Crossing the Line

Eugene Kane sat down at his desk in late January, listened to the first message on his voice mail and knew it would be a long day.  “You are the biggest racist in town. How can you get away with this stuff?” howled one caller.  “You’re such a bigot. If a white guy said the stuff you said, he’d be run out of town,” sniped another.  Message after message was the same. By the time the outpouring had ended, Kane had received some 100 calls and messages lambasting him for a column he wrote saying race was a factor when…

Eugene Kane sat down at his desk in late January, listened to the first message on his voice mail and knew it would be a long day. 

“You are the biggest racist in town. How can you get away with this stuff?” howled one caller. 

“You’re such a bigot. If a white guy said the stuff you said, he’d be run out of town,” sniped another. 

Message after message was the same. By the time the outpouring had ended, Kane had received some 100 calls and messages lambasting him for a column he wrote saying race was a factor when the Green Pay Packers hired white coach Mike Sherman to replace fired black coach Ray Rhodes.

Though Kane has a reputation for remaining calm even against the most vicious attacks, months later, the experience still resonates with him. “If somebody called me at home with some of this shit, I’d just hang up or tell them to f— off,” seethes Kane in a rare show of emotion. “But if you’re on the job, you’re supposed to be professional.”

It’s tough being black in Milwaukee, one of America’s most radically segregated cities. It’s tougher if you’re a black commentator in Milwaukee’s lily-white mainstream media. If you’re a black columnist writing about race to mostly white readers, you’re asking for trouble. For Kane, resident lightening rod at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, it’s all in a day’s work.

I very rarely have a day where everybody calls me and e-mails me to say, ‘I hate you and you’re a racist.’

I’d be bummed out if most of my days turned out like that,” says Kane. “A good day is usually half and half. The other half is white people praising me. I know because they always tell me if they’re white.”

Later, reflecting on his comments, Kane confesses: “I get a kiss-my-black-ass moment every once in a while.”

Given a prized news column at The Journal in 1994 and then at the merged Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 1995, Eugene Albert Kane – “Gene,” to his friends – set out to give the newspapers’ mostly white readers a view of the world through a different set of eyes, the eyes of a black man. Since then, his high-profile soapbox, provocative style and black perspective have made him one of Milwaukee’s most controversial journalists.

The city has very few black writers offering commentary in the mainstream media, and Kane has become the biggest lightning rod of all. To many readers, he is an angry black man with a poison pen. Life’s questions are answered by matching black with good and white with bad. No matter the issue, just play the race card.

Supporters, on the other hand, say Kane plays an invaluable role here with his insights, humor and much needed voice for the black community. “He really provides a service to this town,” says R.L. McNeely, a black Sherman Park resident and nationally renowned expert on urban segregation. “He represents the views of a lot of other people, and they need to be heard.”

No matter how much backlash he faces, the 43-year-old Kane still has a playful, almost mischievous, look-at-me side that seems to relish the attention. Feedback fuels Kane, and he’d rather feel readers’ wrath than have no impact at all.

“That’s what this column is supposed to do – get you thinking, get you responding. So even if everyone was writing me to tell me how much they hate it, on a perverse level, I like that, too. Because I moved them,” says Kane. “Do you know how hard it is to get people off their asses and actually attempt to call, send an e-mail or write a letter? I do that on a regular basis with people.”

And that usually happens when he writes about race, which he does frequently. While he has other interests and shares them in his column and on his radio and television appearances, his views on race leave far more lasting impressions.

Racism is a worthy topic, insists Kane, because it continues to fester here and elsewhere. He knows because he experiences it firsthand.

Visiting New Orleans to cover the Packers at the Super Bowl three years ago, Kane says he was trying to get post-game fan reaction when a Wisconsin family accused him of trying to help pickpockets by diverting their attention. The accusation still baffles him because he was wearing a press pass around his neck.

In Waukesha, he couldn’t get shoppers to do interviews with him because he was the only black man around. He continues to hear readers use inflammatory racial slurs, including “nigger,” when they contact him. And he knows personally that Milwaukee clubs and bars use dress codes and other excuses to keep minorities out.

So Kane is defiant when it comes to writing about race, regardless of how uncomfortable it makes people. He jabs and jokes, lectures and spins yarns, all the while knowing it’s going to fan flames.

“I’m not out to be the Martin Luther King of journalism,” he quips. “There is a social component to the column. But I can’t be afraid of pissing people off or burning bridges. I really don’t give a damn about that. I’m not doing this to make white people feel better.”

Drawing on his life experiences and headstrong nature, Kane deliberately took his column into hazardous territory, raising the ire of many white readers. A flawed wonder, his column has stretched the limits of conventional newspaper commentary, ranging from audacious to profound to downright insipid.

To his credit, Kane consistently uses a down-to-earth style and just-folks tone to get his messages across. “Sure, taxes are still too high, work’s still a pain, your spouse doesn’t understand you, the kids might be making pipe bombs in the bedroom, but at least no 21-year-old high school dropout is trying to feed her family on your dime anymore,” he wrote as Wisconsin phased out welfare. Sarcastic, yes. Pretentious, no.

His subjects vary so wildly – football broadcasters, abortion protesters, circus animals, drug addicts, stumping politicians and dirty cops, to name a few – that readers never know who might dance across the page as they nosh on their morning bagels.

But it is his columns on race where his opinions and wit cut deepest. In a city where too many columnists play it safe, Kane can be an unflinching and necessary reality check.

When the Packers had three black coaches last year, Kane applauded and wrote in jest: “Three brothers running the show. Green Bay is suddenly Chocolate City.” After the team hired Mike Sherman, Kane dubbed him the “new token white guy” and went on to say, “There’s a white guy in charge of the Packers again; all is right with the world.”

His columns are not always so barbed, though. He also can be subtle and fair-minded or provide a rare slice of Central City life.

For instance, the minority press here vilified black Supervisor James White as a traitor because he declined to vote for a black candidate to chair the Milwaukee County Board. Kane, however, let him tell his side of the story, and White explained that he had already promised to vote for a white candidate and wanted to honor his word. “It is ironic, in an age where everyone expects politicians to go back on their word and tell all sorts of lies, White is on the hot seat because he insisted on doing the opposite,” wrote Kane.

Pointing out that too many residents are “disconnected” from Central City life, he once asserted that it’s a mistake to assume economic concerns there are radically different from those elsewhere in the area.

“Any given morning, if you take a drive through the Central City, this is what you’ll see: crowds of people waiting for the bus.… Just like everywhere else in the city, this time of morning, folks are headed for work. For most of them, it will be evening before they return,” he wrote. “The real ‘disconnect’ takes place in the mind of anyone who thinks life in the Central City is that much different from anywhere else. It really isn’t. Unless, of course, we allow it to be that way.”

Perhaps Kane has only himself to blame if readers overlook his non-race columns. At their worst, these offerings pack all the wallop of a pillow fight. Few readers may care if Kane feels sorry for caged circus animals, doesn’t want laser eye surgery, doesn’t understand the fuss about DNA genomes or has a crush on actress Halle Berry.

When he does hit a home run with broader topics, he shows potential to be a more well-rounded columnist. Readers cite columns on his family as good examples. When police arrested a county official in 1997 for buying crack, Kane revealed that his brother, Neil, was an addict. “My own brother, a successful electronics engineer, battled his addiction for four years before finally kicking it after a successful rehabilitation. He was clean for four years before he died early this year after falling into a diabetic coma. He never went back to drugs, but I’m certain those years of abusing his body with crack contributed to his death. He was 46 years old.”

In a poignant 1997 Father’s Day column, Kane revealed his struggle to find a healthy balance for race in his life and pledged not to carry on the racial prejudices his dad tried to teach him as a boy. “The opportunities presented to me have been far greater than anything my father ever enjoyed. I have not had to live with the same sort of prejudice and discrimination that hardened my father. I have his name but not his anger,” he wrote.

“My anger is the product of my own experiences.… It is an angry frustration with the realization [that] things have not improved as much as they could have or should have in my own lifetime. Over the years, my father’s fire about race – and no doubt some of his prejudices – has been passed on to me. I suspect the same applies for most sons in America. On this Father’s Day, I honor my father’s life and his legacy, understanding that he raised me the best he knew in order to prepare me for what lay ahead. On this day, I vow to find a way to heal his pain. And my own.”

Reactions to Kane’s column tend to be as far-flung as the column itself. Some of his fiercest critics think he’s a menace to society, while others argue with equal force that he’s a genuine leader.

His detractors can be extreme, comparing Kane to Michael McGee, a former city alderman who now hosts a radio show on WNOV-AM. McGee once declared war on the city over racism, threatening riots, burning tires on roadways and allegedly helping to overturn a police car. Although Kane is even-tempered and never advocates violence, on occasion readers see a link. “You seem very racist toward whites,” hissed one in an on-line chat with Kane. “I bet you’re in good with that troublemaker Mike McGee, aren’t ya?”

Kane has almost come to expect comments like those of Brown Deer’s Rebecca Rathkamp, who, in a published letter to the Journal Sentinel, declared, “A white person would not have been able to write such a column filled with racism.” Another reader asked on-line, “If you cannot keep your racist views from the majority of the columns you write, I respectfully request you resign from the paper.”

Retired Journal Sentinel columnist Bill Janz, who for years worked near Kane in the newsroom, says Kane’s foes aren’t shy about hurling racist insults. “Too many people, I think, crossed the line with their comments,” says Janz. “If they made a racist remark to me, I would hang up.”

One of Kane’s most vocal critics is Wisconsin Public Television’s Dan Jones. This was never more evident than when Kane suggested that racism was a factor in the Packers’ juggling act with head coaches. “Why does the Journal Sentinel give this guy a soapbox?” Jones asked on “Interchange,” his news panel show on WMVS-Channel 10. “This was just the latest attempt by an obviously angry Kane to blame whites for something he doesn’t like.”

In an interview with Milwaukee Magazine, Jones charges, “There are countless instances where race comes into the column where it doesn’t belong. Some of his columns, I believe, portray a very racist view of our city. I think you can address the subject of race without being a racist.”

Another routine gripe is that Kane seemingly tries to get a rise out of people by recklessly playing the race card.

WISN-AM talk show host Mark Belling, who’s been known to race-bait himself, once used his show to cite a 1997 book on race relations in Milwaukee as proof that Kane is guilty of it. In Long Way to Go: Black & White in America, author Jonathan Coleman recalls a conversation he had with Kane after the O.J. Simpson verdict: “ ‘In my back pocket,’ Kane said conspiratorially, a slight smile on his face, ‘I always carry the race card.’ He paused for a second, then said, ‘And I play it whenever I have to.’ ”

Kane actually called Belling’s show to explain himself, but he promptly hung up when Belling started screaming at him. He says people who accuse him of racism and race-baiting don’t know what those words mean.

“In this town, if you even point out that there are differences between blacks and whites, that makes you a racist. To me, if they say I’m a racist, it just means I wrote another column dealing with racial issues,” he says. “They’re not saying that I’m convinced they’re genetically inferior or that I want to create a system of practices that keeps them down. That’s the technical definition of racism.”

Referring to Belling as “Mark Blowhard,” Kane once wrote, “In Blowhard’s mind, the race card is something black people use to inject race into situations where it doesn’t belong or to take attention off their own failings. I don’t agree. I frequently inject race as a way of making a point and provoking thought.”

His supporters – and he has many – say Kane’s goading style is just the kick in the rear Milwaukee needs. By writing from a minority perspective, Kane expresses sentiments often ignored by mainstream media. That makes him an easy target, but it also makes his role a crucial one in such a racially divided city, say backers.

Says Howard Karsh, president of the Sherman Park Community Association: “Right now, Kane is the most prominent voice in Milwaukee.”

With his wire-rimmed glasses and graying, close-cropped black hair and beard, Kane resembles a mild-mannered professor rather than a rabble-rouser. A 19-year journalism veteran, Kane came to The Journal in 1981 to fulfill his childhood dream of working for a daily newspaper.

He grew up in Philadelphia in a black, working-class neighborhood. His father, Eugene Sr., a construction worker, and mother, Hattie, a seamstress, had three sons, Michael, Neil and Eugene, and a daughter, Edna.

Though they didn’t have college degrees, Kane’s parents valued their children’s education. Taking advantage of desegregation laws, they allowed their son to be bussed to a mostly Jewish grade school in a predominantly white area of the city. “It was kind of new and exciting,” says Kane. “But I was very cognizant of being a bus kid.”

Before he started, his dad sat him down and gave him a firm warning. “My father took it upon himself to caution me about white people, not because of any desire to poison my heart against my new surroundings but because he was a black man with a son who had reached the age of enlightenment,” Kane wrote in a 1997 column. “My father, like a lot of black fathers, wanted to protect me from the harshness of the life he had known.

His father, Eugene Albert Kane Sr., had a tough go of it, and it showed. His own father – Kane’s grandfather – died of pneumonia when hospital emergency rooms turned him away because he was black, and his death left the family impoverished. Kane Sr. worked 40 years in construction and battled discrimination all of his life, and his bitterness was painfully obvious to his children.

“Don’t trust them, is what he’d tell me,” says Kane. “They don’t really like you. They just act like they do. Don’t believe it, and don’t get too close to them because they will make you sorry for it in the end.”

Kane’s sister, Edna, a Yale graduate who now works for the National Epilepsy Foundation in Washington, D.C., says their father’s influence was strong yet limited. “My father was larger than life in a lot of ways, and he dominated the household,” she says. “But we didn’t embrace everything. Part of it was knowing our experiences were different.”

Most of the people at Kane’s grade school made bused students feel at home. And Kane did well, as well as the white students, which surprised his black friends riding home on the bus. “That made me realize how strong my upbringing was,” says Kane. “It made me realize I was better grounded than they were.”

Edna says her brother had an early knack for writing. As children, they created short books, then met at the dinner table to see who got the farthest that day. “We’d write nonsense stories about space travel and stuff, naming the chapters before they had any content to them,” she recalls.

Later, Kane felt less welcome at Central High School, a respected, mostly white college-prep school in town. In ninth grade, he was horsing around with a white friend and swung his backpack and hit him. To his horror, his friend began spitting racist names at him. “I heard, nigger this, nigger that,” says Kane. “He was really pissed and he meant it.”

Because of this incident and because he didn’t like that it was an all-male school, Kane transferred to the all-black, coed Murrell Dobbins Vocational School. “I learned I was basically more comfortable around black folks,” he says.

After graduation, Kane enrolled at Temple University in North Philadelphia. Temple reinforced Kane’s interest in black writers and history, something that began in high school when he first read James Baldwin. In books like Go Tell It on the Mountain, Baldwin tapped into the surging emotions Kane felt during his teen years living in a highly segregated city. “It’s not as much anger as it is awareness,” he says. “My real awakening came during my college years in Philly.”

At Temple, Kane majored in journalism but took enough Afrocentric courses to have a minor in black studies. He credits his father with turning him on to writing: “He’s the reason I’m a writer, because when I was little, he would read all the time. I’d always see him reading, and he kept me reading.”

As a senior, Kane started publishing stories on a freelance basis in local newspapers like the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News. After graduating, in order to break into the still overwhelmingly white daily newspaper industry, Kane enrolled in a graduate minority journalism program at the University of California-Berkeley.

“That’s how I got to Milwaukee, because after the program, they placed you with a daily newspaper,” he explains. “At the time, The Milwaukee Journal was looking specifically for minority journalists.”

During his early years in Milwaukee, Kane formed lasting friendships. When his closest friends took jobs at bigger papers elsewhere and Milwaukee was scorned as a black hole for minority professionals, Kane chose to stay because he found opportunities here.

As a cub reporter at The Journal, Kane bonded with other young minorities working the city beat. Karen Robinson-Jacobs, a Journal expatriate now writing for the Los Angeles Times, remembers their clique as “Friends,” Milwaukee-style. “We were very much outnumbered,” she says of the racial makeup of the newsroom staff. “We were each other’s social lives.”

Robinson-Jacobs says Kane was a sweet friend and became part of her family, spending Thanksgiving at her parent’s Chicago-area home. Outside of work, they went to Downtown and North Side clubs, Summerfest and formal balls thrown by the Milwaukee Urban League. They remain close today, staying in touch by phone, e-mail and plane trips, long after she left for another job, married and had a child.

A fellow alumnus of the UC-Berkeley graduate program, Kevin Merida followed Kane to The Journal and says their group was about more than socializing. Besides hosting potluck dinners, these fast friends tried to advocate minority causes as part of the newsroom’s fledgling Minority Caucus. “It was a really good time then. It was an idealistic time,” says Merida, now a reporter for The Washington Post.

They didn’t expect to win every fight, but there was one newsroom scandal that haunts all of them. A white Journal reporter interviewed a nationally known expert on animal training to explain the anti-social behavior of urban black youths. When minority staffers found out, they exploded. “They were basically trying to draw similarities between animals and urban kids,” says Robinson-Jacobs. “Eugene was one of loudest voices trying to get that story killed.”

How did the supervising editor respond? “Just run the f—ing story,” he snapped at Robinson-Jacobs.

Kane remembers it all too well. “It was incredible to us that it would appear in the paper,” he says. Editors also limited the audience of Central City stories from minority reporters by only printing them in the city edition of the newspaper. “They ghetto-ized the news,” says Kane. “That was a real source of frustration for a lot of us.”

Such setbacks solidified the ties between the young reporters. Though their careers took them to different cities, Kane had no second thoughts about staying in Milwaukee. As he paid his dues and worked his way up the ladder here, he was satisfied that he was getting everything he wanted from his career.

Moving from one beat to another – federal courts, suburban government and entertainment – Kane took his work seriously but not too seriously, a trait he retains today. As he became more comfortable and secure in the newsroom, Kane gained a reputation as a funnyman. Journal Sentinel editorial writer Greg Stanford, one of Kane’s cohorts back in The Journal days, says, “If he wasn’t a journalist, he might be a stand-up comic. He always has a ready quip.”

His humor can be stinging, but it’s not mean-spirited. There’s a bit of showman in him, even class clown. Former Journal columnist Joel McNally says management used to hold big meetings Downtown where staffers would get feedback from public figures on the newspaper’s coverage. One year, outgoing Milwaukee Area Technical College President Barbara Holmes ranted on and on about the paper’s unfair and racist reporting on her. She did it in front of an audience of Journal reporters, and there was dead silence when she stopped. That is, until Kane bellowed, “Girlfriend!” – to everybody but Holmes’ amusement.

In 1988, when Al Gore was making his first presidential bid, he breezed through The Journal newsroom, where the wisecracking Kane stopped him in his tracks. The newsroom had been buzzing with talk of Gore’s campaign and wife Tipper’s then notorious crusade against offensive rock music lyrics. As Gore reached the elevator, Kane called out from deep in the newsroom: “Look, it’s Al Gore!” A clearly flustered Gore put up his hand in a weak wave, paused stiffly and started to explain that he was in a hurry. Interrupting, Kane yelled, “Rock and roll forever!” and laughter filled the crowded room.

Says McNally, who was there: “Gore kind of backed into the elevator sheepishly, didn’t say anything and left.”

“Gene is a hilarious guy. He has real great comedic timing when he speaks,” says Meg Kissinger, who has worked with Kane at The Journal and Journal Sentinel. “Everybody wants him to speak at their going-away parties.”

Sources say this impromptu wisecracking led to Kane’s first big break here, when Journal editors gave him a humor column in 1986. Many forget he wrote this column for years, appearing for a while in the popular “Green Sheet” section. Nevertheless, it was successful enough to be syndicated and it garnered him a first-place award for commentaries from the esteemed American Association of Sunday and Feature Editors.

“It was real unusual for a black guy to be writing humor,” says Kane.

Other newspapers looking to bolster their diversity made generous offers to lure minority journalists away, and many took the jobs and ran. Kane has considered moves to Philadelphia, San Francisco and Baltimore. Ultimately, he committed to staying in Milwaukee because he likes it here and he’s been given good incentives to stay.

Every year, Kane catches up with his old Journal friends at the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) conference, and this year’s reunion was especially rewarding. In a nice twist of fate, Merida won the journalist-of-the-year award and Kane won for best commentary.

“The main reason I’m still in Milwaukee is I’ve always been given the opportunities to do what I want to do,” says Kane. “I get some of the same accolades people get at bigger papers in bigger markets. It allows me to think I’ve made a good choice in staying.”

Just as Kane was realizing his potential in Milwaukee, he very nearly sabotaged his career here. In 1992, he won a prestigious John S. Knight Fellowship at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, where he planned to continue his Afrocentric studies. But shortly before he left for Stanford, he was arrested for drunk driving.

At 8:40 p.m. on Sunday, August 16, 1992, Kane drove through a stoplight in Whitefish Bay and hit another car, causing minor injuries. It could have been much worse, and he compounded it by refusing to submit to a breath test, a violation of state law. A municipal judge later found him guilty of drunk driving, fined him $515 and suspended his driver’s license for seven months. The Journal printed two stories about the accident, and some colleagues feared he would lose his job. “He skated very close to getting fired,” says one former Journal scribe.

Kane deeply regrets the incident. “I’m not into that party scene anymore,” says Kane, who no longer frequents nightclubs. “I think it was a warning sign to slow down.”

He had a relatively low profile at the time, so he didn’t face the same scrutiny he would today. This, along with his otherwise clean record, helped safeguard his job while he was away at Stanford.

Still, this marked a turning point in his personal and professional life, and he says he matured and mellowed as a result. The fellowship helped to clear his head in more ways than one. “That year away freed me from feeling like newspaper reporting is the end-all, be-all of my existence,” he says.

Since returning, Kane is considered a role model among his colleagues. “Now I call him the senior statesman of the newsroom,” says Kissinger.

Rejoining The Journal after the fellowship, Kane found he had a new boss, Editor Mary Jo Meisner, and she was looking to give a news column to a minority writer. Within months, she tabbed Kane.

Confident and invigorated, Kane was eager to share more than his humor with readers. “I was ready to write a new column when I got back because I had learned a lot and really felt more secure in being a journalist.”

Meisner deserves credit for her aggressive diversification efforts here. As editor of The Journal, she hired and promoted many minorities at a newspaper historically overrun by suburban white guys. When she was named editor of the Journal Sentinel, she made sure Kane’s column had a place.

Kane’s experience and writing skills were chief assets, says Meisner, who was later fired for the reborn paper’s weak start. She’s now editor and vice chairman of Community Newspaper Company in Needham, Massachusetts. “That he is a minority was of additional value in that he was able to reach out to parts of the community other reporters couldn’t.”

Before deciding on Kane, Meisner consulted with Mikel Holt, the well-connected editor of the state’s largest black newspaper, The Milwaukee Community Journal. Holt says he told her Kane was well regarded in the black community and he was a “superb” choice for columnist. He also praised Meisner’s push for more minority voices in the paper. “Mary Jo Meisner was probably the best thing that ever happened to The Journal and Journal Sentinel,” says Holt.

Insiders say Kane never had marching orders to deal with racial issues in the column, despite rumors to the contrary.

“I never said to Eugene, ‘Here’s a column and you’re going to write about race.’ That’s ridiculous. You’re not going to dictate that from above,” says Meisner. “He certainly wasn’t chosen to write about race.”

Says Kane: “Whatever the topic, I wanted it to be the one thing in the paper that day which everybody reads and everybody’s talking about. That was the only criteria.”

After years of entertainment reporting, Kane has an aversion to crowds and now favors television over attending live concerts and sporting events. Restaurants have replaced bars and clubs. And his eclectic tastes in food – Southern-style soul at Mr. Perkin’s Family Restaurant, sushi at Ichiban Japanese Restaurant and curried chicken at Royal India – still take him all over the city.

Living in a Prospect Avenue apartment, he likes walking along the lakefront. And, like many middle-age journalists, he’s trying his luck at novel writing. He wouldn’t mind cranking out a bestseller someday, but for now, it’s just a hobby he indulges in after work. “That’s a good evening for me,” he says.

He has settled down in many ways, friends say, except for finding Mrs. Right. His siblings and many close associates have started families, but Kane has all of the characteristics of a confirmed bachelor. “I used to try and set him up, and it was a disaster,” Robinson-Jacobs says of Kane, who never married and has no children. “He’s not anti-marriage, but some guys get used to being single, and I think that’s the case with Eugene.”

His buddy D. Orlando Ledbetter, a sportswriter at the Journal Sentinel, says Kane will likely stay single. “He’s happy with his station in life,” says Ledbetter. Asked about Kane’s image as a ladies’ man, Ledbetter snickers and says, “He thinks he is, but he’s just afraid of commitment. He’ll go all weekend with four different dates!”

Kane is well liked and respected in the newsroom and reporters are awed by how calm he is under fire, especially given how much backlash he gets. “I’ve gotten to the point where I take pleasure in cooling people out,” says Kane, who returns almost every message he gets, including the nasty ones. “Now I even tell my editors to get the angriest people on the phone with me, and eventually I’ll cool them out.”

Marty Kaiser, his editor at the Journal Sentinel and one of The Journal editors who gave him his current column, says his passion has not diminished over time. “I don’t think people realize unless they spend time with him how much he cares about that column.”

Inside the newsroom, Kane is often ribbed for not getting out of the newsroom enough to research his column, and he can be stubborn, prickly and overly opinionated. And not everyone agrees with his point of view. “I often tell people that in his column, he comes across as a bristly, angry black man, and I’ve come to see him that way here, too,” says one reporter. “He’s always on guard about race. You’re always worried about saying the wrong things. It’s not a comfortable feeling.”

However, Kane’s supporters at the paper far surpass his detractors. Still active in the newsroom, Kane is a mentor to young reporters and, with colleague Ledbetter, continues to fight for minority causes as co-chair of the Minority Caucus.

Sources say Caucus members met recently with Kaiser and Managing Editor George Stanley to confront the deplorable lack of minorities in the entertainment department. While other staffers stayed mum out of fear for their jobs, Kane not only helped organize the meeting but opened the discussion. “He steps up to the plate,” says one black reporter. “It’s important to have an established journalist who is respected by management.”

In the last few years, Kane has expanded his reach to include TV and radio. His foray into broadcasting is a work in progress. He’s been a regular guest on Eric Von’s Monday morning radio panel on WMCS-AM for two years, and last year, he succeeded Von as co-host of “Black Nouveau,” an upbeat black magazine show with Sharon Patterson on WMVS-Channel 10. Kane took the TV gig as a way to show the public his “gentler side,” and the results are clunky yet entertaining. “I was looking for something other than hitting people over the head with commentary,” he once said.

On one of his early shows, Kane grinned so much that it looked like his whole face would cramp up. “I think my problem is if I start smiling too much, I start looking like a maniac,” he joked later.

After all of these years, he’s amazed that some people think that because he criticizes certain aspects of Milwaukee, he doesn’t like it here. “I don’t see any reason to stay in a city for 19 years if you don’t like it,” he says.

As he often does, he refers to something his father told him to understand all of the talk he generates.

“His most frequent advice was to be your own man. Don’t complain about your problems, do something about them,” Kane once wrote. “Don’t worry if people talk about you, because if they’re talking about you, that means they’re thinking about you. Which means you must be doing something.”

Assistant Editor Peter Robertson writes Pressroom Confidential.