Between Two Poles

One neighborhood shut out Trump almost completely. The other, mere miles from Downtown, handed him a victory.

In Milwaukee Voting Ward 146, only one person out of 249 voted for Donald Trump. (We were unable to locate him or her.) Mitt Romney did slightly better in 2012, garnering a pair of votes in the nine-block area located between 13th, 20th, Locust and Hadley streets in Milwaukee’s inner city. This rectangle of land contains mostly single-family homes, including a few boarded up and abandoned, and a half-vacant commercial strip along Teutonia Avenue, where the surviving businesses include some brightly colored day care centers and a cell phone store. On one corner is the Coffee Makes You Black coffee shop, located in a regal former bank building, where owner Bradley Thurman says the prevailing mood, since Trump’s victory, has been one of “disappointment and the expectation of not knowing where the country is headed.”

He says he’s tried to preserve within the shop “an area of free speech in the black community” amidst “the craziest race for president that any of us have seen in our lifetime.”

Down the street, people are milling around tables stacked high with free clothes, outside a tall, pink building. An open door leads to the Scott’s Christian Youth Fellowship Center, founded in 1974 by Mother A. Naomi Scott and now run by her daughter, Annie Wilson, as a food pantry and community center offering free clothes and meals. “Trump talked about women like they were dogs,” says Wilson, who went door-to-door for Hillary Clinton in Washington Heights, Downtown and on the Northwest Side during the campaign. “That someone like him could win anything is unbelievable.”

On this afternoon in mid-November, a Whitney Houston song was playing over a PA system as volunteers folded donated clothes in the dining hall used to host a free breakfast and dinner every day. Sitting in her small office at the back of the facility, Wilson says she can’t accept Trump as her president, as she did with Ronald Reagan, both Bushes, and the “peanut farmer,” Jimmy Carter, an unpopular Democrat. “This man is unacceptable,” she says.

Prior to the election, there was a feeling of apathy and hopelessness in the neighborhood, she says. “A lot of people were saying their vote wouldn’t count.” Whether because of perceived helplessness or confusion over new voter ID requirements, some 48,000 fewer people voted in the county than in 2012.

Trump won Wisconsin by a hair’s breadth, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at a color-coded map of election results. He took practically all of the state’s swing areas and five of Milwaukee County’s southern suburbs, with Franklin and small Hales Corners topping the list. The closest the Trump phenomenon got to Downtown Milwaukee was Greenfield’s Ward 15, situated just north of South 60th Street and West Layton Avenue, where he received about 52 percent of the vote, compared with Clinton’s 41 percent. At a little over six miles from Downtown, this quiet area is similar to others in the south suburbs that went for Trump. In 2012, Romney did a mite better by winning a pair of Milwaukee wards about five miles from Downtown.

*One star equals five votes

In Ward 15, there’s a low strip mall, a shuttered for-profit college (Trump having his own history with those), a laser vein surgeon, an Army recruiting office, a Board Game Barrister store, an RV sales yard, and Broadscope Disability Services, one of the largest providers of job and supportive services in the county. At Board Game Barrister, where people both buy and play games with war and fantasy themes, an employee says political talk is generally off-limits. “We try to stay away from topics like that because of how divisive they are,” he says. “People are here to have a good time.”

The area’s residential stock includes two peaceful neighborhoods with tan, ranch-style houses, intentional backwaters with only a couple ways in and out. On a November afternoon, people were outside walking their dogs and working on cars. The ward also includes a secluded apartment complex, several Tudor-style buildings surrounding a small outdoor pool. Residents were more reserved in Ward 15 and much less interested in discussing the election.

Nov. 8 was a fairly strong showing for local Republicans, but the county party wasn’t available for comment. At its basement office, located under a South Side insurance agency, the windows were plastered with Trump and Ron Johnson campaign signs, and decorated with a couple light-up America flags, twinkling as if for an electoral Christmas. ◆

‘Between Two Poles’ appears in the January issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

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Matt has written for Milwaukee Magazine since 2006, when he was a lowly intern. Since then, he’s held the posts of assistant news editor and, most recently, senior editor. He’s lived in South Carolina, Tennessee, Connecticut, Iowa, and Indiana but mostly in Wisconsin. He wants to do more fishing but has a hard time finding worms. For the magazine, Matt has written about city government, schools, religion, coffee roasters and Congress.