Milwaukee Biz Blog: The quiet men of Milwaukee area politics

Chisholm, Sensenbrenner and Barrett focus on results

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In a year with politics without principle or politics solely for power, it is good to examine three elected officials whose first priority is getting a job done well.

These are the quiet men who don’t seek publicity. They form coalitions by finding common ground. They make hard decisions without using smoke and mirrors.

They are: Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

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Chisholm sees himself as a non-political public servant. He has studied our community’s problems and has found ways to reduce the cycle of crime.

A decade ago, the DA’s office put together a group to look at reforming how domestic abuse is treated. It included Mayor Barrett, Sojourner Truth House, Task Force Against Violence, Milwaukee Public Schools, and the Milwaukee Police Department. No one sought publicity or credit; they just wanted a better solution. Today domestic violence is treated holistically with better outcomes.

Milwaukee County has a drug problem. Chisholm helped to set up a Community Justice Council in 2007 to divert low risk offenders from prison. He knew this would save money and change lives. Often the Council was the first opportunity for an offender to get treatment. The process starts in jail, moves to electronic monitoring and then routine monitoring.

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He and his team pioneered community prosecution by putting experienced professionals in police districts. Chisholm’s military experience led him to this counterinsurgency model. Where this approach has been implemented, crime has been reduced. Milwaukee has been recognized as one of the best cities in the U.S. for crime innovation.

Tom Barrett
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

Another quiet man is Tom Barrett. Go to his yearly State of the City address. You will be impressed that he gives credit to friend and foe for their efforts. He works with aldermen, recognizing that much of the power in the city is vested in the Common Council. He has quietly built up relationships with the seven counties whose economic success helps our city. Mayors Norquist and Maier were flashier, but they picked fights with the suburbs, and that hurt the city or the suburbs. Working together, Barrett figures will help to bring business to the city, and it has. His budgets are clean, with no games. He has made tough decisions (and enemies). Like Chisholm, he is more interested in getting the job done then seeking credit.

The third man is Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner. In the last two years, with a Congress bedeviled by “no,” he has cobbled together several important non-partisan efforts.

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He revised the Patriot Act with overwhelming bipartisan support. He has a special interest in protecting voting rights for blacks, and is working with the Black Caucus to rewrite the Voting Rights Bill. For those who do not know his district, please note that it has few voters of color. Others seek to suppress access to voting. He is working to protect those rights. He led others in Congress to help reform criminal justice.

These three are the quiet men. They try to solve problems. This is what we citizens want our elected officials to do. Work with others. Find common ground. Get things done!

Bob Chernow is a Milwaukee businessman. He was a River Hills trustee, and chaired the Regional Telecommunications Commission and the Milwaukee River Non-Point Pollution Commission.


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