by Monica Reida

Mayor of Milwaukee

Neither campaign responded to our requests to ask these questions.

1). The downtown area is seeing a renaissance with the planned Bucks arena and new developments for apartments, hotels and businesses. What would you do to encourage more development to the downtown area and how can that help the rest of the city?

2). How can the city better address infrastructure improvements?

3). Milwaukee was recently included in a piece by the New York Times highlighting how certain cities have not seen an economic recovery. What do you think needs to be done to help improve Milwaukee’s economy?BARRETT WEB

4). What would you do to reduce Milwaukee’s crime while also addressing the rate of incarceration facing African-American men in the city?


Milwaukee County Executive 

County Executive Chris Abele

1). What future do you envision for Milwaukee County?

I ran for County Executive five years ago because I love our community, I believe strongly in public service, and I wanted to restore the County to something we could be proud of. At the time, the County suffered from crippling debt, languishing services, significant deferred maintenance, and a dysfunctional mental health complex. Since being elected, we have reduced the County’s liabilities by hundreds of millions of dollars and restored services to a point where we are providing higher quality services to thousands more people.

Milwaukee has no shortage of challenges – the increase in homicides and violent crime, some of the worst racial disparities in graduation, unemployment, and incarceration in the country, the recent spike in heroin/opiate deaths, human trafficking, poor statistics on net new job creation, etc. These are all critically important issues that we can and must address.

Because the County is in significantly better shape now than it was five years ago, we will be able to continue to restore and improve the County’s ability to most directly address these issues. We will also look for more specific areas to take the lead on and put a stake in the ground like we did with our plan to not just decrease but to END chronic homelessness. I’m proud to say that we are ahead of schedule in meeting this challenge.

Both the White House and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government’s Project on County Innovation have recognized the programs implemented under my administration as national models. That includes the County’s plans on enrollment eligibility under the Affordable Care Act. Just this month, the President came to Milwaukee to celebrate our community winning the White House’s Healthy Communities Challenge to increase healthcare coverage. Winning a national award in Milwaukee County is definitely nice, and we are always happy to welcome our president, but the real win is that more people than ever have affordable health insurance.

I may not talk about the successes the County has achieved over the past five years enough, but serving the most vulnerable and empowering every citizen in our community to attain what they want in life drives me every day to continue to push the boundaries of not only what my administration can do but what Milwaukee County government can do.

2). How can the county work better with municipalities to ensure the communities can improve and strengthen the county?

Throughout the 20 years I’ve been involved in business and philanthropy, I’ve been a big believer in collaboration and partnerships and have been fortunate to see firsthand how effective they can be in accomplishing shared goals.

Since being elected in 2011, I have worked hard to improve the relationship between the County and each of the municipalities within our borders. Not only is the dynamic between all of the mayors and village presidents significantly more collegial now than it was five years ago, we have partnered on a number of shared services and agreements that benefit all communities. The relationships we’ve built have paid off for taxpayers and show how effective we can be when we work together. I’m honored to have received endorsements from the vast majority of the village presidents and mayors in Milwaukee County and hope to continue working in partnership with them in the future.

One example of our partnership is the County financing and sharing in the purchase of new voting machines for each of the municipalities with the condition that they all purchase the same, up-to-date models and that they use the City of Milwaukee to do the programming. As the County is responsible for reimbursing the costs of programming, anticipated savings will pay for the new machines in a short period of time. In the one election cycle we have been through since this upgrade we saw results come in faster and more accurately due to the automated capabilities of the new equipment.

Another successful collaboration has been the Traveling Beer Garden initiative. Initiated in 2014 in partnership with Sprecher Brewing Company, this mobile operation visited 16 different parks and parkways throughout the summer in 2015. The beer gardens brought back a long-time Milwaukee tradition to serve as a gathering place for friends, families, and neighbors. The 2015 Traveling Beer Garden brought in revenue of $633,000 (a 153% increase over 2014) and served more than 115,000 patrons (a 28% increase over 2014). The Parks Department’s first “pop-up” beer garden in Scout Lake Park opened in 2015 and generated $45,000 in revenue and over 8,000 visitors. All of the revenue collected from these beer gardens goes toward additional park improvements.

In 2011, we inherited a transit system that experienced ten straight years of either service cuts, fare increases, or both. That trend reversed under our leadership, as Milwaukee County has had five consecutive years without fare increases or route cuts. In fact, we’ve added routes and upgraded more than half of the transit fleet with safer, more energy-efficient buses.

Other investments in transportation services include signal improvements on several County Trunk Highways and reconditioning Layton Avenue to improve freight connection from the airport to the Port of Milwaukee. The airport has also seen gains in year-round, nonstop service to West Coast business markets.

Still, there is room to improve. Milwaukee County has a plan to bolster economic opportunity for its residents by helping workers reach employment using public transit. One part of this strategy is the Milwaukee County Transit System’s pilot project to add 20,000 route miles in 2016 by extending routes into St. Francis. I’m confident we can add route miles while keeping fares flat and have directed the Department of Transportation to explore connecting the region’s two biggest job centers with Bus Rapid Transit service to further provide access to economic opportunity.

The possibilities of identifying future efficiencies that improve the quality of life of county residents in concert with our municipalities are many. I sincerely hope to have the opportunity to continue to foster win-win-win partnerships going forward.

3). What future do you see for the Mitchell Park Conservatory Domes?

The Mitchell Park Domes are an important piece of Milwaukee’s cultural identity. Their presence allows for residents all over the county to enjoy green space and entertainment throughout the year. Unfortunately, decades of short term ‘band-aid’ fixes have left the Domes in need of critical repairs. I’m not willing to push this off to future generations. I look at this not as a challenge but an opportunity.

Last year I budgeted $500,000 for repairs at the Domes – money which will allow us to complete repairs and safely re-open the Show Dome this spring. I have asked my partners on the County Board to authorize an additional $500,000 so that we can fund the repairs needed to safely reopen the Tropical and Arid Domes as well, and I have every confidence that they will do so as quickly as possible since the Domes are such an important cultural asset for us all.

I am committed to finding a long-term, fiscally responsible solution on the Mitchell Park Domes, but what I will not do is offer anyone an empty promise without telling you how I plan to pay to rebuild the Domes – as my opponent is doing. Blank checks may make for good sound bites, but they will not solve any of the Domes’ long-term problems or the hundreds of millions of dollars worth of overdue maintenance that built up before I became County Executive.

For the past five years our award winning parks system has been a top priority of mine. I inherited a huge budget deficit from my predecessor, but thanks to our efforts to reduce the deficit, debt, and liabilities, we’ve reduced our obligations by hundreds of millions of dollars. As a result, we have been and will continue to be in a stronger fiscal position to invest in our parks system.

I look forward to a continued, robust, and community-driven public debate about the future of the Mitchell Park Domes. I recently named the first members of a task force to be partners in this work. They are an important piece of Milwaukee’s park system, and it is crucial that we do the right thing for current taxpayers and future generations.

4). How much power do you think the Milwaukee County Sheriff should have?

The amount of “power” one office or another has is the last way that anyone should think about service to the public. Each of us who have the honor of serving as elected officials have a responsibility to the people we represent, whether they voted for us or not. So whether it’s the County Executive, the Sheriff, Mayor, or any other elected official I view our roles as being good stewards of taxpayer dollars, being transparent to the public, and being accountable for our actions. When it comes to public safety and law enforcement, we’ve always tried to work as collaboratively as possible with everyone from the Sheriff to the Police Department.

A few great examples of this collaboration with law enforcement are the County’s funding for the City’s ShotSpotter program, mental health training for MPD officers, and crisis response teams.

It hasn’t always been easy, but I believe we’ve made real progress. The Sheriff’s office has the resources required to fulfill its responsibilities to patrol the highways and staff the court system. And we’ve made real improvements in our criminal justice system. The County now runs the House of Correction, and it’s making significant strides in empowering people with the skills they need to live a better life when they are released. The House of Correction now enrolls inmates in health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, offers more than a dozen certification and skills trainings, provides job placement and resume writing assistance, offers educational opportunities to attain GEDs, and is even this month opening a job center. The House of Correction also partners with community organizations to administer fatherhood programs and offer peer counseling.

Other examples of the progress we’ve made on this issue in Milwaukee County since I’ve taken office include an increase in evidence-based decision-making in the Court system and greater investment in the District Attorney’s office to fund more Victim-Witness advocates that keep victims of crimes safe and assist prosecutors. I’ve also called on the County Board to reverse its budget cut to the Medical Examiner’s office. At the height of a violent crime and heroin/opioid overdose epidemic, the Medical Examiner is understaffed and cases are backing up, putting public safety at risk. Law enforcement can’t investigate and prosecute crimes without information from the Medical Examiner. I will fight to restore funding to the Medical Examiner.

Each of these improvements represent a step forward, but I’m convinced we can continue to do more and I hope to do so in a new term.

5). How do you think the County Mental Health facility can be run in a way that ensures the safety of all patients and transparency for the county residents and patient families?

Immediately after taking office, I started aggressively improving and reforming the mental health care system in Milwaukee County – just like I said I would in my campaign. Today, we’ve significantly overhauled the Behavioral Health Division. Put simply, the county no long is a “warehouse” for those with mental health challenges and is now a partner in community-based care. That evolution has resulted in exactly what we thought we would see – emergency admissions are down and the number of people we serve has gone up.

I want to continue to build on that success with a continued focus on care and outcomes over the next four years. Given the improved oversight of BHD – today medical professionals and management experts are in charge, not politicians – there is greater transparency, and more accountability today than there was when I took office. From the front line employees through the managers and up to county leadership – everyone is more accountable today than they were 5 years ago, and that’s a good thing for all of us who love Milwaukee County.

Sen. Chris Larson

Candidate for Milwaukee County Executive
Larson’s campaign did not return the completed questions before publication time. Below are the questions.

1). What future do you envision for Milwaukee County?

2). How can the county work better with municipalities to ensure the communities can improve and strengthen the county?

3). What future do you see for the Mitchell Park Conservatory Domes?

4). How much power do you think the Milwaukee County Sheriff should have?

5). How do you think the County Mental Health facility can be run in a way that ensures the safety of all patients and transparency for the county residents and patient families?

Alderperson (3rd District)

Ald. Nik Kovac (Incumbent)

1). In recent years there has been an increase in housing developments in the 3rd District. How can the city ensure there is an increase in building and more rental properties for Milwaukeeans in this district while not forcing out current residents?

Eight years ago I campaigned for this office, in part, by promising “Development That Will Stand the Test of Time.”

At that time, I thought — as did thousands of residents on both sides of the river – that many of our new buildings were poorly designed, used low quality materials, lacked thorough public vetting, and were too close to the wild banks of our river.

I am proud to say that we have reversed all of those trends. One of my first major acts as your alderman was to sponsor and pass the Milwaukee River Greenway overlay zoning district. This legislation mandated that all new large buildings north of North Avenue (where the river is once again wild) must be at least 25 feet – and on average 50 feet – from the top of the bluffs facing our river. It also forced developers to handle more stormwater onsite, regulated the clearcutting of riverside forests, and mandated that buildings must not turn their backs to the river.

If you want to see the difference this has made, stand on the North Avenue bridge facing north. To your left you will see a UWM dorm approved before I was elected: too close to the river, its back turned, with an asphalt paved driveway below the bluff. To your right is another UWM dorm, approved after I was elected. This one is set back from the bluff, with a graywater nourished lawn next to the riverside forest, an unpaved pedestrian access point to the river, and a handsome brick facade facing the street.

We achieved some of this higher quality and more ecological design by changing the zoning, but most of it we achieved by showing up for night meetings with the developers and insisting on it. I have made it policy in the 3rd District that no major zoning change can get approved without the public having a chance – in the evening and as near as possible to the proposed site – to confront the developer and architect with questions, suggestions, and criticisms.

By doing this, together we have raised the standards for new buildings, ensuring that they will “stand the test of time.”

The new East Library, the Overlook at Prospect Mall, the Edge on the site of the old Pizza Man, and the Adventure Rock apartments and indoor climbing wall (under construction) are all evidence – just on North Avenue – of these new publicly-created design standards. Similar successes have occurred on Downer Avenue (the new Pizza Man site), Brady Street (the Casablanca expansion, the new Greenfields, and the Thainamite building), Prospect Avenue (Sage on Prospect) and in the Park East corridor (the North End, the new Gallun Tannery, and the Avenir).

Is all this construction too much? Will it force some of us out?

As long as we locate larger buildings where they belong – on main avenues, not side streets – and ensure that they are built to last, then I think that making room for new neighbors is good for them and for those of us that are already here.

Even though the rents on many of the new buildings are higher than most of us – myself included – are willing or able to pay per month, they are not necessarily increasing rents in buildings that already exist. I am also pushing for as many of these new buildings as possible to be rent-controlled. The apartment building under construction on Murray and Thomas is one such building. Most of the renters there will be at 60% or less of our area’s median income.

Making sure that there are affordable options in the higher-rent neighborhoods of the city is one way we can combat the racial and economic segregation in our city. I am proud to live in Riverwest, one of the most diverse and affordable neighborhoods in our great city. Together with our neighbors, I will keep fighting to make sure that all new buildings are up to our standards, and that they will improve our city and all of our neighborhoods for the long term.

2). What can be done to address crime in the 3rd District?

There are short-term and long-term solutions to crime. We need to be aggressive about implementing both.

In the short term, we must communicate with each other and with the police. The police department is our biggest annual investment as city taxpayers – and for a good reason. There is no better way to immediately stop and solve crimes than to have well-trained, data-driven, and community-involved police officers.

I work every day with our police officers – from the chief to the captains of the 1st Police District (east of the river) and the 5th Police District (west of the river) to the shift lieutenants to the beat patrol officers on foot, bike, and car who travel our streets every day. They are some of the hardest working women and men in our city, and they will do their jobs better if we regularly share information with them about what is happening on our blocks. The safest blocks are the most organized blocks. Block clubs are one way to organize, but it can also be as simple as creating email lists and phone trees.

Such organizing has been very effective in halting recent crime trends on both sides of the river. A few months ago there were 9 carjackings east of the river in just six weeks, and 22 muggings in five weeks in Riverwest. In both cases, we responded by deploying more police – patrol and undercover – to address the specific threats. We also connected residents and business owners with the police making arrests and the prosecutors pursing justice. These regular lines of communication enabled the police and the prosecutors to be more effective by working directly with the people most affected by crime, fear, and disorder.

This aggressive response has significantly reduced the numbers of carjackings and muggings in the last two months.

That is the short-term solution. Any long-term solution must also address the root causes of crime in our city: concentrated poverty, segregation, and cycles of violence. As Chair of the Common Council’s Finance committee, I have been aggressive about ensuring that we make investments in the long-term as well. A budget amendment that I sponsored in 2014 has created a new protocol for our police department. Now, whenever there is a child witness to a violent crime, police investigators refer that child to trauma specialists working for the county but funded, in part, by the city. Data shows that child victims and witnesses to violent crimes are more likely to commit them as teenagers and adults. This is one way to break the cycle of violence.

That same budget amendment also funded conflict mediators, building inspectors who focus on high-risk properties, tutoring and mentorship for teenagers, and employment opportunities for adults with criminal records.

I was also the lead sponsor on legislation that lowered the maximum fine for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana from $500 to $50. This change was intended to reduce the number of such tickets, and that is working. This means that police have more time to focus on deeper crime trends.

Even though I have advocated for funding long-term solutions, I have also been committed to funding our police department. In the 2016 budget, we are funding an average sworn strength of 1,888 police officers. This is slightly higher than the last few years. True, it is slightly lower than a decade ago, but the cuts to the police department have been much less than the cuts to all other city departments. Citywide, due to cuts in state shared revenue, the foreclosure crisis, and increased pension obligations, we have 11% fewer non-police employees than a decade ago. The police department, however, is still within 3% of where it was a decade ago, and if you count the addition of 66 civilian positions (many of whom do work that sworn officers used to do), then the level is about the same.

Put another way, when I joined the Common Council the police department was 38% of our annual operating budget. Today it’s relative cost has risen to 45%.

Some candidates – including my opponent and Mayor Barrett’s opponent – have publicly made the claim that we have recently cut hundreds of police officers. This a demonstrably false statement. We did eliminate position authority for about one hundred positions, but those only existed on the books because they were once necessary in order to accept federal funding for police officers. That funding is no longer available, so there was no reason to keep those unfunded vacant positions on the books. If you want to compare police staffing year to year, the only number that matters is average annual funded sworn strength. That number has fluctuated slightly over the last several years – up and down – but has usually been within a few dozen of where it is now: 1,888 funded sworn positions.

To address crime in our neighborhoods, we need to work together as neighbors, and our city government must be aggressive about funding immediate and holistic solutions. In my years as your alderman, I have done just that, and I look forward to continuing to work with all of you to increase the safety of our streets and homes.

Shannan Hayden

hayden web

1). In recent years there has been an increase in housing developments in the 3rd District. How can the city ensure there is an increase in building and more rental properties for Milwaukeeans in this district while not forcing out current residents?

First and foremost, I will give the highest priority to the wants and needs of the residents of the district. I believe that the best ideas always come from the community, because they are the ones with the most at stake. Although I will encourage new developments, I will also fight to preserve the unique, and very different characters of the neighborhoods in District Three. Having lived in both Riverwest and on the Eastside, I understand that different communities have different wants, needs and ideas, and the only way to know what they are is to be responsive to the residents. An Alderwoman’s first priority should be to listen.

Simply put, I will support projects that the residents support.

2). What can be done to address crime in the 3rd District?

Although city budgets change every year based on all different kinds of factors, the need for residents to feel safe on the streets of their neighborhoods never does. The recent increase in crime in Milwaukee is one of most critical issues facing the district, and one of the most important ones to the residents I’ve spoken to. There was a 243% increase in car-jackings alone last year in our district. The police department has done a great job of responding, but I feel that real leadership is needed in order for these gains to continue. My husband is a Milwaukee Police Sergeant with 21 years on the job. I have great relationships with members of the Milwaukee PD all the way up to the top, and I know that I will be successful in demanding existing resources, as well as fighting for additional resources in the future. It is irresponsible, in my opinion, to fight for cuts to the existing police ranks, and furlough police officers a total of over 40,000 hours per year for the last three years, during a time when crime was increasing. Yes, some good new programs to help reduce crime have been initiated recently which favor treating the problem with a more holistic approach, which I fully agree with and support. The only problem is that these programs rely heavily on the police department in order to be successful, further taking away from an already limited resource. I also have a plan to increase the number of officers on the street while helping it to increase the number of minority officers. This plan will ensure that the diverse population of Milwaukee is represented in the ranks of those who do so much to support our communities.