25 people. 12 conversations. The rules? No rules. Read what Milwaukee's most interesting had to say to each other when face-to-face in a Tweet-free zone.
D’Naya Collins (Sophomore at Rufus King IB High School) and Tom Barrett (Mayor of Milwaukee)
Topic: The City’s Youth
There’s no hyperbole in saying that 15-year-old D’Naya Collins is an overachiever. This high school sophomore and cheerleader gets excellent grades, and her involvement with the Boys & Girls Club led to her being named the 2014 Year of the G.I.R.L. Ambassador and the 2015 Argosy award winner. Collins came to her meeting with Mayor Tom Barrett equipped with questions written out on notecards. But when the mayor learned that Collins, who was born in Tennessee and lived in Naperville, Ill., until six years ago, isn’t totally enamored of our fair city, he had a few questions of his own. / Moderated by Carole Nicksin
TB: So why don’t you want to be in this beautiful city the rest of your life?
DC: Just all the violence and the crime. I know that is everywhere, but I like diversity, and I think that Milwaukee, well Wisconsin really, is very segregated.
TB: Do you think Milwaukee itself is segregated or the state?
DC: The surrounding cities like Wauwatosa and Waukesha, those are all primarily white. It’s just a big separation from the inner city to the rest of Wisconsin.
TB: Well, you’re correct. Unfortunately, often race is correlated with poverty. The city of Milwaukee has 72 percent of the region’s low-income people. And that means we have a lot of challenges to deal with. It saddens me to hear what you are saying, but I can’t say that I am 100 percent shocked. I have people who say, those are the city’s problems, and my response is, “They are the society’s problems, but they are concentrated in the city.”
DC: What are your plans to reduce the violence among youth in our city, and for bettering the relationship between the MPD and the youth?
TB: In terms of the youth crime, I need the young people to be leaders. The fact of the matter is, you personally have a lot more sway over your group of friends than I ever would in a hundred years. Teenagers listen to other teenagers. And I think the vast majority of teenagers in this city are really, really good. I need the good ones to step up, to help those and talk to those who are being bad. How do you think we can connect better?
DC: I think creating a program that brings the Milwaukee Police Department and our youth together, like an after-school program, to talk to each other and build a better relationship. Most of the time, the youth, they can’t really talk to anyone at home, so if they were able to talk with the actual police, and realize they are not bad people, that might help stop the violence.
TB: We actually have a program where we hire young people to be ambassadors, they are in their early 20s, and part of what we are trying to do is expose young people to the Police Department so we can start having conversations, just like the conversation you and I are having now. If we did this for six months, you would have a better appreciation of who I am and I would have a better appreciation of who you are. In our society and our culture, we don’t see enough of that.
DC: Is there something you would like the youth to know or encouraging words to give to them?
TB: I want the young people in this community to know I believe in them. You are the future of this city, and I need you to succeed. I want you to stay. I want you to help make this a better community.
Melinda Davenport (Morning Anchor, WISN-12) and Jessica Tighe (Morning Anchor, CBS 58)
Topic: Broadcast News
Judging from the top searches on Google, here’s what you want to know abuot Milwaukee anchor Jessica Tighe: No, she’s not married, and regarding her age, she’s “older than 30 and younger than 40.” As for Houston-born anchor Melinda Davenport, she’s engaged, but no, she doesn’t want to reveal his identity. Here, the two discuss work, Milwaukee and friendship. / Moderated by Carole Nicksin
JT: I remember when you got the promotion to the morning anchor spot in 2015. I reached out on Twitter and said, ‘Hey, congrats.’ You wrote back, and then it took off. The first time we went out for lunch, it was like three-and-a-half hours.
MD: Three-and-a-half hours, and a whole bottle of wine. We are both foodies, so we have this bond. We have been like 10 out of 10 in terms of really good food when we have lunch.
JT: Except for that one time.
MD: Let’s just say there was a time where we had an extra special bond because of what we had to go through.
JT: And we both tried to figure out if we were on the air after “the incident,” as we’ll call it.
MD: I think that proves the work ethic we both have. Because we were both on the air the next day and for three miserable days afterwards, and no one would have known. But we knew!
JT: Yep, and another bond is that we keep the same hours. We both get to work around 3 a.m. and finish for the day by noon or 12:30. Wintertime makes it a little easier. You don’t feel like you are missing out as much.
MD: Oh, it feels so good when it is dark at 5 o’clock! The hours are hard, but it’s worth it. Any time we have the opportunity to actually highlight the amazing things that are happening in the city, I jump at the chance. We go live from Summerfest, and I try to make that my own with the team that I work with, because there is nothing like it anywhere in the rest of the nation.
JT: This market for me is different. Just being able to be home in my own community and be able to tell those stories, these are my friends and my family members.
MD: You’re from here, and I got here as quick as I could!
JT: It was tough over the summer when we saw the (Sherman Park) unrest. I did a radio interview with a host in Vegas and we talked about what was happening, but I also said, “Keep in mind that the whole city is not on fire, it’s not something that happens daily. We have issues in Milwaukee, you can’t deny that, but Milwaukee has a lot of good stuff going for it.” I said to the host, “Call me back when you want to know about everything good we have.”
MD: One thing I admire about you is that you really care about this city, I mean truly, truly care. You’re very genuine. I can tell you something, and even though we are competitors, I trust you, so we can have a friendship and a professional relationship and have fun, too.
JT: I think that is a big deal. I trust you, too. We understand we are in a business, but at the same time, we’ve talked about things to the point where I’ve known some things that people have really wanted to know, and I said, “I can’t tell you because Melinda and I are friends.” I think that is a unique relationship that a lot of people don’t have, especially in this business.
Nik Kovac (City of Milwaukee Alderman, District 3) and Rob Henken (President, Public Policy Forum)
Topic: Milwaukee Streetcar
Few debates raised more hackles than the one over the Milwaukee Streetcar, approved in 2015. To switch tracks in the long-running debate, we asked proponent and East Side Ald. Nik Kovac to chat with Rob Henken, president of the Public Policy Forum and a skeptic of the streetcar plan, about the line’s future. / Moderated by Larry Sandler
RH: Rail transit tends to lend itself to being a poster child for those who believe that government overreaches. We’re talking about an investment that not everybody will get the same benefits from. And it’s very expensive.
NK: I agree it’s very expensive. But it’s certainly not anywhere near to the most expensive thing government spends money on. The amount of public money we spend on public roads dwarfs anything we’ve ever even thought about spending on trains. This has become a lightning rod issue for people who listen to talk radio and think the American Constitution gives them a right to traffic-free automobile trips and parking spots right in front of wherever they’re going.
RH: My fundamental concern is that the initial starter line is not going to be able to do enough to demonstrate the benefit a fully built-out 8- to 10-mile streetcar system could bring.
NK: I agree it’s too short. It’s only successful if we plan on expanding it. It’s the right two miles in terms of getting early ridership. But extending it to the Bucks arena would be an outstanding spur of ridership with the expectation that it will get to Bronzeville soon, or to North Avenue, and along the East Side.
RH: I think the appropriate way to view this project is not as a transportation project but as an economic development project. To me, the first definition of success should be whether the economic development objectives come to fruition. We already are seeing some evidence of that.
NK: I agree that in the short term, the best measure of success is the associated economic development. But long-term, this is intended as a transportation system. It will have positive effects on the bus system as well. This is intended to cross the major bus routes and supplement them, not replace them.
RH: The element we have been missing here is a modern, balanced transit system with local, express and rapid services. I can see the [streetcar’s benefits] to our convention industry, tourists and downtown residents. Still, I remain concerned that it’s going to take us so long to get to the point where the streetcar is that game-changer.
NK: The real game-changer is to increase ridership. We’re going to work hard to make it work.
Edward Flynn (Milwaukee Chief of Police) and Heather Terhune (Executive Chef, Journeyman Hotel)
Heather Terhune, a former “Top Chef” contestant, arrived in Milwaukee last summer from Chicago, where she served as executive chef at Sable Kitchen & Bar at Kimpton’s Hotel Palomar. When she and Chief Ed Flynn sat down to lunch at Tre Rivali, where she runs the kitchen, the topic was supposed to be the restaurant scene in Milwaukee. Flynn is a bit of a foodie and enjoys eating out at least once a week. But the conversation got a lot more interesting when the pair started comparing notes on being outsiders in a city of insiders. / Moderated by Carole Nicksin
EF: I went to the police academy in New Jersey, initially in Sea Girt, and worked in Jersey City [until 1988]. I got my first chief’s job in Massachusetts, my second chief’s job in Massachusetts, and then I went to Virginia. I found myself working for Mitt Romney [back in Massachusetts] for a few years, and then he decided he wanted to do something else besides be governor; so I needed a job. If you think of yourself being in a profession as opposed to having a job, you end up having to move. It was like, “Okay, now I take the next step,” you know?
HT: Yeah, I have three sisters and a brother, but I am really the only one that lived like a gypsy, moving around. I moved to Vermont to go to culinary school, then I moved to New Orleans to do an externship, then I went back to school for six months to Vermont. And then I lived in D.C. and then I lived in Raleigh, N.C., until I came to Chicago. I think my parents were like, “What is she doing?” But it was all for career advancements. I try to encourage my guys [who work for me], “You’ve gotta do something uncomfortable. You’ve got to break something in order to make it grow. Staying in one spot is not necessarily good, right?”
EF: If you’re born and raised in a place, it’s one thing. You know who your friends and allies are. But when you’re not, everybody in your environment is a potential critic. So guardedness can come across as aloofness. That’s just the way it is. The other part is this notion of arrogance, which I think is a misperception. I’m very confident in what I do because I’ve got a track record. I’ve been doing it for 45 years. I’ve led six agencies. But again when you’re not from a place you’re proving yourself every day. For those who don’t like you, that makes you arrogant, as opposed to confident and adamant, which I am.
HT: It’s funny; we have very different jobs, but we have a lot of similarities in the fact that you’re right, everyone is a critic and everybody judges you every day. Okay, well, they’ve never been a chef. They’ve never worked in a professional restaurant, but they seem to think that they know more about what’s going on in this business than I do. That’s fine. They are entitled to their opinion.
EF: Somebody I know once said, “People want access points to you,” and an access point is some perceived shortcoming you have. It’s happened to me before, and it’s certainly very much true here. I mean, you’re coming in as a hotshot, and I was coming in as a hotshot.
HT: When I arrived, people were like, “Oh, you’re big-time,” and I’m like, “No, I don’t think so. I’m just opening another restaurant. I’ve just had a bit of success.” But I worked very hard to have those successes [Being on a] reality TV show, that’s not something I ever thought I would do. It just happened. And with that, I think we got hit with a Mean Girls reputation, which isn’t true. We just have strong personalities. When you put 16 executive chefs in one room and everyone wants to be in charge, then certainly some voices are going to be heard more so than others because we’re all competitive and you want to win. That experience, it actually was great for me; it was great for my career. The only thing that matters is what you think about yourself and what your family and your friends think. If they were saying those things, you’d probably need to look at it.
EF: If you’re going to be in public life, you have to understand you’re going to spend most of your life being misperceived, misunderstood – either accidentally or on purpose. There’s a whole strata of audience out there that wants to get you into a caricature of yourself, so they can be against you. I have this assigned role in life, you know, “the police chief.”
HT: Yeah, it doesn’t matter if you’re at a grocery store or at the library,
you’re always going to be the police chief.
Robert Lowe (Professor of Education) and Howard Fuller (Director, Institute for the Transformation of Learning)
Topic: School Choice
Howard Fuller and Robert Lowe are good friends, professors of education at Marquette University and longtime admirers of each other’s work. They also disagree sharply on the issue of school choice, an arena in which Fuller, a former Milwaukee Public Schools superintendent, became a leading proponent for the school voucher program in Milwaukee. / Moderated by Matt Hrodey
RL: I think you and I would agree that public education and racial inequality have been and continue to be intertwined. The question is, do you work to try to transform [institutions] and make them more egalitarian? Do you exercise voice, or do you exercise exit? My position is voice, and yours has been more exit.
HF: One of the things I’ve concluded is that black people in this country can never afford to put all of their eggs in any one basket. It is critical that we have as many different options as possible because anything that starts out for our benefit can be turned around. So what are all the different levers you can use to fight? For me, parent choice is one of them.
RL: To me, the problem [with exiting] is to what. What kinds of choices are available? Kids who come from affluent backgrounds do have, I think, a different set of choices. Another question is whether the choice program improves MPS or has the opposite consequence. When you’re out of [a school system], it’s very hard to even be sympathetic with it, let alone act in ways that will support it and move it to change.
HF: Let’s talk about all of the policymakers who actually have the power to influence what happens and put their kids in private school.
HF: People say, “Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, we’ve got to do this for public schools.” And you find out their children are in private school, or they moved to certain communities so they could ensure their kids could get a great public school education without having to be in classes with a whole bunch of poor black and brown children.
RL: The hypocrisy is everywhere.
HF: There are people who are hypocritical on my side. There’s enough hypocrisy to go around.
RL: I offered you this formulation some time ago but didn’t pursue it: Who’s running all these charter schools? Isn’t there a tinge of colonialism with all these young white people running these schools?
HF: I’ve gone on record arguing that we cannot continue to have a movement that is allegedly about liberating a people, and those people are not playing a critical part.
RL: I would think so.
HF: When integration came, three things happened: Black schools were closed; black teachers lost their jobs; and black teachers’ opinions were devalued. When education reform came, three things happened: Black schools were closed; black teachers lost their jobs; and black teachers’ opinions were devalued. I’m in [the school choice movement], but I’m making an argument that what you all are doing is very similar to what has been done to us before. We need to create organizations that focus on making sure the interests of black children and the black community are met.
RL: You have a steep hill to climb.
HF: I would have a steep hill to climb if I were over at MPS! On the same issue.
RL: Well, that’s true, too. I would just rather
you were there.
Linda Marcus (Designer, Linda Marcus Design) and Bjorn Nasett (Stylist)
Linda Marcus left behind her TV anchor job to start her own design label, a move that led her back to television as a contestant on “Project Runway.” She’s got high design principles but strongly believes the best style is wearing what you love. In addition to his day jobs, Bjorn Nasett performs in drag under the moniker “BJ Daniels,” and he’s been an all-around fashion observer and vintage collector since the 1980s. Marcus and Nasett, friends through fashion, sat down in Marcus’ Milwaukee Street studio to talk about what we’re doing right (2016’s version of Milwaukee Fashion Week) and how to take more fashion risks. / Moderated by Claire Hanan
LM: People are looking for permission to be themselves. And I don’t know why that is in Milwaukee, but people are very humble. That’s the great part about Milwaukee, but at the same time, when you are talking fashion and expressing your personal style, I think people need permission to do it. And they need to allow themselves to do it.
BN: You are going to find [Milwaukee style] in pockets and neighborhoods. I live in Riverwest, and that is totally rock n’ roll, deconstructed and DIY. You’re going to see that kind of thing. You go to the Third Ward, and that’s totally different. You know, there’s sort of a Tosa thing, it’s the people walking their dogs and the moms in their athleisure wear. It’s always going to be reflective of your environment. There’s no Milwaukee look that’s not valid to the people who are wearing it.
LM: It’s not super obvious to people who come to our city, but if you’ve been here a little bit, you understand the vibe of it. We like comfort, we are humble, and we don’t want to spend a lot. Price point is a huge thing. I do think fashion doesn’t have to be expensive. In some of my designs I’ve used pet netting!
BN: I was very proud of Milwaukee Fashion Week this year. In previous years, organizers tried to do too much. This year they pared it down to the essence of design and did three nights of fashion shows with three independent designers each night. To me, that was genius! It was like, more people need to see this, to see our city and to see the innate talent that’s here that people always tend to try and knock.
LM: [Local designers] are here; I just wish we would have some sort of directory or some way of finding the talent that’s here. My dream is to have a calendar that has fashion and design on it, and at any point you can find out what is going on in Milwaukee. And a directory that lists jewelry designers, shoe designers.
BN: You need to do an app, the Linda app. Something I would recommend to all Milwaukeeans is don’t limit your shopping to one area. One day I decided to go down Mitchell Street, and I’m telling you, I found some cool stuff at unlikely places. There is even a Mitchell Mall thing. I’m telling you, even in there, there was a point of view and a thing. The way Milwaukee works, and how Milwaukee style is, you have to get out of wherever you live and go to other neighborhoods. Use your feet and go and walk and talk to those store owners and artists.
LM: The city is just on the precipice of exploding. I feel like it’s just enough people, it’s bubbling below the surface. There needs to be something, an event that opens that door and has it explode. I feel like it’s just almost there, you know?