Pitta lays out 3-point plan for city
John Pitta is one of several candidates running for Milwaukee Mayor. Pitta, a Milwauke Public Schools teacher at the Roosevelt Middle School on Walnut Street, responded to questions from Small Business Times. The two winners of the Feb. 17 primary election will square off on the April 6 general election ballot.
SBT: Describe what went into your decision to run for mayor.
Pitta: This is a critical election in terms of the future of Milwaukee. This is a golden opportunity in a very unique election to break the "political machine," based on dollars, major media manipulation and the good-old-boy network of secret deals done behind closed doors. The biggest challenge facing Milwaukee is the national and local perception that we are racist, segregated and conservative. We need a mayor who will be visible and address those issues. We need a mayor who will inspire people to vote and utilize our diversity as our greatest asset. We are the only major urban market in Wisconsin, and we need to promote Milwaukee nationally.
SBT: Where do you see Milwaukee’s current stature among American cities?
Pitta: I believe Milwaukee is a good city that has the potential to be a great city. My slogan is, "Making Milwaukee a World Class City with a 3-Point Plan." I see the current stature as slipping among American cities due to the lack of visionary leadership and visibility in the community. We need to be more competitive with comparable cities. My plan is to improve the national image of Milwaukee. I will fight to locate resources from major financial markets to provide improved economic development opportunities here.
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 us your thoughts on why Milwaukee continued to lose population for so many years, and what you would do to restore a higher census count.
Pitta: Jobs, crime, taxes, public education are some of the obvious reasons. The negative media coverage in Milwaukee often compounds the challenges we face. We have some major challenges, but I am an optimist. Demographics and population have changed dramatically over the past 50 years, and that has a huge impact on issues such as crime and educating our youth. According to 2000 data, our population is 37% African-American and 12% Hispanic.
The median age is 30.6 years old. I advocate more involvement of minorities in the decision-making of city business. My plan includes a youth movement that involves improving education and resources for children. We need to market Milwaukee as a great place to live, work, and play.
SBT: 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?
Pitta: The mayor’s job is to fight for resources for children in our community. I would collaborate with the school superintendent and meet on a monthly basis. I am not in favor of the mayor having the authority to hire the superintendent and the school board.
As I mentioned, demographics have changed dramatically. I would support the recruitment program for more minority and male teachers. I promise to visit every single MPS school during my four-year term.
School choice is a complex issue. I want all children to have a good education, and school choice does help some children. I believe we need to add a level of accountability and reporting to the public about school choice performance. Ultimately, MPS serves the majority of our children in Milwaukee and often those with the most severe needs. I would do anything possible to improve MPS and work with the community in doing so.
I am an MPS teacher and I have a master’s degree in administrative leadership and a principal license. I am also in a Ph.D. program at UWM in urban education that includes a superintendent license. I definitely am the most qualified mayoral candidate to help improve education in Milwaukee.
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?
Pitta: The central city is the land of opportunity. The recent reports on Stealth Depression from UWM and a separate report on the amount of opportunities available in the central city highlight the fact that we need jobs and businesses to develop in the central city.
We also have a labor force, transportation system and other necessary requirements to establish new businesses and markets in the central city. My strength is in marketing.
I would market the central city as the best place with the most potential to create new jobs. I would fight to retain talented young professionals and reduce the "brain drain" trend by advocating for new technology development and projects. I will advocate for more economic development in those neighborhoods that need it most, such as, Fond du Lac Avenue, Lisbon Avenue, Brown Deer Road, National Avenue, Mitchell Street and Lincoln Avenue.
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?
Pitta: I will promote Milwaukee as a world class city. The next mayor needs to be the biggest cheerleader we have ever had. I am the youngest candidate, and I have the most energy and visionary leadership to really revitalize this city and put Milwaukee back on the map. The city should focus on developing neighborhoods that I just mentioned. Downtown and other neighborhoods such as the Third Ward, Brewers Hill and Brady Street are thriving. The central city is the one that needs a boost. The mayor needs to make this city progressive. We are way too conservative for the 21st century. We need a mayor who will provide bold, daring executive leadership. Development opportunities are available in the Park East corridor, the Menomonee Valley and throughout the central city and we need a mayor to fight to locate resources for Milwaukee.
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?
Pitta: The budget and taxes are a huge issue in the race for mayor. Listen for specific ideas from candidates. I haven’t heard many from any other candidate. I have three specific initiatives that could improve the budget crisis. I publicly stated several weeks ago to collect trash every eighth day instead of every seventh day year-round.
Mayor Norquist is using this idea in his 2004 budget for winter months only. As part of this, I would encourage more recycling. I advocate for a city-wide program for rain barrel containers. These would collect rainwater from downspouts and instead of being treated by MMSD, the water from the barrels would be used to water grass or plants. This would reduce cost for MMSD and improve capacity during storms or overflow periods.
The final idea is for private industry that requires a large amount of police services to pay a partial cost to offset costs for regular time or overtime for police services. This would become public information and would require cooperation between City Hall, MPD, and private industry.
SBT: Tell me about the neighborhood you live in and why you live there.
Pitta: I live on 31st and Kilbourn in the Concordia Historic neighborhood. I bought the house in 1993 and have renovated the entire house and garage. It is a beautiful home and, with three floors, there is lots of space.
I love the proximity to downtown, which is a three- to four-minute drive. It is very centrally located in the city.
I currently work at Roosevelt Middle School of the Arts and my daughter, Sky, attends Lloyd Street. Both schools are very close to my home. This area has excellent residents and neighborhood organizations that enhance the area. I was formerly a board member on the West End Development Corp. This is the only house I have ever owned, and it is on a beautiful, quiet dead-end street, and I am committed to remaining here.
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?
Pitta: On taxes, I propose to freeze the tax levy during my first year in office. This is responsible government with local control. I will eliminate fees such as water and sewer and snow and ice removal in my second year in office. These services will go back on the tax levy. I am tired of politicians telling citizens they are holding the line on taxes and continually adding new fees or raising existing fees. I want to have honest taxes for citizens. In addition, the fees are set up in a manner that the economically disadvantaged citizens are paying a bigger portion of the fees.
Transportation will provide many opportunities for jobs and contracts for local residents with the rebuilding of the Marquette Interchange and freeway expansion planned. I propose advocating progressive marketing of the county buses. We need to encourage young people to ride the bus. Perhaps provide music or wireless connections to make bus transportation more attractive. I also propose expanding the UWM bike give-away program and marketing the use of more bikes to conserve natural resources and increase physical activity for young people and the community as a whole.
My plan on crime starts with a better relationship with the chief. I propose a 10 p.m. year-round curfew with public service announcements, "Parents, do you know where your children are?" Move toward ticketing parents of children who are repeat curfew offenders. I will advocate for more education and treatment for law offenders. Wisconsin is the No. 1 state in the nation for incarcerating African-Americans and last among all 50 states in educating African-Americans. I propose to reconfigure the police district boundaries to improve safety for all neighborhoods. Demographics, population and crime have changed dramatically over the past 50 years.
Oct. 17, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee