Q&A: Marvin Pratt

Marvin Pratt, 71, was Milwaukee’s first African-American mayor. He lost the job after three months, but he’s moved beyond a bitter campaign.

Photo by Max Thomsen.
Photo by Max Thomsen.

You were common council president, then appointed mayor, and later, You beat Tom Barrett in the 2004 mayoral primary. But just before the general election, the district attorney cited you for “sloppy” campaign finance records. You lost to Barrett, 54-46.
I wish I would have taken better care of my financial books and would have had someone to make sure I did. Ultimately, any glory or negativity, failure or success rests with me. I let some people down relative to a race I believe I could have and should have won. Overall, I’m a humble person, but there was a little arrogance about it.

This year, the city’s homicide rate has skyrocketed. Why?
Part of the problem is concealed carry. It gives you a license to walk around with a pistol. Then the folks who shouldn’t have one say, ‘Well, let me get mine, too.’

What’s at the root of the violence?
The level of disparity has increased, not just between blacks and whites, but among people based on income. It seems like all those folks who are making money are making more, and all those people at the bottom of the socioeconomic scale are making less and suffering.

What can the city do?
One of the things Mayor Barrett did well was say every young person who wanted a job in the summer should get a job. He’s increased jobs every summer. It’s up to companies to hire these kids. That would go a long way toward engaging some of these 15-, 16-year-old boys who are stealing cars and somewhat out of control.

You’re mostly retired, but What’s your take on building a new sports arena?
If you’re mayor, you’re kind of hard-pressed to say yes. I would take the same position as the mayor. You just try to make the best deal for the city. I do think there should be a surtax on the tickets. [The state Senate later added one to the deal.] Let those people from Mequon who go to the games pay for part of it. The state really disenfranchised the convention center board. They’re going to take its money from hotel, motel taxes and rental cars, and give it to a new entertainment-district board made up primarily of Republicans. It’s just another example of state Republicans running roughshod over the city of Milwaukee.

What do you think of Police Chief Ed Flynn?
My initial thought was – a real cocky guy. He’s mellowed a little bit since he’s been here, though. He’s a better chief now because I think he understands Milwaukee better. I do buy into that you probably do need more police.

Speaking of local politics, what do you think about the expanding authority of County Executive Chris Abele?
He was a moderate when he was elected, but now he’s just following the Republican lead. He says, ‘I’ve got enough money to ensure my re-election.’ He’s showing a whole lot of little Napoleon complex. I guess he’s the Republicans’ favorite politician in the Milwaukee area even though he runs as a Dem.

‘Point of View: Marvin Pratt’ appears in the October 2015 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

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