New County Executive Remains Confident in Good Days Ahead for Milwaukee

As new Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley was being interviewed for an online “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program this week, viewers could see a message board behind Crowley with the phrase, “It’s a good day to have a good day.”

When Gousha, Marquette Law School’s distinguished fellow in law and public policy, asked Crowley about it, Crowley said it was a motto in his family and he described himself as an optimist – in fact, he said, some say he is “recklessly optimistic.”

He maintained that tone, even as he discussed the enormous problems he faces in the job he won in the April 7 election. Milwaukee County government continues to struggle with large financial stresses and increasing demands for services. Add on the crises that Crowley faced the day he took office – responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and the sharp economic slump that resulted – and the urgent issues that arouse in late May in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis, and it would be easy to guess Crowley’s optimism had declined.

Crowley told Gousha that the crises have “exacerbated what we knew we needed in Milwaukee” and have made progress more difficult. “But we’ll be able to move this community even further” as the issues are addressed, he said.

Crowley told Gousha that he thought something was different about the wave of protests that has followed the Floyd death, compared to protests that have occurred after past events and which ultimately brought little change. “For me, something is being sparked,” he said. He said the protesters have been representative of a broad array of people of all races, ages and backgrounds.

“Now it’s time to take action,” he said. “It’s really about what are we going to do?” He said he hopes “this will be a turning point not only for Milwaukee, but for this country.”

Gousha asked Crowley about the growing advocacy to “defund” police departments. Crowley said that when some people hear the term, they react viscerally to the thoughts of taking all budgeted money away from police departments. But, he said, that is not how he describes the issue. “What people are really saying is they want to see more programming into education, into mental health programs,” and into similar work that would help people meet their needs before the need for police arises. Such efforts have been underfunded, he said, and communities need to be ”smart about their investments,” helping people upfront to lead better lives.

Gousha asked Crowley if he saw himself in the people who have been taking to the streets. “Absolutely,” Crowley said. He has taken part in protests in the past and now, “I absolutely see myself being part of the protest.”

Asked about the state of efforts to deal with COVID-19 in Milwaukee County, Crowley said, “We are in a much better place than we were before.”  But the pandemic continues to be serious. “I think everybody is preparing for that second wave, but I think we are, in a sense, ready for that second wave,” Crowley said.

People are starting to return to more normal activities, he said, and with the carefully controlled re-openings of the Milwaukee County Zoo and beer gardens in county parks, “it feels like spring and summer in Milwaukee again.”

Crowley said the pandemic and the sudden economic decline were going to have big impact on the upcoming county budget, coming to several hundreds million dollars in less revenue and increased expenses. He said the county would seek help from the state and federal governments, and he said he hoped to see relationships between Milwaukee County and state government, including Republican legislative leaders, improve.

Even on that score, he was optimistic. You need to stay in good spirits, he said, and his family has a long-standing belief that a good smile is contagious.

You may view the 22-minute interview by clicking here.

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