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Mayoral Candidates Address Employment, Housing Concerns

by Sharon Gibson

Employment and housing were among the primary issues for acting Mayor Marvin Pratt and former Congressman Tom Barrett during one of several debates before Election Day, April 6. Before an audience March 9 at All Saints Catholic Church, 4060 N. 26th St., Barrett and Pratt repeatedly referred to their respective terms in office which they said provided the experience needed for Milwaukee’s next mayor. Sponsored by the Social Justice Committee, the forum was moderated by attorney and Milwaukee Catholic Archdiocese representative Celia Jackson. Barrett, who began his political career in 1984 as a member of the Wisconsin State Assembly and later as a member of the State Senate, served from 1992 to 2003 as a U.S. congressman for the city’s 5th District. The former representative cited his efforts in acquiring funding for several projects for his constituents — including the Hope VI grant which provided more than $100 million in funding to renovate depressed public housing in the city. “That was one of my priorities,” said Barrett. “Hillside Housing Project is now Hillside Neighborhood.” Hope VI grant dollars were later used to renovate the Parklawn Housing Project as well as housing in the Lapham Park and Highland Park neighborhoods. Just as he dedicated his efforts to securing federal funding to renovate neighborhoods, Barrett said he would push for increased homeownership as mayor. “When people own their own homes, they have a piece of the rock in the community,” Barrett said. “And I am prepared to work with state and federal representatives to get money — I did it before, and I’ll do it again.” Pratt, who advocates an “effective” citywide housing ordinance, weighed in with his own accomplishments. Before his appointment as acting mayor earlier this year, Pratt since 1987 had represented Milwaukee’s 1st aldermanic district and in 2000 was unanimously elected president of the Common Council. Prior to his tenure as alderman, Pratt had 15 years of government experience as a property appraiser for the City Assessor’s Office, a Milwaukee Public Library Systems’ assistant, and as an intern to then-Mayor Henry W. Maier. He noted his work as alderman, including funding acquisition for a flood prevention project for Lincoln Creek Parkway constituents and supporting a residency preference ordinance for city employees. Pratt stressed the leadership he’s been providing as acting mayor since being sworn in January 2. “I’ll be the mayor you won’t have to train,” said Pratt. He cited a five-point plan to invigorate the city’s job market while providing education and training programs for Milwaukee’s youth and young adults. He noted his ongoing Driver’s License Workforce Development Program, which would allow suspended drivers to pay a $50 fee for a municipal judge to temporarily lift their suspensions for 120 days. If drivers pay off half their fines in that time, judges could waive the rest of the fines and permanently lift the suspensions. Pratt also called for improved transportation which would allow people access to jobs in outlying areas, as well as an element in his five-point plan which provides venture capital for small businesses. Among the beneficiaries of the venture project are Fuel Cafe, Brewed Awakenings, and Laser Force/Image Engineering. “We have to do a better job of employing our people and we have to make sure our young people are trained for jobs,” said Pratt. Barrett believes that in order to revitalize Milwaukee’s economy, it’s critical that the mayor “believes in this [city, and] believes in the people of this city.” To realize this belief, Barrett said the mayor must actively pursue funding for city programs. He says one lost opportunity was a $15 billion federal program which provided tax credits to cities across the country. In Wisconsin, “nobody asked for any money — not the city, not the county, and not any nonprofit group,” said Barrett. “If it’s not being spent here, it’s going to West Virginia or Connecticut.” Barrett voiced concern for employment for the city’s youth, as well as older residents. According to a study by Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies, the percentage of 16- to 19-year-olds who are holding jobs nationally is the lowest since the government began tracking statistics on youth employment in 1948. Pratt said his focus is on jobs for parents of teens and young adults. However, he cited the city’s youth employment program and the city’s working relationship with the Private Industry Council, which provides education and training for youths. In Congress, Barrett said he “fought hard” for summer jobs programs for youths as well as a Milwaukee-based Job Corps training center. If elected mayor, Barrett said he would continue to pursue the placement of a Job Corps center in Milwaukee.
by Sharon Gibson