Five Leaders: A Serving of Big Problems, Flavored with Optimism

Being a major leader means never having to say you’re pessimistic. President Jimmy Carter paid a big political price in the late 1970s when he said he thought there was a malaise affecting America. President Ronald Reagan made his optimistic outlook on the future – it’s morning in America – a key to both his political success and his legacy.

So say whatever you want about the specifics of what is going on, but look to the future with hope. It may well be a good approach to personal life. It’s just about a mandatory approach to political life.

That seems like a good perspective on one of the interesting exchanges at  “What Now, Milwaukee? A Forum on the Future of Wisconsin’s Largest City,” a discussion Wednesday at Eckstein Hall that brought together five power players in the city’s life. Mike Gousha, the Law School’s distinguished fellow in law and public policy, moderated the 90-minute session before a capacity audience of over 200. The session was co-sponsored by the Law School and the Milwaukee Press Club.

The conversation quickly focused on the need to change the overall low rate of educational success in Milwaukee. There was discussion of budget cuts, rising class sizes, the chronic fighting between advocates for different streams of schools, the inability of the community to come together, and the need to give parents information on every school. Not much light was shed on how to turn the trends in  more positive directions.

But when Gousha asked if educational quality will be better in Milwaukee five years from now, Tim Sheehy, the president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, answered, “Dramatically.” Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele said yes. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett agreed. Milwaukee School Superintendent Gregory Thornton said, “Without question.” And Julia Taylor, president  of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, concurred.

In the course of the forum, the five touched on subjects including economic development, intergovernmental cooperation, ways of dealing with poverty, the failure for years to develop large stretches of the Park East land downtown, and the needs of employers. Sheehy triggered a front page story in Thursday’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel by suggesting that the community consider keeping the sales tax of a tenth of a per cent in effect when the period for paying for the Miller Park baseball stadium ends, in order to pay for a new arena where the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team could play. A separate story summarzing the session can be found here.

But amid the discussion of problems, some deeply entrenched,  there was at least some  tone of optimism. In fact, Abele listed that as a priority for Milwaukee.

“This sounds like a small thing, but actually I think it is a big thing,” he said. “This community, if we want to attract more talent, if we want to have more clout in Madison, if we want to be a desirable place to locate a business, we have to project the fact that we believe we’re a great community and we have value.”

He added, “There is never going to be a time where there aren’t things that we all on this panel are going to work hard to fix. But we just can’t, can’t, continue to be afraid to, with pride, tell our story. Anybody who doesn’t think that has a direct impact on our desirability as a place to live, to locate your business, and a direct impact on how we negotiate with Madison in the budget process — I think we have some opportunities there.”

Do we have problems or opportuunities? The panel clearly thought  both — and was willing to say so with a smile.

The full session can be viewed by clicking here.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Joanne Williams

    Lots of talk, when will we see action???

    Check out my blog on the Marquette/Press Club Luncheon.

  2. Nick Zales

    People have been saying the Milwaukee Public School system would improve since I was in law school (MULS 1989). 22 years later, the system is worse than ever.

    As for Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, one spoke the truth, the other lived in a fantasy world full of delusions. It’s no surprise people favor delusions over reality. Reality is a downer. Happy talk makes people feel good, even if nothing is accomplished. Check back in another 22 years and somebody will be saying “the school system is going to get better.”

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