Since winning the April 6 election for alderman in the 6th District, Michael McGee, Jr. said he’s been a busy man. “New cousins, friends, everybody that has a business plan” have been calling, he said, laughing, during a recent interview at Bean Head Cafe on Dr. Martin Luther King Drive.
McGee, 34, an academic adviser for UWM and son of the controversial activist and former alderman Michael McGee, defeated long-time incumbent Marlene Johnson-Odom, 67. His two previous races for an aldermanic seat had failed. Still, he said he was not surprised at his victory.
McGee enters the Common Council at a time of increased racial tensions after a bitter mayoral race. Although he has the support of many in the black community, some remain worried that, as he put it, he is more “rabble rouser” than anything else. McGee said he is determined to prove them wrong.
Within his first 100 days in office, McGee said he will propose two initiatives to the Council. First, he said, he will recommend that the Police and Fire Commission be “decentralized” and residents from each district be given control instead. McGee said that he will propose establishing an elected body of officials, made up of residents, for each police district.
“I think that once you see more community control of the police, we’ll have better relations,” he said, calling the idea both “dynamic” and “controversial.”
“If the residents were in control of each police district, you’d have more equitable outcomes for the citizens who complain, the average citizen who complains about police brutality,” he said, citing his own numerous unresolved complaints against police for harassment. McGee dismissed concerns that the idea might not be realistic, and added that the debate would get people talking about the problems many black residents face regarding police brutality and harassment. “There’s going to be a lot of energy centered around that whole task,” he said.
After proposing police reforms, McGee said his second act will be to propose a wide-scale auxiliary police officer program in which teenagers would be trained to patrol their own neighborhoods, armed with walkie-talkies, to assist the police. “Right now these young people are doing security in their neighborhood, but they’re not organized,” he said. “The whole climate is going to change.”
McGee also said he might look into community block grant funding to create paid summer positions in the program. He said he hopes the program will also improve community and police relations. McGee also plans to propose a “massive infrastructure repair initiative” to create jobs. He said he has researched his proposal thoroughly and added, “I’m not just coming with lofty ideals.”
Although he acknowledges that getting these proposals through the Council will be a challenge, he remains, as could be expected, convinced that even his most ambitious reforms are possible.
“It’s amazing how fast things can move if you really have a will to make it happen, and you just set some parameters,” he said. McGee also said that, despite supporting Marvin Pratt for mayor, he is willing to work with Mayor-elect Tom Barrett.
“We’re going to work with him, but we’re also going to hold him accountable,” he said. However, when asked if he believed Barrett was sincere in his efforts in recent weeks to reach out to the black community, McGee said, “I couldn’t say if he’s sincere or not because he has a track record of not being totally honest; but I think he’s in a position now where he has to work on the situation. Or else, he’s going to not be elected again.”
McGee added that he believes Barrett needs to focus on job creation if he wants to bridge the racial divide. Of course, it remains to be seen whether McGee’s idealistic and high-energy style will be an asset or a hindrance in working with other aldermen.
“People are expecting me to go down there and act like a nut,” he said. “But I’m one of those guys, I’m pretty laid-back until you probably push me too hard. But I think totally outside the box. Everything I do is unconventional to people who are within that box. But for people who think outside the box, they’re like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s how it should be: creative.’ That’s my style, I think. It’s organized confusion. That’s how I’d put it.”