Ray Papke, my late father, was a maintenance man for Milwaukee Public Schools and proud of it. He had no quarrel with the requirement that City of Milwaukee employees live within the City. He was born in Milwaukee, worked for Milwaukee, and pleased to live in Milwaukee.
Were he alive today, Ray Papke would have opposed Governor Scott Walker’s proposed elimination of residency requirements for City employees, but I can’t imagine him voicing the common arguments against the proposal. To wit, (1) Property values in the city will fall, (2) The City’s racial and ethnic diversity will decline, and (3) People are more effective working for others if they know and live with them.
No, Ray Papke’s position was one based on a more fundamental sense of community, one that literally had a geographic foundation. He lived and worked for this town in this place. This view of social life is of course missing in the Governor’s vision of free-floating individuals who should be able to live wherever they want. It’s also missing in the arguments of the Governor’s opponents, arguments primarily couched with reference to socio-economic concerns and workers’ efficiency.
I fear that the vision of community held dear by Ray Papke was buried along with him and his generation of honest, patriotic, blue-collar Americans. We cannot relive the past, but these Americans were in touch with something that added depth and meaning to their lives.