Can Madison avoid Milwaukee's problems? Posed at an Isthmus public forum on Sept. 14, this question has received a considerable response from residents of both cities who objected to its formulation, including both of their current mayors. Last week, Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett sent Isthmus a list of "The Top Ten ways Madison can avoid becoming like Milwaukee." This followed comments from former Madison mayor Paul Soglin, and has since been followed by a response from this city's current mayor.
Madison mayor Dave Cieslewicz stated that the forum "missed the mark" in terms of its framing the question. On Sept. 26, the mayor's office sent Isthmus a letter to the editor addressing the kerfuffle:
To the editor,
Isthmus was trying to be provocative in generating a community discussion about serious issues, but it missed the mark when it framed its recent forum in terms of how Madison could avoid becoming like Milwaukee.
Actually, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and I have appeared together in each of our cities to talk about how Milwaukee and Madison can cooperate on exciting projects like high speed rail, exchanges between our universities and research centers and more. Leaders in Allied Drive recently traveled to Milwaukee to see how they have improved neighborhoods there without gentrifying them. And as a Milwaukee-area native myself I enjoy going back home to visit the Calatrava art museum, take in a Brewers game, see the State Fair, find a new ethnic restaurant or visit my parents in West Allis.
It's one of the worst lines in movie history but it's true in this case: Milwaukee and Madison "complete each other." Madison has the state government and the UW, Milwaukee is the center of state commerce and it has the cultural diversity we strive for here. It's long past time for us to lose our stereotypes about each other and to find ways to make each of our communities better by uniting what's best about both places.
The letter was signed, "Sincerely, Dave J. Cieslewicz," and was cc'ed to two other persons. The first was Tom Barrett, his mayoral counterpart in Milwaukee. The second was not a mayor, however. Rather, it was Tom Still, the president of the Wisconsin Technology Council, and a former editorial page editor of the State Journal. Still moderated a public discussion at the Overture Center on May 16, 2006, that featured the two mayors. Sponsored by the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, the discussion focused upon ways that the cities of Madison and Milwaukee can engage in mutual cooperation. Still subsequently commented on this discussion, writing about his long-time support of the concept.
Several other writers have commented on the issue. Former Madison resident, current Milwaukee resident, and longtime Democratic party stategist Bill Christofferson wrote that the forum's title had a "smug, self-satisfied, superior attitude," while another former Madison resident wrote that he favored Milwaukee. Meanwhile, the Madison-based and pseudonymous liberal political blogger "Dave Diamond" wrote that suburban sprawl on the west side of Madison necessitates a forum titled, "How to Keep Madison from Becoming Waukesha County." The prompted a response from Madisonian Ben Brothers, who wrote that the west side "is in no danger of becoming Waukesha."
There's little question that this discussion will continue as both Madison and Milwaukee become closer; geographically, demographically, and politically, just for starters.