As the two survivors of the Feb. 17 Milwaukee mayoral primary race, Marvin Pratt and Tom Barrett are known commodities in the community. They are both widely regarded as gentlemen and effective public servants, even if some may disagree with their liberal viewpoints. Pratt has experience in City Hall as a former alderman and common council president, and now as acting mayor. Barrett’s experience was gained as a state legislator and a congressman.
Both candidates are determined to avoid allowing race to be an issue in the April 6 general election.
However, despite those good intentions, race may indeed play a part in the election, because the city is so hyper-segregated. The outcome may be decided on two key factors: which parts of the city will turn out the most voters and which candidates will pick up the most votes from the other candidates who lost in the primary.
Pratt attracted 38% of the votes in the primary, while Barrett received 33%. That leaves 29% of the primary voters without a candidate. Sheriff David Clarke, who finished third, has thrown his support behind Pratt, but much of Clarke’s voter base came from the city’s south side.
"I think that’s going to be significant – who picks up those voters who voted for other candidates in the primary," Pratt says.
"There’s not only Clarke, but there are voters for seven other candidates, and although their percentage isn’t as great as Clarke’s share, it’s 12%, basically. So, there are votes out there," Barrett says. Several of those other candidates have voiced support for Pratt.
In separate interviews with Small Business Times executive editor Steve Jagler, Pratt and Barrett recently discussed several business-related issues. The following are excerpts from those interviews.
SBT: From your perspective, what is the most significant obstacle facing businesses in the City of Milwaukee?
Barrett: "First, businesses need a timely response when they’re dealing with city government. … The worst response is, ‘We’ll get back to you.’ And then have the issue linger for weeks, months, years. So, the commitment I make is that we are going to be a very customer service-oriented administration, because I want the businesses to know that the city of Milwaukee is open for business.
"Taxes are obviously a concern. That’s why I’m going to instruct my department heads in the first budget to introduce budgets that don’t rely on any levy increase when they submit them to my department of administration."
Pratt: "I think having a skilled workforce and taxes. You know as well as I do that the state of Wisconsin is one of the highest-taxed states of the 50. From the city’s perspective, I think you have try to stabilize your tax base and stabilize the taxes that businesses pay. You have to have a skilled workforce (and) small business growth. Seventy percent of all businesses in this country are small businesses. It’s tough. The economy’s tough these days. What you have to do is develop more entrepreneurial spirit in our young people and others, and I think that starts in our school system. It starts with younger folks who may thinking about it.
"It starts with grant money. There are a number of people with ideas, but they need a little grant money to get started, either for a business plan or for attorney’s fees. We’re going to do that program again. I thought that was successful. … You form critical mass and some synergy, and it happens."
SBT: Given the state’s tax structure and climate, it’s unlikely that the city is going to convince too many large corporations to move here, and so the bulk of the economic growth must come from within. What would you do to encourage the organic growth of Milwaukee’s existing businesses?
Pratt: "I think as mayor, by going out to (talk to corporate chief executive officers in the area) … you get a handle on what kinds of things, problems, they’re doing with, so you’re on point.
"We used to have a program here in the city called the ‘Call Program.’ How it worked is people in the Department of City Development would go out and talk to different businesses and say, ‘Is there anything you need?’ Often times, the small businesses, the problems they are having are related to crime and vandalism. … And so you know if a business is thinking about leaving if there is something that isn’t done. I’m saying that what you can do as a cheerleader for the city, you have to be a stronger advocate for the city, to have an open-door policy with the businesses, so they can come and see you and you go and see them."
Barrett: "First, the businesses here have to know they’re appreciated, that the mayor and the city want them to be here. I was talking to a businessman who had moved his business into downtown Milwaukee from one of the surrounding counties, and he said that after he made his decision to move here, he got a flurry of phone calls from politicians, civic leaders and other businessmen, saying, ‘Don’t move your business to Milwaukee.’ He said that was the first time he heard from those people. The message I took from that is: I’m going to let the businesses here know that I appreciate them being here."
SBT: What can the city do to recruit other businesses to come
Barrett: "Cities are products. When you walk into a car dealership to buy a car, the marketplace is at work. But there also are a lot of sales people who are there to sell a car to you. Cities are the same thing. You have to have someone who is going to sell this city. Whether people agreed or disagreed with Tommy Thompson, he was a good salesman for the state of Wisconsin. He was a good cheerleader, a good booster, a good promoter. The City of Milwaukee needs a good salesman right now. … And I believe the city of Milwaukee is the most livable city in this country, because it’s got a lot of the amenities of a New York or Chicago, when it comes to entertainment, arts and sports. But what’s lacking, that those cities have, is the hour-and-a-half commute, and that’s a good thing."
Pratt: "My opponent says you have to be a cheerleader for the city, but when you say that, you’re kind of keying on tourism. On that, I have to be the best person for that job, because I was on the (Greater Milwaukee) Convention & Visitors Bureau for two years, and I’ve gotten conventions (to come) here to Milwaukee. And I’ve gone on familiarization tours, so I’ve always been a cheerleader for the city. I can do that. The relationship between Chicago, Milwaukee and Madison has to be stressed, and the relationship of a regional kind of approach that we do, especially transportation, has to be a key."
SBT: How would you change the Department of City Development?
Pratt: "Someone suggested I rename it the Department of Job Development. I’m saying I think you have to put more focus on job development. The public sector doesn’t create jobs; the private sector does. But there are things you can do to help. At one time, we had an economic director. What I think you do, you kind of focus more on job creation. If you ask me where I’m going to change it after April 6, that’s what I would say.
"You know, Pabst City, where you would have kind of adult entertainment … you have some things with young people, you create a critical mass or synergy. I just think those possibilities are great. What that will do is, I hope it will stimulate a number of young people who go off to college and don’t come back, or a number of young people who are here at Marquette University and are from Illinois, and they say, ‘Ah, I’m going to stay here.’ We have to retain more folks. You have to have some things to generate excitement for younger folks."
Barrett: "The first thing I’m going to do as mayor is I’m going to ask all the department heads to submit their resignation. They will be free to reapply, but there will be no expectation for any department. Their application is going to viewed in the context of other applications that we receive for the same position.
"Second, the Department of City Development has to work better with the block grant administration. Right now, there are times when they work with cross purposes. It also has to recognize that it has to go outside city hall, to the neighborhood groups, so that we can make a determination on how the resources should be spread throughout the community. There are some who say that too much money goes to downtown. There are some who say that too much money goes to specialized developers or favored developers. We have to make sure that people in this community know that this is a department for all of city development."
SBT: Should the city play an active role in development projects or should the free market simply decide how those developments go forward, which was the general approach of the Norquist administration?
Barrett: "Generally, it’s going to be similar to his, because of the lack of resources the city has. I will certainly work with businesses, work with developers, but there has to be a realization that the resources of this city are very strapped."
Pratt: "Probably let the private market take care of it, relative to downtown. I mean, I think you create tax incremental financing districts on a case-by-case basis if they’re needed. But you may need a little more stimulus for economic development to happen in neighborhoods."
SBT: What is the best use of land in the Menomonee River Valley between Sixth Street and Miller Park?
Pratt: "I probably agree with the whole Menomonee Valley plan, what they identify as light industrial jobs, right? I think that’s the way to go. You know as well as I do, Allen-Edmonds talked about building a plant there. Now, I think they will."
Barrett: "I’m comfortable with the (city’s) plan. I am not casting it in concrete, however. I think we have to have flexibility. I want us to implement the plan, and if we see there is not the demand there, then we revisit it."
SBT: Are you in favor of the tax breaks being given to Harley-Davidson Inc. to locate its museum near the Sixth Street bridge and the city incurring the costs of moving its Tracer Yards public works building?
Barrett: "I think that there’s been some confusion or lack of understanding of the issue. The city, in its plan for the Menomonee River Valley, called for moving the Tracer Yards. That was included in the plan, regardless of what Harley-Davidson was going to do. The city council has already appropriated money to begin that, so Harley-Davidson has played by the rules.
"Second, I think it’s important to ask some tough questions about the costs that have been quoted for moving the Tracer Yards. The original estimates were $10 million to $12 million, and I think the comptroller came in and said maybe $20 million to $22 million. I think the logical question there is, what are we talking about here? Where are we moving? How much is it going to cost? Is this the time to work with the school district, to work with the county, to perhaps consolidate some of the functions that are being done on Sixth and Canal streets? Might this be the opportunity to coordinate some services?"
Pratt: "I’m supportive of building the Harley museum on Sixth and Canal. In 1998, we voted on the Common Council to move the Tracer Yards. That was before Harley was even in the mix. So, we’re going to incur some expenses to move the Tracer Yards. We identified 10 sites, including one over by the harbor. … We’re going to incur that expense. … But I divorce that from Harley moving ahead. Harley moves ahead. I’m supportive of Harley going there. I think it would be good for the city. I just think it would be a slap in the face of the city if Harley went to Chicago. I wouldn’t even be pleased if they went to Wauwatosa. I just think it will generate 350,000 visitors a year. The economic impact, the economic spin-off of having it there is going to be tremendous for the city."
SBT: What would you do to encourage the redevelopment of the Port of Milwaukee?
Pratt: "I’ll tell you what I know. What I do know is that I believe we can generate more income coming from the port than we are presently doing. There was a critical report done on the port, maybe five years ago. What it did was compare ports in other cities with Milwaukee, and we generated less revenue than all these other places. I’ve been a city council member for 16, 17 years, and if there’s an area we don’t know a lot about, it’s probably the port.
"I do think there are opportunities for other development down there. But the port is a little off the beaten path, when you consider the lake, right? I’d have to look into it a little more. I’d say, yes, but I just don’t want it to be said that Mayor Pratt advocates building condos on the lake. I’m not there yet (laughs)."
Barrett: "I met with some of the people who work at the Port several months ago, and I was struck by how little (shipping) activity is there. There might be 60 workers there now. It is tremendously underutilized. I think developing it as an intermodal transportation service to hook it up to the rail lines is going to take some energy."
SBT: So much focus of the previous administration was on downtown. What would you do to bolster Milwaukee’s neighborhoods?
Barrett: "I think that’s a very important question. I think it’s important that whatever we do, it’s going to be balanced. I am not going to favor downtown over the neighborhoods. I am not going to favor the neighborhoods over downtown."
Pratt: "In order to make it work in these neighborhoods, you have to have someone who’s kind of dedicated to do this. So in order to get this, you have to find a person within an organization or fund a person. It would be a priority under my administration.
"I think you have to make sure we have crime-free neighborhoods. I think you need commercial notes in neighborhoods that are flourishing. I think you need neighborhood identities. I think you have to have more commercial, more retail, in and around neighborhoods. And we have to have more home ownership. I sponsored two credit repair workshops. Forty-five people came, the maximum number of folks who could come in. Two main barriers to buying a home are little or no down-payment, and second is poor credit history. I think we have to foster more home ownership."
SBT: Would you favor relaxing the city’s parking restrictions?
Pratt: "It’s become a real key issue as this campaign has moved along. It didn’t start out like that. I met with a group of commercial Realtors, and one of the people there was saying it was a major impediment to moving to Milwaukee. I said, ‘Why is that?’ And he said, ‘Because of how much we have to pay to park.’ I said, ‘Well, I don’t think it’s that expensive, but then, I don’t pay to park.’ I do have some people looking into it. It’s one issue that is significant.
"But it’s tough. I’m going to say that to you. It’s tough to make a change on that, because it does generate significant revenue. But I do think it could be more equitably done, and we are going to make some changes."
Barrett: "If you were to ask me, one of the surprises to me in this campaign is the level of frustration with the parking in this community. At the (candidate) forum we had at MATC, one of the participants in the forum actually had to get up during the forum and go plug his parking meter. People talk a lot about mad cow disease. I call this ‘mad cash cow disease.’ Clearly this is a revenue generator for the city. That’s the reason it has been so aggressively pursued. I do think we need to take a look at this issue for the areas around UWM, around MATC, around Marquette. I think we have to look at that, and we have to provide more parking for individuals in some of those situations. And I do think we have to look at whether we’ve gone too far in aggressively ticketing. I was downtown on Christmas Eve afternoon and plugged the meter for an hour to run some errands and came back, and there it was – I had a ticket."
SBT: Do you have any mass transit priorities?
Barrett: "I was very involved in the long-standing battle we’ve had over the federal dollars. I think that is an indication of a missed opportunity in this community. That was money that languished – without interest – for well over a decade. As a result of that, it lost a lot of its purchasing power. We’re now left with $91 million. The challenge now is to use that in a productive fashion here, because you can bet your life that either federal legislators from other parts of the state or federal legislators from outside the state would like to get their hands on that money.
"The two alternatives I have heard that are being discussed are the intermodal project that would be down along Canal Street, and the second would be the Metra extension from Racine and Kenosha to Milwaukee. It appears as though the extension has wider support right now."
Pratt: "I’m more supportive of the urban connector study, which is a rubber-tire rail kind of system that will connect venues. You know, you would go from the Brewers’ stadium to downtown, or from downtown to UWM or in and around Marquette. The second one I know about is the Metra system. It’s $91 million. Either we use it or we lose it. But you have to get agreement from myself, the governor and the county exec. I heard the county exec doesn’t particularly like the urban connector. So, somebody has to blink, I guess. If push comes to shove, I’m for the urban connector. We’re going to do something."
SBT: Are you in favor of the proposed community benefits requirements for wages and housing on the development of the Park East corridor?
Pratt: "I have offered a compromise … that you would have an affordable housing ordinance for the city. You wouldn’t have it just on that parcel. The other key part of it is prevailing wage. My position is this: I’m going to sign what the council passes. A number of members of the council are being lobbied on both sides. I think it’s going to be compromised. I’m supportive of affordable housing, and I think it should be citywide. On prevailing wage? I’m probably supportive of prevailing wage – I’m not sure."
Barrett: "Again, what we’ve been lacking is strong leadership on this issue. I’ve always been a supporter of prevailing wages. I’m a supporter of residency preferences. I think all of that is on the table right now. I am not convinced that significant linkage fees, nor affordable housing requirements for that area, are warranted. I am a supporter of low-income housing. I am not convinced of having that along the river is the best use of that land. We still have to be a city that generates a growing tax base, and I see that as a place where we can generate a larger tax base. This issue has languished and languished and languished, because there has been no leadership."
SBT: What can the city do to foster the growth of minority- and women-owned businesses?
Barrett: "We don’t do a good job right now. I have been involved with the Minority Business Opportunities Center in Milwaukee, which is doing a good job putting together a data base so that minority- and female-owned businesses can know where the opportunities are. I think that making sure that the city, when it does business, gives opportunities to these businesses is another important step."
Pratt: "You know, I hosted a minority and women-owned business workshop about two weeks ago. I think you have to let women- and minority-owned businesses know about the opportunities that are available in the city. We have opportunities on the Marquette Interchange, the Menomonee Valley, even the exterior of this building (City Hall). I think a lot of it is getting the information out there and fostering business development. I think we can be more proactive on fostering minority businesses."
SBT: Would raising the minimum wage be good for the city of Milwaukee?
Pratt: "Yeah, I’m supportive of raising the minimum wage. … I just think that businesses always bemoan the fact, whenever you talk about raising the minimum wage, that it’s going to cut back and lessen their profits. You know as well as I do, there has to be a little more concern about the worker than business owners and businesses have shown in our recent past. Workers are just getting beat up. So, I think raising the minimum wage isn’t a ‘biggie,’ because, when you don’t … I probably want to go off the record for this last part (laughs), the people at the top just get more money."
Barrett: "As a member of Congress, I was a supporter of the minimum wage (increase). It’s not on my radar screen right now. But if you’re asking me whether I think Congress should raise the minimum wage, I think the answer is yes."
March 5, 2004 Small Business Times, Milwaukee