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The Need for Leadership

by Michael D. Holloway

How often events turn on the strength of leadership. The Milwaukee mayoral race is about leadership — not leadership as an abstract concept but the actual ability to guide, direct, influence and motivate. It is preferred that our next mayor be a leader. I don’t see that trait apparent in either of our choices. Let’s crystallize the concept of leadership by using visualization. Allow me a measure of suspension of disbelief. Visualize Milwaukee as a ship that is sinking (it’s not, and therein is the suspension of disbelief.) To save yourself you must decide whether to get in Tom Barrett’s or Marvin Pratt’s rowboat. Which rowboat do you get into? Which candidate will lead you to the safety of dry land? In the past 30 days I’ve attended two “meet the candidate sessions” with each candidate. I came away feeling each candidate was honorable and honest, yet I’d not trust either to lead me to the safety of land. Good people, good candidates who lack the spirit of leadership and will necessary to keep the Good Ship Milwaukee steaming ahead. Or, as a Journal Sentinel headline put it recently, they both “think small” regarding the city’s future. My impression of Mayor Pratt is that he truly cares, really cares, about the plight of black males in Milwaukee and about the city as a whole. He is a good man. He is a nice man. He is a smart man. He has a great deal of experience working in or with many city agencies and departments. This makes Mayor Pratt an experienced politician, but none of these traits or experiences automatically make him a leader. In his run for mayor, Pratt made a poor first choice for a campaign advisor and dismissed that advisor. His public comment regarding the community benefits proposal, “I will sign whatever resolution the council sends me,” shows a lack of leadership on a fundamental issue concerning the continued development of Milwaukee. He fired the Commissioner of the Department of City Development (DCD), not realizing he did not have the power to fill the vacant job of Deputy Commissioner. That left DCD with a leadership vacuum. His failure to manage details on his campaign reports have been well reported. I believe it is his lack of attention to detail, not misuse of funds, that will ultimately be the issue. He presided over a council that sent three members to jail. Is this the man I want to lead me to safety? Barrett hasn’t held a local office with as high a profile as Mayor Pratt. A higher office yes, but not with as high a local profile. Barrett was a State Representative, State Senator, and Congressman. My impression of Barrett is that he likes politics. It is what he has done for 18 years. Barrett initially indicated he would not run for Mayor, then he changed his mind. We are allowed to change our minds, but does this man really want to be Mayor? He has not worked with or in the many city agencies Mayor Pratt has. Again, that is a question of experience, not leadership. On the community benefits issue, Barrett speaks of the need for an agreement but offers no specifics as to what that agreement should contain. On an issue so critical to Milwaukee’s future it is an opportunity to lead — an opportunity at leadership that so far has been lost by Barrett. Does Barrett simply appear to be the better candidate because he has a staff who have run congressional campaigns? Do I get in this guy’s boat because he makes fewer mistakes than the other candidate because he has a more professional staff? Our last mayor wasn’t loved by all, but leaders aren’t always liked, because they make decisions that annoy people. Neither Pratt nor Barrett has shown the willingness to be disliked, or that they are willing to make tough decisions for the good of the city, not simply the good of the politician. Where does that leave us? Let’s go back to the sinking boat and the suspension of disbelief. Pratt seems too nice for the job and Barrett hasn’t convinced this voter he wants the job. We have to elect one of them, and I’m not sure it matters who we elect. What ultimately will matter is who the elected mayor appoints to three critical city positions. These positions, all housed in the Department of City Development (DCD), are: Commissioner of DCD; Director of Planning; and head of Milwaukee Economic Development Corporation (MEDC). Whoever is elected must make good choices (not “political” choices) for these positions. Bureaucratic leadership will be as important as elective leadership. The Mayor, and those selected for these positions, will be responsible for keeping Milwaukee moving ahead. These positions will require persons who are smart, who make tough decisions, who know how to lead, and who are willing to be disliked. As a community it will be important that we work with city government and prod local government to work for the benefit of the whole city. We’ve had such good leadership at DCD and in the Mayor’s office these past four to six years we may have forgotten how a lack of leadership hurts a city. We can only hope our new mayor grows into a leader during his tenure in office. Michael D. Holloway is a Commerce Street resident and President of Homebuyer Associates. He spent 12 years working in housing and housing rehabilitation at DCD. Full Disclosure: Holloway has given $150 to the Barrett campaign.
by Michael D. Holloway