Dear Wisconsin: A letter to the state from Milwaukee

Dear Wisconsin,

It’s been too long. I should have written earlier. Things obviously have been tense between us for a while – we really haven’t connected since 1994, when you sent that “feel better” card about the Green Bay Packers not playing at County Stadium anymore.

But this year, it was as though the pent-up frustrations, distrust and miscommunication erupted like a basement full of wastewater. (Maybe you don’t know anything about that – well, an overflow of cow manure, then.)

Some of the tension goes back to the very beginning. I’m sure it was rough when you were born back in 1848, inheriting me as an older city and being a little in my shadow. On the one hand, two years shouldn’t make much difference. I mean, you’re 164 and I’m 166 – who really cares? Still, I know I teased you a lot when you were young. I’m sure it didn’t help that the Germans fell all over me like I was wiener schnitzel.

Of course we’ve had some good times, too. Remember how you would brag about Schlitz and Harley-Davidson to all your friends? You used to really make Illinois mad. I’ll never forget your reaction to Marquette University winning the NCAA men’s basketball championship in 1977; it was seashells and balloons across the whole state. Or as recently as a decade ago, when the Milwaukee Art Museum was ingeniously enhanced by Santiago Calatrava, you were as proud as anyone. Then something snapped in 2010. No more of the predictable back-and-forth teasing. (Like when I’d get jealous of you fawning all over the dry “Spring City” or when you’d over-hype fights at Summerfest.) No longer were we merely at odds. We were at war.

I couldn’t believe some of the egregious slander against your own economic hub. I mean, we’ve had our differences in the past, but nothing like this. You started to shun me like I was an ugly stepcity. Telling other municipalities to stay away from me. Celebrating every piece of bad news as though it was something praiseworthy. (That kind of pro-failure attitude with Detroit hasn’t exactly helped Michigan, as I’m sure you’ve noticed.) If I can’t count on my own state having my back, who will? Indiana?

It all became clear to me during the recall election. Gov. Scott Walker said during the campaign against Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett: “We don’t want Wisconsin to become another Milwaukee.” That hit me like a ton of cream city bricks. The whole recall wasn’t really about Republicans vs. Democrats; it was about you and me! A state vs. its leading city. The realization sent me reeling so much, I dropped a plate of paczki.

Let’s face it, you and I need each other. Without you, I’d be lost. And without me, you’d be Iowa. We’ve been through too much to pack it in. I’ll promise to lay off the out-state stereotypes if you promise to support my success.

Look, I’m never going to be Genesee. I can’t go back to having 6,000 people and a volunteer fire department. It’s just not going to happen. I’m a robust, urban metropolis of 600,000 citizens – Wisconsin residents! – so I have challenges (and benefits) that are unique to me.

Yeah, I can be intimidating and brash sometimes, but you know me better than that. I’m a tapestry of families and neighborhoods. Fish fries and festivals. Manufacturing and finance. Higher education and cultural arts. From Bay View to Walker’s Point to the Third Ward to Lindsey Heights to Enderis Park to Story Hill – my people aren’t much different from your people. In fact, my people are your people.

Imagine what it would mean if you said to businesses looking to relocate, “You should consider my No. 1 city: Milwaukee.” Or if you sent a bunch of volunteers from Stevens Point or Janesville to landscape around an MPS playground. We could be one another’s advocates. There’s no telling what we could accomplish.

Why not get a Minnesota-Minneapolis thing going? We could be Laverne and Shirley. Lew Alcindor and Oscar Robertson. Will Allen and watercress. Partners, instead of enemies.

Some friendships come and go, but ours is worth saving, Dairy State. Like beer and cheese, we already complement each other. Now let’s try complimenting each other. Forward!


Alex Runner lives in Milwaukee’s Sherman Park neighborhood.

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