Last updated on May 15th, 2019 at 05:02 pm
“Waiting for ‘Superman’” was a 2010 documentary film that criticized the American public education system. But I can’t get that title out of my head when I listen to Milwaukee aldermen criticize Department of City Development Commissioner Richard “Rocky” Marcoux.
The Milwaukee Common Council recently refused to approve Marcoux’s reappointment by Mayor Tom Barrett, sending the matter back to committee for further review. After 12 years in the post, Marcoux’s job status is uncertain.
Downtown Milwaukee is booming with numerous development projects and everyone is happy about that.
“I think it’s fair to say we’ve had an unprecedented amount of development in this city in the last four years,” Alderman Jim Bohl said.
But while downtown is booming, many of Milwaukee’s low-income neighborhoods are still seeing little to no economic development activity. With that disparity in mind, some aldermen say Marcoux and the DCD are paying too much attention to downtown and aren’t doing enough to attract jobs and development to the city’s neighborhoods.
“When I hear statements to the effect of what a great job is taking place (by Marcoux), I just have to stand up and say, you’ve got to be kidding,” said Alderman Tony Zielinski, one of Marcoux’s biggest critics. “We have, if not the highest, one of the highest African-American male unemployment rates in the country. What has been advanced to address that issue in 12 years? You talk about development…look at the central city. What kind of development have we seen in the central city in the last 12 years? With the development we have had, it’s been downtown. Instead of addressing those most in need in our community, we are focusing on other areas, and we are not even doing a good job at that.”
But the boom in downtown development, while certainly assisted by the DCD and the city with subsidies like tax increment financing, is mostly market-driven. People want to live downtown and more businesses want to move downtown.
The lack of economic development in the central city is also market-driven. The high violent crime rate, poverty and poor performance of Milwaukee Public Schools creates an environment the marketplace wants to avoid. The DCD can’t change that fact.
Marcoux and the DCD work with economic development opportunities that come to the city from the private sector. Primarily, those opportunities have been presented downtown.
The DCD has its own programs throughout the city that seek to attract much-needed development to low-income areas. Many of them, such as Bronzeville and the 30th Street Industrial Corridor, have had little success, but not for a lack of effort.
Marcoux and the DCD cannot reduce crime or fix education in Milwaukee. These are big societal problems that everyone needs to work to solve. Until progress is made on the big picture, there is no way the DCD on its own is going to turn the central city into a development hotbed.
But some aldermen seem to think somebody out there somewhere could come in and wave a magic wand.
“If we want to turn things around in this city, we need to do a national search and get somebody in this position who is going to be aggressive, who is going to be talented, who is going to work with the business community, who is going to work with us,” Zielinski said.
Conduct the national search if you want…but Superman isn’t coming through the door.