Cumberbatch says Milwaukee needs new leadership
Lobbyist Frank Cumberbatch is one of the 10 people officially in the race for mayor of Milwaukee. A native of Trinidad in the West Indies, Cumberbatch came to the United States to attend UW-Oshkosh. He obtained a bachelor’s degree in business administration from that university in 1984. He has held technology positions with Waukesha County, with the former Industar wireless telephone company, and with Kedestra, a real estate e-commerce company.
For the last few years, he has worked as a local affairs consultant for Broydrick and Associates in Milwaukee.
Cumberbatch, 45, responded to questions posed by SBT editor David Niles.
The primary election will take place in February, while the general election will be in April. Previous installments in this series of mayoral interviews can be found on the SBT Web site at www.biztimes.com.
SBT: Describe what went into your decision to run for mayor.
Cumberbatch: Milwaukee is a very different city than it was 15 years ago. Therefore, the city needs to move forward with strong new leadership. It is time to stop recycling the same old politicians from position to position. Milwaukee is ready for some new blood – someone who sees our economic and social distress as opportunities to make Milwaukee a great place to live, work and play; someone who could pull the community together; someone willing to give every city resident an opportunity to achieve the American dream.
My commitment to this city and the people who live here; the fact that I am not a politician; together with my broad background in the public and private sectors make me a very viable candidate. Milwaukee has had three mayors in 56 years, so it is now or never.
SBT: Where do you see Milwaukee’s current stature among American cities?
Cumberbatch: Milwaukee has fallen from 34th to 43rd in the top metro markets in the last decade and from 24th to 43rd over the last three decades. If this trend continues, Milwaukee will fall to the bottom of every category used to measure the viability of American cities. We jumped from 19th to 12th in the ranking of America’s poorest cities. Unemployment among minorities is among the highest in the country and rising. We jail more African-Americans than anywhere else, and our graduation rates for public school students, mainly minority, are close to the bottom. We are ranked at the top of the list in teen pregnancy. We rank near the top in manufacturing jobs lost in the past two decades. It cannot get much worse. However, I have high hopes for this city.
The new leader needs to see these inadequacies as opportunities for change, but he must have the confidence to pull all sectors of the community together to turn this trend around. I have that confidence.
We have a large, young workforce in the inner city that, contrary to what you may hear, wants to work. We have 200 acres of prime land in the Menomonee Valley that need to be developed. We are located on a beautiful lake that should be turned into a destination spot for visitors. We have a lot of potential and all the tools to make Milwaukee one of the premier cities in the country, if not the world. We need to focus on change with new leadership.
SBT: Milwaukee has lost population over the last several decades. There has been some return to the city due to downtown residential development, but that development is not family-oriented. Tell me your thoughts on why Milwaukee continued to lose population for so many years, and what you would do to restore a higher census count.
Cumberbatch: For many years, Milwaukee was a manufacturing city. In the late 1970s and early 1980s when we moved from a manufacturing-based economy to an information- and service-based economy, many Milwaukee citizens who were not retrained to take advantage of new opportunities found themselves unemployed and unemployable.
Meanwhile, there were many people well positioned to take advantage of the best economy in US history in the 1990s who accumulated wealth and moved to the suburbs to build homes and start businesses.
High crime rates and high taxes make Milwaukee a very unattractive place to start or move a business, so a large portion of the middle class left the city to find jobs in the suburbs and elsewhere.
What was left behind was a school district with a student body of mainly poor students and some parents left because they wanted a better learning environment for their children.
To turn that phenomenon around, I will strongly support the GMC’s partnership with the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City to form the Initiative for a Competitive Milwaukee.
This initiative focuses on economic development and job growth in the inner city in health care, construction and development, business process services and manufacturing sectors.
This plan is not only beneficial to Milwaukee, but to the region also. I will not allow this initiative to be another great idea that just gets lip service but is never implemented.
A thriving prosperous inner city will see a reduction in crime and hopelessness, which will result in people considering Milwaukee as a place to live, raise a family, work and play.
SBT: As we discussed above, the downtown residential development is not family-oriented. A lot of Milwaukee’s population loss can be attributed to schools; Mayor Norquist has often said that Milwaukee will gain families when families decide they want to send their children to Milwaukee’s public schools. There are good Milwaukee public schools. But many children struggle in MPS schools for a variety of reasons. While the school district is a separate political entity, what would you do about the educational system in the city? And how does school choice fit into your picture?
Cumberbatch: I support an expansion of school choice and a restructuring of how our children are currently educated. I mentioned that I support the Initiative for a Competitive Milwaukee (ICM). MPS, charter and choice schools need to work very closely with ICM so that skill sets can be identified and developed to take the jobs that will be available in the future.
I will also fight for smaller class sizes and more resources for teachers so that the quality of the education the children receive is improved. Today’s children are raised in a technological world of Internet, instant messaging and video games.
Educators need to leverage those skills to get kids excited about learning. They need to retrofit the classroom into new learning environments that will make learning fun and exciting. If MPS fails to do that, they will continue to lose very bright children because of boredom, among other things.
SBT: There has been an incredible amount of investment in the city under the Norquist administration. Downtown has seen much of that, but other areas of the city have benefited, also. But the central city seems to be continually left out of the picture. Yes, there are pockets of reinvestment, but there is still tremendous blight. How would you describe the situation?
Cumberbatch: I have been asked this question a few times, and my usual response is, "The head, downtown, is beautiful, but the body, neighborhoods, is rotting." I think the situation is frightening. This is the main reason why I support the Initiative for a Competitive Milwaukee (ICM). ICM’s vision includes specific objectives for revitalizing our inner city. The plan includes improving the infrastructure so inner city workers can get to where the jobs are, investing in people by giving them the skills to start their own business or qualify for available jobs and encouraging the private sector to invest in neighborhoods. It is through economic development, wealth creation and job growth that we will rid our central city of blight. Under my leadership, this initiative will be realized.
SBT: While Milwaukee has a strong and ingrained Socialist culture, Mayor Norquist describes himself as a supporter of market forces in business development. What do you see as the role of government in business and economic development? How far should the city go in promoting and financing business development? Aside from financial support, what can the city do to make it easier for market forces to effectively foster development in Milwaukee?
Cumberbatch: As mayor I will do three things. I will create a vision to make Milwaukee competitive in the region, the country and the world. I will then make that vision very visible by marketing it to the Milwaukee community, the region, the country and the world.
Finally, I will make myself accountable for the success of that vision. I will work with MPS to meet their goals for educating our children (higher SAT scores, higher graduation rates and lower truancy rates etc.) and with law enforcement to meet their goals for reducing crime (reduction in homicide etc.).
I will also work very closely with the private sector to set, and make visible, measurable goals for economic development and competitiveness in the city.
SBT: It looks as though Milwaukee’s budget will be severely impacted by the state’s budget crisis. What are your plans to deal with fewer dollars coming into the city? Would you be willing to forego a political future by making unpopular but necessary budget decisions for the city?
Cumberbatch: I do not see making tough budget decisions as foregoing a political future. If the mayor is open, honest and very clear about his decisions regarding the budget and a plan to turn things around, constituents will give the mayor time to execute his plan, but he must deliver. I intend to do just that.
The choices will be between city employees have to work a little harder, reduction in services or loss of jobs. I intend to be very clear to constituents about the city’s financial situation and the choices we make, and if that means foregoing my political future, I could live with that.
SBT: Tell me about the neighborhood you live in and why you live there.
Cumberbatch: I live on the east side. It represents all that Milwaukee should be. The east side is very diverse, economically, racially, religiously and socially. It offers a myriad of services, including art, music, exquisite dining, the best movie theatre anywhere, great coffee and an awesome view of Lake Michigan.
SBT: Earlier this year, Small Business Times polled the owners of businesses within the city of Milwaukee, regarding their perceptions of business conditions here as those perceptions relate to the mayoral race. The top three issues they cited for the new mayor to tackle were taxes, transportation and infrastructure, and crime. Your thoughts on those issues?
Cumberbatch: It is very understandable why business people would pick these three issues as their main concerns. Taxes affect the bottom line. More money a business keeps, more money can be reinvested in businesses and the faster the businesses will grow.
Many of the businesses that responded to the poll need the labor force from the inner city; if there aren’t options for the workers to get to the jobs, the businesses are inconvenienced, and sometimes those businesses have to fill the void by providing transportation. An immobile workforce is not good for business.
Crime is one of the main reasons that entrepreneurs do not locate their businesses in the inner city. But this is really a chicken-and-the-egg phenomenon. By providing living wage jobs in the inner city, crime will be reduced.
As mayor, I will work with community leaders, law enforcement, community-based organizations, religious organizations, educators and citizens in the city and the region to formulate a comprehensive plan to make severe reductions in crime, but the private sector must stop using crime as an excuse for not investing in our poorest neighborhoods.
SBT: That poll and a poll conducted by the Greater Milwaukee Association of Realtors raised the integrity issue. Will you stand up to the test of high integrity? And if human frailty does get the better of you, how would you respond to the people of Milwaukee?
Cumberbatch: There is nothing I take more seriously in life that my integrity. If I am guilty of allowing human frailty to get the better of me I will resign immediately.
SBT: Milwaukee has a long tradition of multi-term mayors. Do you see the mayor’s position as a long-time job for you?
Cumberbatch: I do, only because there is no magic bullet that will make this city a world-class 21st century city in a short period of time. I want to see my plans implemented and a reasonable amount of time allowed for results to be measured.
Oct. 3, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee