Sounding Like a Candidate, Clarke Asks, Where’s the Plan for Milwaukee?

He said hardly anything about running the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department or the controversies he is involved in within county government. The policy area he talked about the most was education. And he spoke a lot about the Milwaukee of his childhood and the Milwaukee of the future.

No, David A. Clarke Jr. is not a stick-to-my-own-business law enforcement agency head. Milwaukee’s sheriff since 2002 didn’t say he was going to run for mayor during an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program Thursday at Eckstein Hall, but he sure sounded like a candidate.

“What’s the vision for the city of Milwaukee?” Clarke asked, faulting Mayor Tom Barrett for not putting one forth. “What’s the plan” for getting better student outcomes from Milwaukee Public Schools? A $1.2 billion a year operation ought to get better results, no matter how many problems kids have due to their lives outside of school, he said. “I think they’re mass producing illiteracy,” he said.

Clarke said a good doctor tells a patient the bad news, when necessary, and what needs to be done to deal with it. That’s what he said he is trying to do for Milwaukee, bringing up some subjects people may not want to talk about, such as the impact on neighborhoods of crime. “I’m not a status quo guy,” he told Gousha, the Law School’s distinguished fellow in law and public policy. “If it’s going to get better, it’s got to change.”

The Milwaukee he grew up in had great schools, lots of jobs, great neighborhoods, and low crime, Clarke said. Now, he said, the city is “closer to Detroit” than many people want to admit. He did not give specifics of what his own plans would be to change the city’s direction, but said that was the job of a mayor. “If I were mayor, I’d be setting a vision” for the city, he said.

So is he going to run for the office in 2016? Clarke said that “without a doubt” he will give the possibility serious thought after the November 2014 elections, when he will run for another term as sheriff.

Asked what schools should do about chronically disruptive students, Clarke said, “Keeping them in the classroom, that’s foolish.” Too many are allowed to do that now in MPS, he said. He also said, “I think we ought to revisit the concept of boarding schools.” He said the fact that some schools in the private school voucher program have waiting lists shows that the voucher program is worth keeping.

He defended his controversial advocacy for people to own guns as part of defending their safety. “I trust law-abiding citizens with firearms,” Clarke said, and he said simply relying on calling 9-1-1 when there is a crisis is not enough to protect yourself.

Gousha asked if Clarke had changed the way he does his job in 12 years as sheriff. “I’ve grown more confident in this role,” Clarke said. That’s one point on which both supporters and critics would agree.

Video of the session with Clarke may be viewed by clicking here.






This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Jay Craig

    A good interview….it is impossible not to like this guy. He tells it how it is with no sugar coating and it is clear his conviction is heartfelt. Political types and political activists of all strips disagree with him frequently but the “average joe” folks adore him…if you don’t believe it, just go to the next parade in which he is a guest and observe the crowd reaction when he passes by.

  2. Steve Nelson

    I was astonished by Sheriff Clarke’s foundational premise that there are significant things that we don’t talk about: poverty, crime, and failing schools. In the past few months, in the same room that Clarke spoke, we have hosted amazing discussions on those exact topics. The participants have included elected officials, national experts, scholars, and citizens. Just last week we hosted a conference on urban education with local and national leaders. The Law School and Milwaukee community are very engaged in these conversations. After Clarke expressed such admiration for dialog and dissenting voices, it is unfortunate that he’s not paying more attention.

  3. Chris King

    Jay, I’ll have to disagree. It’s possible, and actually quite easy, to not like Sheriff Clarke, a grandstanding blowhard who always seems to be too busy thinking outside the box of his responsibilities as county sheriff to direct his attention to the job he is supposed to be doing. Whether it is campaign ads masquerading as Public Service Announcements (, accepting awards from extremist organizations (, or butting heads with the county executive (, mayor (, and county judges (, Mr. Clarke is an embarrassment to the citizens of Milwaukee County. If nothing else, we can hope that his time as sheriff motivates the electorate to rethink whether we really need an elected sheriff, or if we realize that the county would be better served by empowering the professionals that provide our services by putting a hired professional, rather than an elected politician, in charge of county law enforcement.

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