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3rd District Aldermanic Race: Mike D’Amato

interviewed by Sonya Jongsma Knauss

Michael S. D’Amato was born in 1962 in a little house on Booth Street. His parents immigrated from Italy to pursue the American Dream — which to them meant working hard and making enough money to move to Whitefish Bay. The 3rd District alderman spoke about his background recently at Roast, a new coffee shop on Locust and Maryland. “If anything has shaped my life, it’s been the fact that they were hard-working union members, relatively uneducated, but were able to succeed because they were given that opportunity,” D’Amato says. “Their work ethic and their understanding of the importance of community and family makes you understand what should be possible for everyone.” While D’Amato credits his parents with instilling certain values, he is a city lover. It’s evident in the pleasure he takes in what he describes as the “urban fabric” of traditional neighborhoods. A resident of the East Side near UWM, D’Amato and his wife Becky have three children, all of whom have attended or are attending MPS’s Escuela Fratney in Riverwest. “I’m a strong believer in public service, public schools, public parks, public art, quality public spaces, public libraries, and public transportation — all publicly funded, accessible, and supported,” he says. “That’s the advantage that cities have over suburbs and other localities — their public amenities are far superior…It’s an exciting mix of people, places, and things.” D’Amato emphasizes his involvement with neighborhood organizations during his eight years as alderman of what is probably the most politically active district in the city. He has a keen sense of vision and pursues it aggressively. When asked at the 3rd District aldermanic candidate’s forum in January how he would work with the 6th District alderperson to help revitalize Holton Street, he focused on what needed to be done, noting that “if the 6th District alderman isn’t taking care of things, I will.” But not all his constituents agree with his vision, especially 3rd District aldermanic candidate Carole Wehner, who has put out campaign literature with a list of accusations against D’Amato. However, both candidates said they would run clean campaigns. “I will absolutely run a clean campaign in which written records speak for themselves,” D’Amato said. “Her property ownership and violation records speak for themselves.” He says there’s a clear difference between himself and Wehner: “I’m pro neighborhood; she is not. I’m pro homeownership, she is not. I’m pro tenants’ rights, she is not.” D’Amato and Wehner have clashed over UWM housing issues, among others. In City Hall, D’Amato has a reputation for being quite liberal; in Riverwest, he says, “I’m always having to prove that I’m liberal enough.” With Riverwesters Kathleen Mulligan-Hansel of the Institute for Wisconsin’s Future and John Goldstein, head of the Labor Council, among others, he is advocatinga city ordinance called the Community Benefits Agreement. The ordinance creates a number of programs and requirements intended to increase the economic benefits, including job opportunities and affordable housing, to city residents as a result of development in the Park East Redevelopment Plan area.
interviewed by Sonya Jongsma Knauss