Latest news

Community resources for this unprecedented time

Right now, more than ever, I am laser-focused on the health and safety of the people here in Milwaukee. Our future depends on how we act today as we continue to fight back against the outbreak and spread of COVID-19.


As of this weekend, I have advised my full-time campaign team to focus less on the day-to-day needs of my reelection and more of their time and energy on working with community members to support those in need throughout these difficult times. 


Now, if you are able, I ask the same of you today.


The following are a few resources where you, or folks who are in need, can turn to and find help:


Community Health and Safety Support



  • For information on where to donate personal protective equipment (PPE) for the frontline workers as they continue to combat COVID-19 (i.e. masks, gowns, safety glasses, disinfectants, gloves and Welch Allen Thermometer Probe Covers).


  • Sojourner Family Peace Center remains open and available for people dealing with domestic violence. Please visit their website or contact the agency to see where help is needed at this time.


  • Contact the Disaster Distress Helpline at 1 (800) 985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 for counseling and support for distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster.



  • If you or a member of your household has received a positive COVID-19 diagnosis or is of a high risk group, visit HealthWell Foundation Covid-19 Fund for assistance with costs associated with having food or medicine deliveries, transportation, and diagnostics associated with COVID-19.



Screening and Testing


Because COVID-19 can spread quickly and impacts those with existing conditions harder, call your doctor or clinic instead of going in to be seen. If you or someone you know is having fever, dry cough, body aches, or shortness of breath, you can call or visit the website of a Milwaukee-area health system 24/7 to talk with a professional about your symptoms and get advice on care. Those resources are:


Virtual visits are available for a $20 flat fee.


Online visits are available for no more than a $20 copay.


Online video visits ($49) or e-visits (correspondence with a provider, $35) are available 24/7. If your child is ill, contact their doctor or clinic with questions before taking them in to be seen.


  • Children’s Hospital is offering online urgent care availability 24/7 for all Milwaukee kids for a $20 flat fee.


Food Resources for families, individuals, children and seniors





  • Contact The Tandem (located at 1848 W Fond Du Lac Ave) where they are committed to providing free community meals each day. No questions asked. 


  • Friedens Community Ministries has food pantry locations across the city and are available to help those in need or you can support their work. 


Help for You and Your Neighbors




  • TipMKE: Support and tip restaurant workers during COVID-19




  • Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation is leveraging the strong relationships the state’s community development financial institutions (CDFIs) have with their clients to quickly deploy $5 million in emergency capital: Small Business 20/20.



  • The Greater Milwaukee Foundation, in partnership with local philanthropists and funders, has created a fund to respond to the COVID-19 situation. You can support this fund here: MKE Responds Fund.


  • To find out more about businesses that are deemed essential, you can visit the list provided by the State of Wisconsin: Essential Business Declaration.




  • gener8tor Emergency Response Program is hosting emergency one-week virtual programs for small businesses affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. These programs will feature daily webinars designed to identify, understand and help small businesses secure resources to withstand the current crisis. One-on-one office hours will also be available. Businesses wishing to enroll should sign up on their website. 


  • Kiva has expanded lending terms and eligibility to help small businesses impacted by the pandemic. Downtown businesses in our communities that are women-, minority- and/or veteran-owned are also eligible for a 50% match from WEDC to expedite their loan. 


  • For an even more comprehensive list of services being provided to those in need, please visit 211 Wisconsin.

And if you know of additional resources that you would like us to help make folks aware of please feel free to reply to this email, we appreciate the help as this is an all hands on deck effort. 


Milwaukee Safe, Milwaukee Strong. 




Tom Barrett


‘Working around the clock:’ Milwaukee officials preparing for coronavirus cases, more tests

By Bill Miston

March 12, 2020

Fox 6


MILWAUKEE -- City of Milwaukee health officials said in an address Thursday, March 12 that there will not be mandatory school or business closures due to coronavirus at this time.

While not mandating closures, the city echoed the state's call for any event involving 250 people or more to be canceled as a way to prevent the community spread of the virus. Though Milwaukee does not have any confirmed cases, officials are planning for what to do not if, but when a case is confirmed.

Tom Barrett

"I would like to believe that we will never get a case here, but talking to the individuals behind me, I am convinced we are not going to get, not just one case, but we are going to get many cases here," Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said.

Barrett, flanked by leaders of area health systems, pressed home the seriousness the country is facing, and that the city is doing everything in its power to prepare for when a COVID-19 case is confirmed in the city.

"Rather than waiting until that happens, we have, over the last several weeks now, been working around the clock to determine how we are going to respond to this," said Barrett.

Preparation includes looking at ways to offer more flexible testing when demand increases as not to overwhelm healthcare providers.

"Right now demand is not great, but we know the demand is going to increase and that's something we want to be ready for," Barrett said.

If positive cases balloon, healthcare systems have available beds for patients who could face higher mortality rates -- like the elderly or those with underlying conditions.

"This is a challenge unlike many, if not all of us, have ever faced. But what we're going to do is we're going to continue to work together, and we're going to try to make sure we are bringing the response that the people of our community need," said Barrett.

City health officials urged people who believe they have COVID-19 symptoms -- a high fever of around 100.4 degrees or more and respiratory distress -- to call their primary healthcare provider or urgent care.

Jeanette Kowalik

"We're really stressing that individuals do not go to emergency rooms or departments," Milwaukee Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik said. "Not just showing up, that way they're preventing the spread in clinic settings, which is very important."

The head of the Milwaukee Health Department lab said it has so far tested between 25 and 30 specimens and that the process is being streamlined to make it more efficient, fast and cost-effective. However, he said he anticipates more cases to come.

What Milwaukee Still Needs is a Fighter

By Karen Stokes

February 8, 2020

Milwaukee Courier


Mayor Tom Barrett is seeking re-election as Mayor of the City of Milwaukee to continue the progress he’s made over the years.

At an announcement event at Sherman Phoenix, Barrett said he wanted to build the future of Milwaukee and to reinvigorate this city and its neighborhoods.

Barrett is an approachable, friendly, fiscally responsible Democrat who cares deeply about his city. There is rarely an event that you can’t look up and see Barrett. In a climate of division, this mayor focuses on unifying the community.

Reflecting on his time in office, Barrett’s time as mayor began with a feeling of optimism and he remains optimistic today.

In his first inaugural address, Barrett talked about how he loves and believes in Milwaukee and that he was going to let the world know about the greatness of this city.

Everyone will see the greatness of this city when Milwaukee will be on the world stage hosting the 2020 Democratic National Convention this summer. This is a historic event because it is the first time in the history of the state of Wisconsin that we are hosting a major political party convention

Barrett’s tenure as mayor has not been easy. He has faced many challenges and had to make some tough decisions.

Challenges from the recession, hostility from Republicans in state government, racism, segregation, poverty and the loss of manufacturing jobs has at times put the city against the ropes.

Despite the obstacles, Barrett fights on.

In late 2019, Barrett and Strauss Brands agreed to bring a $60 million headquarters and facility to Century City Business Park. The mayor’s plan would have brought 250 plus family supporting, union jobs to Milwaukee’s Century City. Amid protests from animal rights groups and outside interest groups, the deal fell through.

Moving forward, Barrett will continue to work to bring Wisconsin businesses to neighborhoods that need it most.

According to him, Milwaukee’s future starts with housing.

A primary goal of his Strong Neighborhoods Plan aims to increase affordable housing availability in the city by building or improving 10,000 housing units in 10 years. This effort is well on its way.

He has prioritized the creation and rehabilitation of nearly 7,000 affordable housing units. To date, this includes 600 units built at Westlawn, 700 affordable units built downtown, over 800 supportive housing units for seniors, veterans and homeless or chronically ill individuals. Through these initiatives, neighborhoods have been impacted across the city by over $300 million in public investment and have leveraged over $300 million in private investment.

Mayor Barrett knows that our youth are the future of this city and that is why he is investing in them now. In his 2020 budget he included an allocation of $13.6 million for lead-line replacements, testing and filters for at-risk households, a $1.2 million increase from 2019.

He will work to replace 1,100 lead services lines across the city in 2020 building off of the success in replacing 1,000 lead service lines in 2019. Since 2004, 70% fewer children in Milwaukee have tested positive for lead poisoning, but Barrett knows his work is not done.

In his fight to better our community, Barrett has launched signature initiatives to address some of Milwaukee’s most serious challenges:

• Ceasefire Sabbath- This is an effort to mobilize the faith-based community to work collaboratively to improve public safety and strengthen neighborhoods. The annual event continues to focus on the discussion of violence prevention and how to better invest in the futures of Milwaukee’s young people.

• EARN & LEARN- When Barrett first took office, there were several violent incidents involving Milwaukee teens. The following year, the Earn & Learn program was established. The program connects teens to local businesses, nonprofits, community and faith-based organizations and assists young people from Milwaukee in making a successful transition from adolescence into adulthood through job skills and work experience. Youth throughout Milwaukee are working at over 75 different community-based sites.

• Holiday Drive- The drive began as a way for the City of Milwaukee to share their gratitude to Wisconsin troops who were far away from their homes during the holidays. More than 2,000 goodie-filled boxes were shipped to Wisconsin troops serving our country overseas in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo. The program also supports veterans, their families and homeless vets.

One of his latest successes includes his leadership on the bid to bring the 2020 Democratic National Convention to Milwaukee.

The convention is expected to draw 50,000 visitors and have an economic impact of $200 million to $300 million throughout the state.

The goal of a mayor should be to make the city they govern better. Barrett’s strength is the tenacity with which he works to improve our city. Barrett has a strong record and he will continue to fight for the future of Milwaukee.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett's State of the City address highlights DNC, drop in crime

By Alison Dirr

February 10, 2020

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel


It was with this summer’s Democratic National Convention that Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett began his State of the City address Monday, highlighting the call he received right after his 2019 address with the news that Milwaukee was chosen to host the national political convention.

He said Milwaukee wasn’t selected solely because Wisconsin is a swing state in this year’s presidential election but rather because there is something special going on in the city.

“The convention gives us a chance to tell our story and we’re eager to do so,” Barrett told those gathered at the Potawatomi Hotel & Casino Monday morning. “It's a story of hard-working, resilient people, innovative companies, great natural beauty, and cultural and entertainment assets galore.”

In the 35-minute address, Barrett said the city was moving forward but also faces challenges. He highlighted dropping crime figures, and efforts on housing, early childhood education, solar energy and business development.

He said he wanted everyone to feel a positive connection to the convention that is expected to bring 50,000 people to the city when it takes place July 13-16. And so, he announced, the Fiserv Forum will be open for public tours in the days leading up to the convention.

He said he wanted people to see the convention space, the construction and the location that will capture the nation’s attention when the DNC is in town.

He highlighted the contributions of the Forest County Potawatomi and the Potawatomi Hotel & Casino — including a $10 million sponsorship of the city’s streetcar, collaboration with the city on making a pitch for the DNC, its Heart of Canal Street campaign and other efforts.

And, he said, the hotel’s employees “embody the diversity of our city.” Sixty-five percent of the hotel’s nearly 2,700 employees are people of color, 53% are female and nearly two-thirds are Milwaukee residents, he said.

He laid out a positive vision for the city, saying that it is safer and more inclusive and its economy is stronger. He also said the city is working to increase economic opportunity that is shared fully and fairly.

Barrett highlighted dropping crime numbers, from homicides to non-fatal shootings to carjackings. And he acknowledged the work of the Police Department and the city’s Office of Violence Prevention and its approach of addressing violence as a public health issue.

“Let me tell you why this is so important: For decades Milwaukee relied solely on the police to fight crime,” he said. “Now we are prioritizing prevention, working with the community, and expanding our approach to making Milwaukee safer.”

Barrett also touched on a concern among some long-time residents near downtown that they’ll be forced out of their homes because of rising property taxes caused by increasing property values.

He said that funding from private donors allowed for the creation of the MKE United Anti-Displacement Fund to help eligible homeowners by providing resources to offset the financial impact of increasing property taxes.

More than 110 homeowners qualified for the program that is available for residents of the Halyard Park, Harambee, Brewers Hill and Walker’s Point neighborhoods, he said.

Barrett highlighted business development in the city but also expressed frustration with the collapse of a plan for Strauss Brands LLC to move its slaughterhouse and meat processing plant from Franklin to Century City Business Park on Milwaukee's north side.

He said Strauss' plan was shut down before the company had a chance to tell its story, leaving the neighborhood without good union jobs.

"Those who spread falsehoods should be ashamed," he said.

Barrett also announced the creation of a new early childhood development initiative, dubbed the Milwaukee Early Childhood Education 2025 partnership. He said the city's success is tied to giving children an equitable start.

The city's Health Department struggled for months after it came to light that the department had failed to provide services for the families of children with lead poisoning, or at least failed to document its efforts. The fallout included the January 2018 resignation of Health Commissioner Bevan Baker.

In his speech Monday, Barrett said that during his tenure, partnerships with the federal government, local health centers, doctors and schools have led to a 70% reduction in lead poisoning in Milwaukee's children.

"Our lead program is moving forward," he said, highlighting a $5.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to abate lead hazards.

He also said the city has allocated millions to eliminating lead hazards.

Barrett also highlighted efforts in solar energy. He said the city wants to get at least a quarter of its energy from renewable energy by 2025 and is taking an "all of the above" approach. That includes creating the "largest solar energy system" in the city's history on eight acres of city-owned land near Mitchell International Airport. We Energies will build and maintain the project that will return $90,000 or more to the city each year, he said.

He said the city's streetcar, dubbed The Hop, will host its millionth rider later this month and has a 99% on-time record. Barrett also announced that We Energies gave a $100,000 sponsorship to support the streetcar's operations during the DNC.

"We are starting to get the attention we deserve, because special things are happening in Milwaukee," he said at the close of his address.

Challenging Barrett in his re-election bid are state Sen. Lena Taylor, Ald. Tony Zielinski and Paul Rasky.

In a statement, Zielinski said the city has significant unaddressed problems, including racial disparities, child poverty, violent crime, infrastructure and lead. He said Barrett had "misplaced priorities" on issues such as the streetcar.

Zielinski also said Barrett has declined to debate him.

Barrett said there would "absolutely" be debates after the Feb. 18 primary and that he and Zielinski have had forums together.

Let the Sunshine In: 2019 Was the most successful year for city's residential home solar program

Posted by Milwaukee Independent Staff

Jan 23, 2020


The Milwaukee solar group buy program wrapped up its most successful year to date in 2019, resulting in 48 homeowners installing 255.70 kilowatts of new solar installations.

The City of Milwaukee’s Environmental Collaboration Office (ECO), in partnership with renewable energy non-profit the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA), launched its 2019 solar group purchase program for Milwaukee residents and business in May.

Over the summer, they offered free community information sessions called “Power Hours” at the Milwaukee Public Museum and Milwaukee Public Library branches to educate home and business owners about how solar works, the typical return on investment, what incentives are available and financing options.

A solar group buy occurs when community members use their collective buying power to save on the total cost of going solar. This program helps Milwaukee area residents invest in lower cost solar installations through the power of volume purchasing.

“Our Milwaukee Shines solar program is working to make it easier and more affordable to install solar here in Milwaukee,” said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. “The City has drastically reduced permitting fees for solar, developed an affordable solar loan program with Summit Credit Union and, along with our group buy partners, has facilitated the installation of 870 kilowatts of solar on 217 Milwaukee area homes and businesses. With a growing awareness of the threat of climate change, the City is working hard to advance energy efficiency and renewable energy in Milwaukee.”

In addition to federal tax credits and state rebates, participants also received an average of $450 in rebates from the solar installer. Solar arrays installed through this year’s program will offset emissions equivalent to 235,541 pounds of coal burned annually and will save an estimated $41,000 a year in electric bills.

“The City of Milwaukee’s support has been critical to these programs’ continued success,” said Peter Murphy, Solar Program Director for the MREA. “Milwaukee’s approach showcases just how effective a municipality can be if it sets its sights on consumer education and residential solar deployment.”

The solar installer for the program was Arch Electric, a Wisconsin-based solar energy company that had recently opened its Milwaukee office. Arch Electric was selected through a competitive bid process conducted by a community advisory committee. This summer it prepared over 100 free bids.

“It was a privilege to be part of the largest Milwaukee Solar Group Buy program to date. The amount of participation in this year’s program validates that solar is becoming a mainstream, affordable power source,” said Angie Kochanski, Residential Sales Manager at Arch Electric

With the federal government retreating on climate change, cities have begun taking the lead. Milwaukee is working collaboratively with cities around the globe to say “We are Still In” on the Paris Climate Accord.

In addition to the solar group buy program, the City of Milwaukee has a 25 by 25 renewable energy goal. That means Milwaukee aimed to have 25 percent of its electricity for municipal operations powered by renewable energy by 2025. For 2019, 209 kilowatts of solar were installed on three Milwaukee City Library branches. As 2020 begins, the City continues looking for opportunities to incorporate renewable energy.

ECO is a division of the City of Milwaukee’s Department of Administration, created in 2006 by Mayor Barrett. Its mission is to make Milwaukee a world-class eco-city.


Mayor Barrett Expresses Disapproval of ERIC Voter Registration Purge

By Mrinal Gokhale

December 28, 2019

Milwaukee Courier


Ozaukee County Judge Paul Malloy ordered that about 234,000 voter registrations be deactivated for residents that moved and didn’t respond to requests to reenact their registrations. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett expressed criticism on the reliability of data that identified these voters during a press conference at Milwaukee City Hall on Friday, Dec. 20. “Nearly 35,000 of those voters would be here in the City of Milwaukee. More than one in 10 registered voters in this city would be impacted by this,” said Barrett.

He said that marginalized communities in Wisconsin may face additional barriers to vote as a result of these purges. “When voters are split as sharply as in Wisconsin, there may be an advantage for some people to face additional barriers,” he said. Wisconsin became enrolled in the Electronic Records Information Center (ERIC) a few years ago, which uses data from the DMV, Social Security, USPS and other sources to identify registered voters that have moved. The voters that are identified as “movers” then receive postcards that request that they reactivate their registration within 30 days. Barrett stated that in order to help ensure accuracy of registered voter addresses, the City of Milwaukee and all Wisconsin municipalities participate in many mandated data maintenance processes. “We have matched nearly 600 records with property owners in Milwaukee which creates doubt as to whether a person has actually moved,” he said. He believes that this ruling and law also threatens democracy. “At the end of the day, our democracy works best when people have the opportunity to vote. And we should not be making it more difficult for people to vote, particularly when we’re coming into the critical elections of 2020.”

Joining Barrett was Neil Albrecht, executive director of the Milwaukee Elections Commission. Albrecht said that there has only been a five percent response rate to the mailings. About 1,327 postcard recipients ended up registering to vote in another municipality. “That 95 percent, the state has no idea on their status, yet we’re rushing forward in inactivating that 95 percent all based on one piece of mail sent one time to a voter,” Albrecht said. Albrecht stated that he does not believe the Wisconsin Elections Commission is disputing the unreliability of data that identifies movers, nor is it known why Milwaukee is disproportionately impacted by this law. “Some may say Milwaukee and Madison are more transient cities than other state municipalities,” he said. “We don’t have an answer, and I think what is more troubling is that the state does not have an answer.”

For now, voters are encouraged to check their registration statuses. “The City of Milwaukee will do everything within our legal authority to prevent the deactivation of voters,” Albrecht said.

Tom Barrett announces run for fifth term as Milwaukee mayor

By Alison Dirr, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel | Published Nov. 20, 2019


Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett struck a unifying tone Wednesday as he announced he's seeking re-election to a fifth term in office.

It was widely anticipated that he would run again, the only question being when he would officially enter the race.

“I am more optimistic now than I have ever been about the future of our city,” Barrett said during his announcement event at the Sherman Phoenix development in the Sherman Park neighborhood.

Barrett, who was first elected in 2004, said he wants to focus on bringing more jobs, housing and early education to the city in a fifth term. 

He said the city has faced challenges from the recession, hostility from Republicans in state government, racism, segregation, poverty and the loss of manufacturing jobs.

But, he said, a lot of work has been done to revitalize the city.

He said Milwaukee's future starts with housing, and he highlighted his 10,000 Homes Initiative that aims to increase affordable housing availability in the city by building or improving 10,000 housing units in 10 years.

"If you think about the next four years, think about neighborhoods, think about how we're going to take that incredible renaissance that's occurred in the heart of the city, and we want it to continue, we want it to continue in the heart of the city, but we want even more jobs in the neighborhoods," he said.

He also touted his efforts to bring family-supporting jobs to the city, citing the ultimately failed attempt to bring Strauss Brands meat processing operation in the Century City business park.

“That’s what this city is all about, it’s about family-supporting jobs,” Barrett said.

He said afterward that he feels the city has made "tremendous progress" but that there's a lot more to do.

"I know that there's too much poverty, I know that there are really the challenges we have because of racism, because of segregation and I want to be involved in addressing those issues because I think that we can really make some strong, strong progress," he said.

Earlier this year the city was selected to host the 2020 Democratic National Convention, which is expected to bring 50,000 people and an international spotlight to the city. The DNC will be the first major-party convention in the city's history.

Barrett enters the campaign in a strong financial position. His July campaign finance reports indicated he had more than $800,000 cash on hand, far outpacing his challengers.

Barrett was re-elected in 2008, 2012 and 2016 with 70% or more of the vote.

His top two challengers, south side Ald. Tony Zielinski and State Sen. Lena Taylor, have sharply criticized his record.

Zielinski filed papers in 2017 to challenge Barrett in the April 2020 election.

He criticizes Barrett for his advocacy for the city's streetcar, dubbed The Hop, which has been in motion for a little more than a year and which Barrett has been seeking to expand.

Zielinski says it's a waste of money at a time when the city is facing financial challenges and an example of Barrett's misplaced priorities that have allowed poverty to pervade the community.

"Instead of focusing on issues like poverty, crime, pot holes, fiscal responsibility and lead the mayor is fixated on the streetcar," Zielinski said in a statement Wednesday.

In the July campaign finance reports, Zielinski reported having $572,337 cash on hand, having raised $594,066. The sum includes $300,000 he lent his campaign. 

Taylor announced in early September that she would be challenging Barrett for the seat.

In making her announcement, she criticized what she sees as inaction by Barrett’s administration to address the city's issues, which she said denies equal access and opportunity. She pointed to the city's continued racial segregation and a drop in homeownership among black residents.

Al Williams, chief strategist for Taylor's campaign, on Wednesday said he hoped that voters and the media would hold Barrett accountable for disparities in the city, including it being considered one of the worst cities in the country for African Americans and its high incarceration rate.

"Tom's time is up," Williams said.

Taylor had about $2,200 cash on hand, according to her July campaign finance report. That includes an outstanding balance of about $35,500 she's loaned to her campaign.

Common Council President Ashanti Hamilton, who had been weighing a mayoral run, announced in mid-September that he would not be a contender.

Other candidates who have filed papers to run are Paul Rasky, Tremell Noble, Daniel Crowley, David King, Ramone Williams and Theresa Garner.

The spring primary is Feb. 18 and the general election is April 7.

What Milwaukee means for Democrats in 2020 presidential race

July 14, 2019

By —
PBS NewsHour

Wisconsin was one of several battleground states in 2016 that helped Donald Trump capture the White House. Next July, the city of Milwaukee will host the 2020 Democratic National Convention to select the party's next presidential candidate. Hari Sreenivasan sat down with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett to learn what the region means for Democrats on a national scale.
  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Milwaukee won the competition to host next year's convention with the help of the city's mayor, Tom Barrett. Born and raised here, he's been mayor for 15 years, served in Congress for 10 years before that. He's seen the city go through big changes. Milwaukee still struggles with historic racial inequity from health and housing to education and employment. So much so that county leaders recently declared racism a public health crisis. I sat down with Mayor Barrett to discuss this upcoming convention and his hopes to overcome long-term challenges still facing the city of Milwaukee.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    How have you seen this city change, not just since you've been mayor but since you've been living here?

  • Tom Barrett:

    Well, one of the things that I think many people don't realize about Milwaukee is, if you go back to 1970, we had the highest per capita income in major cities for African-Americans. And the reason for that was because we had a lot of foundries and factories and tanneries and breweries, and people could really get a good family supporting job by working in those places. But beginning really seriously in the 1980s and thereafter, we've seen a lot of the jobs disappear that were those jobs. And I would say for the last eight years coming out of the Great Recession, we've been fighting back.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    In this coming election, how does the voter in Milwaukee and the voter in Wisconsin play into that national race?

  • Tom Barrett:

    Well, I think what makes us attractive again to the Democrats and the Republicans — because we are truly a purple state — is that in many ways, we're a microcosm of the nation. We've got a larger urban area in Milwaukee. We've got a state capital in Madison that's growing very vibrantly. And then we've got areas of the state that are rural areas, and those are a lot of the areas nationally and certainly in Wisconsin who feel a little disconnected from what's going on. But I think there's a recognition now, not just for Wisconsin but for Michigan, for Pennsylvania, to some extent for Ohio, that these are places where both parties, they better sink their roots pretty deeply here and they better not take anything for granted.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    What does it mean to a city like Milwaukee to host a convention?

  • Tom Barrett:

    So it's a big deal for us. We're very proud and we think we've got a story to tell of a city in a state that's really, again, fighting back and winning.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    There are pockets in your community, I remember reading an academic paper and they had focused on one of the ZIP codes and they said that this is a neighborhood of concentrated poverty, pervasive joblessness, plunging incomes and mass incarceration. How do you make sure that equality and inequality is a topic that's not just in this convention but something that the Democrats are thinking about going into 2020?

  • Tom Barrett:

    The issues of equality, of justice, of race are issues that I deal with on a daily basis. And I've served in Congress, I've served in the state legislature, the difference between those jobs and this job, at the local level and, this is throughout the entire country, this is a very gritty job. There's not a lot of theory in these jobs, it's about getting things done. It's about how do we get better housing, how do we get safer streets, how do we get more investment particularly in those ZIP codes that have seen a lot of disinvestment since 1970.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    How do you encourage African-American voters here to be a greater part of the system? In the 2016 election, the voter turnout was the lowest it had been in the city since they were keeping track.

  • Tom Barrett:

    Well, I think you have to have candidates who speak to the concerns of the people who live in these neighborhoods and you saw that in 2008, you saw that in 2012 where we had a sharp spike in the involvement of Central City voters. And so what happened in 2016 is we returned back down to places where we had been before and actually had not done as well in terms of voter turnout. So I think it's gonna be incumbent on any candidate who wants to get the vote in urban America to make it clear to people in urban America that they're speaking their language.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    You've made a pledge that you want to get 25 percent of Milwaukee's power by 2025 from renewable energy. How do you do that?

  • Tom Barrett:

    Well, we're doing it on our city buildings. We're moving aggressively on solar. And my approach has been "D: all of the above," working with the utility, working with private providers, working with not-for-profit groups, aggressively trying to find ways to get more renewable energy. Because I think climate change is real and it's something that in the long run, we better be dealing with and the way you deal with it in the long run is starting in the short run. Because it's a macro problem but many of the solutions are micro solutions. It's putting solar panels on libraries, putting solar panels on parking structures, using wind, those are all methods I think that can allow us to make progress in this area.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Some of the presidential candidates have called for an entire debate just on climate change. Do you think the Democratic Party is taking it seriously enough at this point?

  • Tom Barrett:

    I think that many of the candidates are and I think whether it's a separate debate or whether it's incorporated in the debates, it has to be front and center, particularly because on the other side, you've got a president who seems at best uncaring about this issue. I think it's an opportunity. But again you have to recognize that for some people in my city, when you talk about changing the environment, they're saying: I want you to change the economic environment, I want jobs, that's what I want. And in many parts of America, in urban and rural areas, you have to start out with that. You can't make that a secondary issue, it has to be: how can people have jobs where they can support their families? That is so fundamental in this community, and in our nation.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Mayor Barrett, thanks so much for your time.

  • Tom Barrett:

    Thank you. And come back — many times.

Milwaukee hopes to shed ‘Rust Belt’ label as DNC’s host city

By Ivan Moreno

March 12, 2019

Associated Press


MILWAUKEE (AP) — When the Democratic National Convention comes to Milwaukee next summer, the city on the shores of Lake Michigan will have its long-awaited opportunity to show the world it’s shedding its Rust Belt image.

State and local officials who successfully lobbied to lure the convention see a city on the rise, with a flurry of construction reshaping a downtown that was dead in the 1970s.

But Milwaukee has encountered difficulty rebranding itself. It went from an industrial powerhouse at the turn of the 20th century to a city in decline as manufacturing jobs began to disappear in the late 1970s.

Health care systems are now the biggest employers in the city, but Wisconsin and Milwaukee — home of iconic motorcycle-maker Harley-Davidson — haven’t entirely abandoned manufacturing. It remains a key sector of the state’s economy, though not at the level it was before. About 16 percent of Wisconsin’s workforce is in manufacturing — second only to Indiana but far below the 57 percent of 1951.

The convention venue, the $500 million home of the NBA’s Bucks, is the latest addition to a rejuvenated downtown. An arena district with restaurants and a 90-unit apartment building is also in the works — development the city hopes will draw visitors day and night to what was once an undeveloped area of downtown.

But that’s just a portion of the construction underway. About $5 billion is being spent on projects in and around downtown, including luxury apartment buildings, hotels, and the 25-story BMO Tower office building. A new streetcar began running a 2.5-mile route in November, going south from the city’s lakeshore to downtown. The line starts a short walk from Milwaukee’s art museum, noted for Santiago Calatrava’s distinctive addition with its towering white wings.

Then there’s the weather, which city officials made part of their pitch to land the DNC. Convention delegates in the summer will see a city fully alive. After months of frigid weather, residents and visitors from across the country flock to festivals every week. Some of them, such as German Fest, are nods to the city’s immigrant ancestors. At one point in the 1880s, nearly a third of Milwaukee’s population had come from Germany

Those roots pervade the city, from the bratwursts that are must-haves at parties to the brews made by Frederick Miller and Frederick Pabst that are staples at bars. Turner Hall, built as a community center for Germans in 1882, still stands across the street from the Bucks’ arena.

Mandela Barnes, the state’s first black lieutenant governor and part of the committee that wooed the DNC, said the convention is a chance for people to discover a city they should know better. Barnes recalled being asked in Alabama, “Black people live in Milwaukee?”

That misconception is driven by segregation that’s been decades in the making. White flight and racist housing policies that made it difficult for blacks to move to the suburbs or to get loans have been major contributors to segregation. About 40 percent of the city’s 600,000 residents are black, and they live almost entirely in neighborhoods just north of downtown that are among the poorest in the state.

Much of the city’s crime is also concentrated in those neighborhoods — places that many of the delegates might never see during their four-day visit.

Gurda attributes the poverty in those neighborhoods largely to the decline in manufacturing in the early 1980s. At that time, black workers outnumbered white workers in manufacturing jobs, Gurda said. But when those jobs left, “nothing replaced them,” he said.

Despite the segregation, Barnes sees a diverse, culturally rich city. Nearly 15 percent of Milwaukee’s residents are Latino, and the city has a large Serbian population.

“Each neighborhood can experience different food, different culture, different music. I think that speaks to the beauty of it all,” Barnes said.

When Gurda guides visitors on bus tours of the city, he finds they’re frequently surprised.

“People come to Milwaukee with an expectation that it’s, as you say, Rust Belt and has kind of seen better days and kind of not dynamic, not as lively a place as a Chicago, New York or L.A.,” he said. “And when they come here, they are surprised by the beauty of the city.”

Milwaukee Steps Up to Fight Climate Change

By Mary Sussman

February 12, 2019

Shepherd Express


The United States Global Change Research Program released its Fourth National Climate Change Assessment in late 2018 with more than 300 federal and non-federal experts collaborating on the report. The report notes that, in the Great Lakes region, lake surface temperatures are increasing, ice cover is declining, seasonal stratification of temperatures in the lakes is occurring earlier in the year and summer evaporation rates are increasing. In addition, storm impacts are increasing, while coastal water quality is declining, putting coastal communities at risk.

While several coastal communities have expressed a willingness to integrate climate action into planning efforts, access to useful climate information and limited human and financial resources have constrained municipal action.

The federal report found that human health and safety, quality of life and economic growth are increasingly susceptible to the impacts of climate change, and efforts to respond to climate change thus far have been insufficient to avoid these impacts. This was not helped by a climate-change denying president’s tweets and 78 reversals and proposed rollbacks on environmental regulations during Donald Trump’s presidency. The report also found that, without concerted and sustained global efforts to reduce climate change and buffer its impacts, climate change will result in increased losses to our infrastructure and property, as well as impede future economic growth.

Climate Change’s Effects on Southeastern Wisconsin

In Milwaukee, we will continue to see higher levels of humidity, changes to the kind of plants that grow here, more extreme storms, higher precipitation levels and more flooding, says Russell L. Cuhel, senior scientist at the Great Lakes WATER Institute at the UW-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences. “It is our politicians and big money that are controlling our national approach to climate change,” he says. “It would be stupid not to mitigate the likely effects that we will see in the near future no matter what happens, but it would also be stupid not to make an effort to reduce the insult.”

Cuhel also says that our mid-latitude region will likely see more severe climate change because we are at the interface of climate zones. “The change that we will see here is likely to be more substantial or more erratic than the changes that are predicted for the [rest of the] United States,” he continues. “We are likely to see more extreme events than other places. But for us in Milwaukee, Lake Michigan will moderate a lot of that through its giant inertia.”

In Wisconsin, local municipalities are taking things into their own hands to reduce their carbon footprints, despite the fact that the U.S. withdrew from the Paris agreement, and the Environmental Protection Agency has actively dismantled Barack Obama-era regulations designed to mitigate climate change. Like 50 other cities across the country at the front lines of pushback against climate change, Madison, Middleton and Eau Claire recently adopted resolutions to work toward becoming 100% clean-energy cities that use carbon-free renewable energy.

Since 2008, the city’s Milwaukee Shines program has assisted with getting 3.8 megawatts(enough to power almost 4,000 homes) of solar energy installed on homes and businesses. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett is one of more than 400 “Climate Mayors” across the country who committed to adopt, honor and uphold Paris Climate Agreement goals. The City of Milwaukee has also adopted a goal of utilizing 25% clean energy by 2025 in city buildings and facilities as outlined in its ReFresh MKE sustainability plan.

The Rocky Path to Clean Energy

Recently, however, Milwaukee encountered a roadblock in realizing its clean-energy goals. Milwaukee contracted with Eagle Point Solar, an Iowa-based company specializing in solar installation. Fully expecting to connect solar installations on six city buildings to the WE Energies electrical grid, WE Energies denied the city’s application to do so because the utility claimed that the project was illegal under state law. WE Energies contended that, because Eagle Point Solar will initially own a large share of the project, it would be considered a public utility that is “selling” power to the city. This argument was made previously in an Iowa lawsuit involving Eagle Point Solar. In 2014, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that Eagle Point Solar did not act as a public utility when it attempted to enter a third-party power-purchase agreement with the city of Dubuque.

After denying the City of Milwaukee’s application to connect to the power grid, WE Energies unveiled two pilot solar programs of its own. WE Energies claims its solar program would allow the city to get nearly 40% of its energy from renewable sources, reduce energy costs and generate $80,000 a year in lease payments, says Amy Jahns, senior communications specialist at WE Energies.

Solar developers say that such a program would stifle competition in the booming solar industry and create a monopoly for solar distribution by preventing third-party ownership, as reported in the Energy News Network. Alderman Nik Kovac says WE Energies is protecting its own interests in denying Milwaukee’s application. “How can you pretend you care about solar when you deliberately misinterpret the law and change your mind on an application when you know you will lose in court,” Kovac says.

“It’s obvious to see what is going on. WE Energies can’t even pretend to be for solar,” Kovac continues. “They are clearly protecting their monopoly on power, no matter how it’s generated. If anyone else tries to be innovative or efficient with money, they will throw their body in front of it. Not because it has anything to do with the world or their customers, but to protect their monopoly. WE Energies has more power than anyone else in our region and has used their power to expand their carbon footprint rather than reduce it.”

Kovac says he’s happy WE Energies is getting into the solar business, but he’s unhappy they are doing it by blocking the existing solar deal. “We may turn out to take their deal on every other city building,” he says, “but we have a deal for six city buildings ready to go, with the panels in a warehouse, and they’re blocking it. It would have been ready to go in November.”

The matter has yet to be resolved. In December, the Public Service Commission unanimously approved both of WE Energies’ pilot solar programs.

Elizabeth Ward, conservation programs coordinator for the Sierra Club’s John Muir Chapter, says the local movement for clean energy is a response to back pedaling at both the federal and state levels. “Four or five years ago, the state legislature was putting up barriers to clean energy, and so were the utilities,” she says. “The Legislature was trying to change the legislation around wind farms, making it more difficult to get wind farms in Wisconsin, and the utilities proposed mandatory fees or fixed charges for solar, making it less economical for a person to go toward clean energy. “Voters want to see 100% clean energy,” Ward continues. “They are demanding it from their utilities, and they’re demanding it from their governments as well.”