Common Ground: Seeking Wins for People at the Grassroots

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Suddenly, Keisha Krumm, a strong, smart, confident community organizer with a record of impact, hit a point where emotion welled up.

Speaking at an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at Eckstein Hall on Wednesday, Krumm was answering a question about what motivated her to become the lead organizer for Common Ground in Milwaukee.

She said she grew up in Wichita, Kansas, and she was caption of the girls’ basketball team at her high school. They lost every game. She didn’t like it and it still galls her. But there was a bigger context in the circumstances of her life.

“In my neighborhood, we lost,” Krumm said. “When it came to opportunity for our men, we lost. We lost a lot in life.” She paused, looked down at her hands, and continued in a thicker voice.

“I’m sick of losing. And Common Ground teaches people how to win in life where it matters, to get the things done in their neighborhood that if they had a billion dollars, they would never have to worry about. So I’m committed to teaching people how to win in life.” Read more »

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Judge Maxine White: Aiming to Provide Well-Run, Fair Courts, not Oprah Episodes

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Category: Judges & Judicial Process, Milwaukee, Public, Speakers at Marquette, Wisconsin Court System
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What can you expect from the courts in Milwaukee County?

A system that does everything well, from the ultimate decisions down to the way people are received at the security points at the entrances to buildings.

A system that is well run and staffed by well-trained people in every role.

A system where people feel safe in the courthouse and people, especially crime victims, are treated with respect.

A system that handles cases of all kinds in a fair way, providing a fair forum without politics .

A system that does all it can to be sure civil cases as well as criminal cases, small claims as well as high-profile  major crimes, are handled effectively, professionally, and as promptly as possible.

Those are among the goals set out Wednesday by Judge Maxine White, who recently became chief judge of the first judicial district of Wisconsin (which is to say, Milwaukee County). She spoke at an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at Marquette Law School. Read more »

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Professor Phoebe Williams Receives MBA Lifetime Achievement Award

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phoebe williamsThis past summer, Professor Phoebe Williams received the 2015 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Milwaukee Bar Association (MBA). Professor Williams was honored at the MBA’s annual luncheon in June.

Professor Williams was born and raised in the segregated South, in Memphis. She has said that she remembers when she was eight years old, her father came home from his job as a schoolteacher and told her about the United States Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education. That decision, of course, struck down segregation in public schools. A young Professor Williams expected to see change immediately; she thought she would be able to go to the schools, libraries, museums, and parks that had been reserved “for whites only.” That did not happen. And it took a number of years and the hard work of many lawyers and activists before such change finally occurred.

But a young Professor Williams watched and learned. She credits her parents—both educators—with instilling in her the value of education and of service, and the value of pursuing goals with perseverance and hope. These values she carries with her to this day. Read more »

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Plotting Pathways to Primary Success

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iowa_caucusMany non-political people question the primacy of Iowa and New Hampshire in the process of picking our Presidential candidates. As the Iowa Caucuses less than 90 days away, it is worth considering the importance of the early contest and assessing paths to primary victory.

Iowa and New Hampshire are important because they test a can test a candidate’s endurance, organization and strategy.  Because voters in the early primary states take their participation seriously, they expect to have lots of one-on-one encounters with hopefuls (retail politics). Former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) won Iowa in 2012 on a shoestring budget because of a grassroots effort to have town halls in all 99 counties.

Since the Iowa Caucuses began in 1976, they have not been a great predictor of eventual GOP nominees. While Iowa many not pick a winner, but it typically does thin the field out. Being in the top three tends to punch a ticket for later contests.

Favorite son candidates sometimes can do well in Iowa just because of their connection or proximity to the Hawkeye State.  Such was the plan of Rep. Dick Gephardt’s (D-MO 3rd) in 1988, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN 6th) or ex-Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) in 2012 but this pathway to success proved futile.  There was some speculation that Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) would have greatly aided by his native Iowan ties and being a next door neighbor, but that was not enough for him in the 2016 election cycle.

Iowa voters expect to be courted by aspiring candidates. But how “retail” politics is conducted matters to assuage “Iowa Stubborn”. Read more »

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Bucks President Offers Big Visions of Success On and Off the Court

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Category: Milwaukee, Race & Law, Speakers at Marquette, Sports & Law
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With new design plans for the Milwaukee Bucks arena to be unveiled in the next several days, Peter Feigin, president of the professional basketball franchise, exuded nothing but enthusiasm during an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program Wednesday about the future of the team and what its impact will be not only in Milwaukee and statewide but across the globe.

“Awesome,” he said. “This is going to be miraculous.” But that will come to pass only with hard work, not only on the basketball court but throughout every aspect of what the does, Feigin told a large audience in the Appellate Courtroom of Eckstein Hall.

Milwaukee? Feigin said the team wants to do all it can to connect with the city, including connecting its players with the youth of the city and increasing its philanthropic work focused on youth, wellness, and education. And the new arena and the team’s operations as a whole will mean several thousand full-time jobs in the city.

Wisconsin? The Bucks want to be “Wisconsin’s team” in the way the Green Bay Packers and Milwaukee Brewers have become Wisconsin’s teams in their sports. Read more »

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BIDS as a Superior Innovation Tool

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Cities, which were previously facing population decreases due to urban sprawl, are now facing an urban resurgence or revitalization. Millennials and retirees have found a home in many of the urban centers of America. In 2010, 83.7% of people in the United States and Puerto Rico lived in metropolitan area and a 10.8% growth in metropolitan areas from 2000-2010.[1] However, with a large number of people living in the suburbs in previous decades, cities have not updated their neighborhoods to fit the needs and desires of its new residents. One of the tools to meet this need is a Business Improvement District (BID)

Business Improvement Districts are areas inside a municipality created for the purpose of developing, redeveloping, or maintaining a business area.[2] New Orleans was the first city in the United States to implement a BID, and it saw great success. [3] There are now more than 1,200 BIDs nationally. In 1984, Wisconsin created its BID statute. [4] There currently 34 active BIDs within the city of Milwaukee. [5]

One of the unique aspects of a BID is that it requires that one business owner in this area to come forward with a petition for the BID.[6] The planning commission designs its special assessment method and the implementation of the collected funds. If the owners of at least 40% of land value inside the BID raise an objection, it is vetoed. If the landowners do not veto the plan, then it then goes through the city legislative process and the mayor can approve it. The BID members have to renew the BID on an annual basis, unless there is an outstanding debt. Read more »

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America’s Public Libraries Are Important, Changing Pillars, Conference Speakers Say

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Wayne Wiegand is a prominent expert on public libraries who titled his book, published this fall, Part of Our Lives: A People’s History of the American Public Library.

How big a part of our lives are libraries? Wiegand summed up key themes of his book by telling a conference at Marquette Law School on Thursday that libraries “are much more important than we previously thought they were.” They are vital parts of boosting the lives of millions of people and of America as a whole.

Those were key themes also of the packed-house, half-day conference, titled The Future of the American Public Library, in the Appellate Courtroom of Eckstein Hall. Leading figures on the past and future of public libraries in America and in Milwaukee specifically described the past, present, and future of these often low-profile but central pillars of American life.

The conference had an underlying tone similar to a pep rally for libraries. Many in the audience were themselves librarians who applauded the depiction of libraries as places that adopt to and serve important community needs — inspiring young people, providing valuable information to everyone from job seekers to the curious, bringing together neighborhoods, and sometimes providing warm, reassuring places to those who need them. Read more »

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New Cristo Rey High School Has High Career Aims for Students

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For Maritza Contreras, the Cristo Rey experience began with seeing high school kids in her neighborhood on the way to school all dressed up. She was about nine at the time and the idea of going to school in your best clothes was “the weirdest thing I ever heard of.” But she was attracted to it.  She made it her goal to go to Cristo Rey High School, a private school in her Chicago neighborhood where teens were required to work part time in real jobs in real work places and to aim to go to and succeed in college so that they could become adults working in places like the ones where they did their student placements.

For Contreras, Cristo Rey meant being asked for the first time about her college plans. It meant learning a set of skills and expectations that opened avenues for her, including small but important things such as how to shake hands firmly while making eye contact with someone.

And it meant enrolling in Marquette University with major scholarship support, graduating cum laude with a degree in nursing, and setting aside her nursing ambitions “for now” to get involved in helping the community as director of administrative management services for the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin.

Cristo Rey has grown also. Starting in 1996 with the school Contreras attended, there are now 30 Christo Rey schools across the country. A local school, Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, opened this fall with 129 ninth graders, almost all of them low-income and benefitting from the state’s private school voucher program. The school is based in a church in West Milwaukee, just south of Miller Park. Read more »

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Urban Neighborhood Expert Gives Hopeful Message to Milwaukee

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Yes, there are good things happening in even some of the poorest neighborhoods in urban America.

Yes, there are ways to use data, research, and good policy decisions to strengthen the quality of life in such neighborhoods.

No, it’s not easy and there are no quick solutions.

That can be seen as a summary of a two-day visit to Marquette Law School by one of the most influential figures in America in urban research, Robert Sampson, who is Henry Ford II Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard University and director of the Boston Area Research Initiative. Sampson’s 2012 book, Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect, is playing a significant  role in a surge of big-data projects aimed at thoroughly assessing the strengths and weakness of neighborhoods in cities and using that knowledge to shape more effective ways of preserving and improving neighborhoods.    Read more »

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Peter Park Advocates for Urban Life “at the Speed of Walking”

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Much of the land on which the Park East Freeway stood on the north edge of downtown Milwaukee has been vacant for years, but Peter Park has no regrets about his important role in advocating for tearing down that section of elevated highway.

The day after Milwaukee County sold a large piece of the land for $1 to the Milwaukee Bucks for development connected to construction of a new basketball arena, Park returned to Milwaukee to pick-up where he left off in 2003, criticizing urban freeways and advocating for “multiple use” downtowns and neighborhoods that are attractive to pedestrians.

Park spoke at an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at Eckstein Hall. He was the planning director for the city of Milwaukee from 1995 to 2003 and was an influential advocate of changes in downtown Milwaukee that have been made (two-way streets replacing one-way streets) and are still coming (a street car system). Read more »

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Flynn: “I’d Like to See Fifty More Prosecutors”

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Don’t look only to the police to solve the problems of high poverty communities, Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn told a capacity audience Thursday in the Appellate Courtroom at Eckstein Hall.

Flynn pointed to the need for better services to help people with mental illnesses and to deal with issues such as child abuse as steps that would help reduce crime.

And when it comes to crime specifically, he pointed to what he saw as failings of both the state and federal systems for prosecuting and punishing criminals. Many criminals don’t face punishment that discourages them from offending. Read more »

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Milwaukesha

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Funny how the words fit together so smoothly yet, when combined, seem grating to the ears of many who reside in the region.  The peculiar antipathy between Milwaukee County and Waukesha County may reflect the ways in which people have segregated themselves geographically based on cultural/political orientation.  Waukesha County is 94% “white alone” according to Census Bureau data, while Milwaukee County is over one-quarter black or African-American and over one-eighth Hispanic or Latino.  In the 2014 gubernatorial election, over two-thirds of Waukesha voters supported Scott Walker, while in Milwaukee County it was closer to one-third.  Waukesha is more affluent, less racially diverse, and more Republican than Wisconsin as a whole.  Milwaukee is the opposite.

There is, indeed, some basis for an us-and-them mentality.

But the positive connections are truly powerful.  To trace a bit of the history, Milwaukee’s population was about ten times greater than Waukesha’s from 1900 until 1950.  Then Waukesha’s population began to surge, growing more than four-fold since 1950, to about 400,000, while Milwaukee’s population has remained pretty constant at around one million.  The result is that Waukesha now has about 40% as many residents as Milwaukee, thus bringing the counties into closer balance.  Waukesha is now the third-most populous county in Wisconsin; in 1950, it was seventh-most populous, slightly ahead of Outagamie and Sheboygan and trailing Brown, Rock, and Winnebago, among others.  Waukesha has become a powerful residential draw and also a draw for businesses, almost certainly in large part due to its proximity to Milwaukee. Read more »

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