Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wisconsin)
BYLINE: By MARY SPICUZZA email@example.com 608-252-6122
Early in the recall race, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett seemed to enjoy a charmed existence, leading the polls before he even entered and winning the primary in a landslide.
But as the race grinds to an end, it is clearly no longer an easy ride for Barrett. Gov. Scott Walker and other critics have spent the past few weeks hammering the mayor’s record with expensive TV ads and mailers.
Still, the mayor counts many of the issues he’s being criticized on ? public safety, economic development, environmental sustainability and job creation ? among his greatest successes. And not to be underestimated, his supporters say, is his collaborative leadership style that contrasts sharply with that of his opponent.
“Walker is a divider,” said state Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar. “Tom is a uniter.”
But critics accuse the mayor of failing the city of Milwaukee when it comes to unemployment, crime reduction, and the handling of sewage overflows into Lake Michigan. And they say Barrett has offered no clear plans for how he would govern if he were to beat Walker in the recall.
“He is your quintessential politician who will say anything to get elected,” said Walker spokeswoman Ciara Matthews. “He talks a good game but has failed as a leader.”
Jobs, public safety
Milwaukee has struggled with joblessness, with an unemployment rate of about 10.4 percent compared with about 6.7 percent statewide. Walker supporters accuse Barrett of chasing off potential employers with tax increases and runaway spending.
Barrett points to economic development that has brought thousands of new jobs to the city’s Menomonee Valley and a sharp decline in Milwaukee’s homicide rate in recent years as signs that Milwaukee is thriving under his leadership. And he accuses Walker of trying to distract voters from Wisconsin’s worst-in-thenation job losses.
Pat O’Brien, executive director of The Milwaukee 7 regional economic development group, said Barrett has been a strong supporter of job creation efforts. For example, Barrett, who co-founded and co-chairs the M-7, played a key role in helping the Spanish wind power company Ingeteam decide to locate a manufacturing facility in Milwaukee after looking at 80 locations around the country, O’Brien said.
He quickly added that Walker also has been supportive of the group’s efforts: “I think both are working to push the state forward,” O’Brien said.
Barrett critics also raised red flags about the mayor’s record on public safety.
Dave Seager, president of the Milwaukee Professional Firefighters Association, accused Barrett of sharply cutting funding to the city’s firefighters, which has resulted in fire equipment being taken out of service. “I just think it’s very disingenuous to say public safety is a priority when he continues to cut the Fire Department,” Seager said. The city’s firefighters and police unions both endorsed Walker.
Barrett said he is proud of his public safety record and believes that firefighters and police officers have simply long been upset with mayors over a requirement that they live in the city of Milwaukee.
Milwaukee County Sup. John Weishan said he credits Barrett with making good public safety choices such as hiring Police Chief Edward Flynn. “I think the city of Milwaukee has the best police chief in the country,” Weishan said. “We have seen noticeable drops in crime.”
But last week the Walker campaign began pounding Barrett over crime statistics in the wake of an investigation by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that found more than 500 serious assaults were misclassified by the department as lesser offenses. He and other state and city officials have called for an independent audit of Milwaukee police crime data.
While both have deep ties to Milwaukee, Walker and Barrett are widely considered to be very different leaders.
Weishan said Barrett goes to great pains to work with people, regardless of political affiliation and whether they have supported him politically. State Rep. Tamara Grigsby, D-Milwaukee, has clashed with Barrett on some issues, including his proposed takeover of struggling Milwaukee Public Schools. But Grigsby praised Barrett’s inclusive approach, saying he took and returned her phone calls and invited her to meetings.
Walker, she said, has been a secretive governor who has shown a “lack of leadership” and as a result divided the state so deeply it has eroded civility and relationships at the Capitol and statewide.
“We’re really at a fork in the road,” Grigsby said. “And we have a chance to make a change.”
BIO | TOM BARRETT
Biography: Born and raised in Milwaukee. Married for 21 years to Kris. They have four children: Tommy, 19; Annie, 18; Erin Kristine, 15; and Kate, 13.
Resume: Milwaukee native who graduated with a degree in economics from UW-Madison, where he also attended law school. He was elected to the state Assembly in 1984 and the state Senate in 1989. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1993 and served in Congress through 2002. He ran for governor in 2002 but was defeated in the primary by then-Attorney General Jim Doyle. Barrett has been mayor of Milwaukee since 2004. He ran for governor again in 2010 but was defeated in the general election by Scott Walker.
KEY ISSUES | BARRETT’S TENURE AS MILWAUKEE MAYOR
Oversaw economic development in the Menomonee Valley that transformed an urban eyesore once known for its toxic brownfields into a bustling industrial park and recreational center that supports thousands of jobs. Growth in the valley on Barrett’s watch includes jobs at Palermo Villa, the Harley-Davidson Museum and the Potawatomi Casino expansion.
Presided over a drop in homicides in the city of Milwaukee. Also credited with overseeing a drop in violent crime, but that statistic is under fire after a recent Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report found that hundreds of serious assaults were misclassified by the department as lesser offenses.
Co-founded and now co-chairs the Milwaukee 7 regional economic development group, an organization credited with saving and attracting thousands of jobs to southeastern Wisconsin.
Worked to bring clean-energy companies such as Ingeteam, a Spanish wind energy company, to Milwaukee, creating jobs in the process.
Criticized for failing to end the dumping of untreated sewage into Lake Michigan. Barrett says the amount has dramatically decreased during his time as mayor.
Faced an unemployment rate in the city of Milwaukee of 10.4 percent as of March 2012.
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