day. And in the Carson, Pirie, Scott, they have no parking at all, nothing. You want to park, go into one of the lots that somebody else owns. They don’t want to be in the parking business. They want to sell merchandise. Rich Barta, the vice president in charge of real estate and architecture for Target, he’ll tell you, “We’re not in the parking business.” That’s another story you could do actually. “We’re in the retail business.” And even Wal-Mart now is changing their parking ratios. They would probably go downtown. That’s another thing I’m proud of, when Capitol Court collapsed, when there was no longer a mall, Capitol Court Mall, and everybody blamed, not everybody, but a lot of people said, “It’s in a black neighborhood, so it failed.” That’s not why it failed, it failed because it was a form that lost its place in the market. Bayshore would have failed if they hadn’t changed it. But anyway, Wal-Mart was willing to be the anchor tenant for Mid-town Crossing or whatever they called it, and we had opposition from my friends in the UFCW, understandably, they wanted all grocery stores to be unionized. I used to be a member of that union. I understand all that, but there weren’t any other big retailers that wanted to go in the middle of the city. And when you get down to buying stuff that Wal-Mart sells, or for that matter, stuff that Jewel or Roundy’s or whatever, poor people buy almost as much food as anybody else. If you’re a rich guy, how much broccoli are you going to eat? So they understood that, Wal-Mart understood that. And they were perfectly happy to go there. They also knew it was more like a middle-class black neighborhood, anyway. So they just counted the rooftops. They were willing to go there. The only thing is, is they had this ridiculous ratio of parking. Five spots per thousand square feet. And that’s one of the problems in Capitol Court. The parking lot is way too big. But nevertheless, it’s been a successful store for Wal-Mart. The retailers, whether it’s Home Depot or Target or any of them, they’re all willing to go into more urban spaces. It’s not like it used to be. Downtown Milwaukee could have a Target without a subsidy. And they could probably restrain the parking down to like two spots per thousand square feet, which there’s plenty of parking downtown as it is.
OK, another regret? That we didn’t get the ball stadium downtown. That would have been really good. On the other hand, the conditions that [former Brewers owner Bud] Selig would have required to ever get it there, he wanted, he has 14,000 parking spots out there, which is second only to the Los Angeles Dodgers 18,000 parking spots. If we had provided them with 12,000 surface parking spots so you could have, you know everybody could tailgate who wanted to tailgate. Although, I think that’s a declining interest. You know, we would have had to tear down a lot of the city. So, in some ways, it’s better that we didn’t get it to come downtown. But if he had been willing to come downtown under reasonable conditions, that would have been good for the city. In the site we wanted to put them on, it would have been Juneau and Water, with the Lutheran church in center field in the background that would have been cool. With the skyline of the city, it would have been like, you know Pittsburgh did that. You know how much parking Baltimore has? Almost none. When they built the NFL stadium next to it, they decided they didn’t really need the parking because there’s so much parking in downtown Baltimore in lots that were empty at night, what the hell do you need a parking lot for? “We’re not in the parking business; we’re in the baseball business. We don’t want people to grill brats in the parking lot. We want them to buy them in the stadium where they pay six, seven times as much as they do in the parking lot.” That was really awful. And Selig and Foley & Lardner and the Greater Milwaukee Committee, you know they really rolled the people. I could have fought harder. Selig swore at me in the legislature and I swore back. That will all come out in this book that some guy is writing, writing a book about Selig. I don’t know if it will be favorable to Selig and unfavorable to me or vice versa or neither. I was interviewed for that book, but…
Do you know who the writer is on that one?
Joe Pessah, I think it is. He’s written a couple other sports-type books and I don’t know, it’s supposed to come out like the middle of next year.
But if we would have been able to put the … it’s a little bit like the light-rail thing, where maybe I would have had crusade like Woodrow Wilson did for the League of Nations. That was sort of the image in my head. He didn’t win, did he? I tore down a freeway and that was a counterintuitive thing that took a lot of political resources to pull off and annual reassessment, you know there’s a lot of things. You can’t crusade on every goddamn thing that comes along. But if I had done that and won on the stadium, I think it would have been good for Milwaukee. And the same thing with the rail transit. Milwaukee will have rail transit some day. Basically, the talk shows and the Republican Party have turned it into a fear issue. You know, some guy from the inner city is going to come and rape your television set and take it back on the train. That’s disgusting, but I mean it really is disgusting.
Are you comfortable in giving a grade to Mayor Barrett?
I will not say anything negative about him. I think that that’s really not a good thing to do when you used to hold an office. I’ve already said I thought he’s done a good job. The city is intact. It’s growing. It has development happening. I even made a contribution to his campaign the first time he ran for governor. The recall, I don’t think I sent anything to him. But when he ran the first time for governor when Walker beat him, I gave him a thousand bucks. I like Tom Barrett. Are there certain things that I could pick at? You know, say, I don’t like that. I think he’s a good mayor. I think he’s done a good job.
Given today’s conditions, an uncertain economy, bitter political divides that we have within the state, and leadership challenges, do you think Milwaukee will survive?
Yeah, Milwaukee will be, you know, empires come and go. You saw that with the Soviet Empire. Nations come and go. Provinces, states, they’re all artificial creations. Milwaukee will be around probably longer than those kind of artificial things. It’s where the water gathers, the Kinnickinnic and the Milwaukee River and the Menomonee River. To me, it’s almost a ridiculous question.
If you could do it all over again, are there things you would do differently, professionally, personally or otherwise?
Probably, but I think that’s really an unhealthy thing to do to your own mind. You know there’s people that talk to themselves, you can see them at the corner of, what’s that bar where the Press Club is? You can see them and they’re mumbling to themselves. It’s not a healthy thing to do.
And your offices are on State Street?
We’re in the Marquette Building, which is at Adams and Dearborn. I could look out my window and I can see when the governors are taking off in handcuffs. I saw them both. I saw [former Illinois Governor George] Ryan being taking away. And I saw [former Illinois Governor Rod] Blagojevich being taking away. Neither of them had handcuffs on actually. They went away voluntarily, I guess.
We had heard that you root for the Cubs once in a while.
I never root for the Cubs. I despise the Cubs. I root for the White Sox. The first baseball game I ever saw, Major League game, was in 1959. I saw the Washington Senators play at Comiskey Park against the White Sox. So deep-down inside, I’ve been a White Sox fan ever since. In fact, one of my greatest moments at County Stadium, there was an afternoon game, there was virtually nobody there back in those days, in the early ’70s, and, yeah, I’d go out there to be alone. Anyway, it was like ’77, maybe ’78, whatever. I was still in the legislature. And I went out there, Bill Veeck was sitting there with one of his sons in the next section over. So, his box seats, which were really cheap in those days, and I went over there and watched the whole game with Bill Veeck and talked baseball. I talked WWII. He was wounded in WWII, lost his leg. That was really cool. You know, with the Brewers and the Cubs, despite my rocky relationship with Bud Selig, I still root for the Brewers. And they’re not owned by him anyways. And one thing I’ll say about Selig is that I actually think he’s a better baseball commissioner than an owner. He just couldn’t afford to be an owner. That was the biggest problem with him. He didn’t have enough money to be an owner. To be an owner you have to have things income, you deduct your baseball losses against. So he ended up, you know, if you ever write a story about that again, you should talk to Charlie Krause’s kids. And they’ll tell you all about what it was like to own some of that team. They had to sell at a fixed price and Bud got the stock. And Bud, when he sold it, sold it for full value. Joe Pessah’s book will have all that stuff probably. But as a commissioner, I actually have to give, you know, once in a while he bumbled, like that All-Star Game that ended up with no score. But, you know, most of the moves he’s made have actually made baseball more enjoyable. I’ll end on that positive note. Bud Selig isn’t all bad.