Lena Taylor

Lena Taylor: “A Peacock, Not an Ostrich!”

Lena Taylor wants to be our new County Executive. In a phone interview with her on Feb. 19, we asked her a few questions. Here’s some of what she said. In a recent press release, the county revealed that there was not enough money to pay park staff to raise and lower the flags at sunrise and sunset, nor to light them at night. As we all learned when we were in grade school, federal law requires one of those two options. What should the county do? It would be good to consider solar lighting. The county passed a Green Resolution. Solar lighting would be a great solution and allow us to be a leader in alternative energy use. Parks are a very important part of our community. They contribute to diversity, public safety, quality of life, and economic growth. We need to protect the legacy that was provided to us by our forefathers. We have to begin to examine an independent funding source for our parks. When I talk to people, whether urban or suburban, they are especially concerned about parks and transit. In those two key areas people are very disappointed with the quality of protection of our county assets. Economic development and making sure that we can connect people to jobs, those things are challenged right now with the leadership we have. My goal will be to come in and unify people, bring the experts together, to figure out how we can think and do things differently, to move forward and grow this region. We can’t do it, if we don’t think about how we’re going to get people to jobs, if we don’t think about energy in a different way, how we’re going to use the need to move away from oil dependency as an industry to create jobs. Those jobs from the beer or manufacturing industry, they’re not coming back. We can utilize our infrastructure as a way to grow this region. What are your thoughts about light rail and the transit system in general? My mother had a microwave for 8 years, never used it, just kept on using the stove.The stove is the centerpiece of the kitchen. Buses are the centerpiece of transit. But I think light rail is like the microwave. And we need to be able to move with the times. Rail is something we need to embrace, to think about and figure out what’s going to be best for our community. It may not mean we build the most elaborate system in the world for our community, but, surely, we don’t want to be left behind because we haven’t thought in a visionary way. We have to take advantage of a region that can grow and connect with Chicago, and benefit from the outgrowth from Chicago. Whether it’s thinking regionally for workforce development, whether it’s transit, whether it’s parks, there’re so many areas that we can benefit from by working together and finding more efficient ways to do things, finding the best practices that exist out there. That’s not going to come from just one person doing it. How and why did you decide to run for County Executive? You have to know that when constituents first began to mention this, I didn’t want to do it. Well, everybody can’t handle this, but I’m going to tell you what is the real truth behind this. It was a process for me. I’m a person of much faith. And so, I really, really prayed over this thing. And during that time when I was trying to make that decision I began to learn all the different things that were going on in the county and I realized I could really make a difference in those areas. I couldn’t get any sleep when I was saying “no.” My back was hurting, my neck was hurting…. So when I finally said to the Lord, “If you need for me to run, I’ll run!” then I could sleep. Then the other things began to line up for the possibility of my run. There were three events that really helped to change my mind. First, I was doing this “state of the justice” tour, going around and learning what was going on in the justice system around the state. There were counties that were doing some exciting things, and, with little or no money. I asked, “Are we doing that in Milwaukee?” No. So I asked how they started those things. They said, “Our county government.” It was a profound moment for me. I’d been working as the Chair of Judiciary and Corrections and talking about what needed to be done in the State Dept. of Corrections. I began to realize that the counties had a direct effect on what got through to the state institutions. It was a “light bulb moment!” Then I learned of a Wisconsin county recognized nationally for what they were doing in juvenile justice. I said, “Well, our area leads the nation in incarceration among African-American men and women. We have some of the highest juvenile incarceration rates. Have we come to find out what you guys are doing?” No. I thought, “Wow! That’s interesting! You’d think if someone was doing something so well they got recognition for it, you’d want to go to them to find out how they were doing it.” It made me see that there were some places where we could think differently, out-ofthe-box, potentially save tremendous funds, and, more importantly, save human capital. Other things happened to help me decide to run. You know how it is when you see a car or something you really like. You’ve never seen it before, and then you start seeing it everywhere. That’s what started happening to me when I was trying to make this decision. More and more I started to see where we could do things differently. All this work I’d been doing in the legislature for childcare and education, W-2, child welfare… those were all things that I could have a huge effect on at the county level. It was like God began opening my eyes to a whole new level of what was happening in county government. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when I was in my childhood park. I was riding my bike with my neighbor and there were weeds, literally up to my knees, coming through the cracks in the sidewalks. I’m like, “What is really going on here?” This is a matter of priority, this is a matter of leadership. Nobody wants outrageous taxes. But you have to have somebody to protect your assets, someone who’s going to be candid and honest with you about what our challenges are, who’s going to get rid of the inefficiencies and give us accountability for our dollars. And frankly, someone who will have the relationships that they can go to the federal delegation, to the state delegation, to the governor, they can negotiate with the municipalities in the county to create collaboration and get cooperation from the board. It’s been a huge, uphill challenge. It’s never easy to run against an incumbent. He’s a Republican fund-raising machine. And he’s got the money but I’ve got the people. I’ve got the heart and the passion for this community. We can do better. We can do better together. I’m not going to be able to do this alone. I’m going to embrace the expertise from different communities and different people. This is work! I believe we can restore some of that pride and that beauty we used to have. I really believe that we can. But it’s not going to be from someone saying we can’t do anything, we want no new taxes, and acting like an ostrich. Instead, I’m going to be a peacock! I’m going to go around talking about how wonderful we are and trying to figure out, how do we unify? How can we work together to make this a better place? I’m on a mission, that’s why I’m doing it! I’m on a mission to make sure my son has a place to grow up that has parks he can play in and a transit system that’s going to allow him to connect with the opportunities that exist throughout this entire region, not just this county, that he’s going to have educational opportunities that’ll prepare him for the global challenges that exist.