Longtime Milwaukee Ald. Michael Murphy reflects on his 35 years of public service
This April, some residents will have a new representative on the Milwaukee Common Council for the first time in decades.
Milwaukee Ald. Michael Murphy, who serves the 10th aldermanic district on the city’s west side, announced late last year that he will not be seeking reelection after 35 years in office.
He’ll be the third-longest serving council member in the city’s history after he leaves office in April.
Murphy was first elected to the council in 1989 when he was 27 years old. Before then, he served as a legislative aide to his predecessor, Brian Burke.
In a fall newsletter to his constituents, Murphy – who’s now 61 years old – said he loves his job and his decision to not run for reelection wasn’t an easy one to make.
“I will always be grateful to you, the voters, for giving me the opportunity of serving you,” Murphy states in his newsletter. “I’m also thankful of the many public service employees, my fellow Aldermen and Mayors whose support and encouragement allowed me to do my job of improving the lives of my constituents.”
Pat Mueller, longtime resident of Martin Drive and one of Murphy’s constituents, was sad to hear about Murphy’s retirement.
She says Murphy has been her Alderman for all 35 years he’s been in office – she first moved to Martin Drive in 1987.
“He's the best Alderman in the City of Milwaukee, which is something that I often would tell him when I asked for something and he resolves it faster than you can blink your eye,” Muller says. “And I don't think you get that in America or anywhere now, that sort of responsiveness and dedication that he has. But it's not just even fixing the problem, it is getting back to you to let you know how it is going to be fixed, and when it’s going to be fixed.”
Alderman can serve as powerful connectors between residents and city services, making sure broken streetlights get repaired, or damaged sidewalks get rebuilt.
Those changes might seem small, but Mueller says they make a difference.
She says that’s what Murphy did for his constituents.
“Truly, this neighborhood was in a lot of disrepair,” Mueller says. “And when we started the [Martin Drive Neighborhood Association], and started noticing specifically what needed to be fixed and asking for help to get it fixed — that is something that empowers people, because there are other districts where the Alderman don't help like that, and so, you get this feeling of hopelessness.
But instead, we got a group of people who believed we can change things, because we would constantly see that in a way we were changing things. We would see something wrong that needed to be fixed and with the help of Michael Murphy, or whatever supporting departments, we would get these things modified and changed and fixed. And that gave the people a lot of, I don't want to say power, but a lot of confidence that they had control and could make things better too. Instead of just saying, 'They'll never do anything about that… that's just the way it is.’”
Megan Kennedy is another one of Murphy’s constituents that echoes Mueller’s feelings about the Alderman’s retirement.
“I was very disappointed to hear that he was not going to be our Alderman any longer because I really respect him and appreciate the work that he does.”
Kennedy, who’s lived in Enderis Park for 20 years, says she didn’t reach out to Murphy until a few years ago.
She says that when she began to feel unsafe about walking her dog throughout her neighborhood, her neighbors encouraged her to tell Murphy at one of their community meetings.
But it was Kennedy’s first time ever reaching out to a politician for help, so she was unsure how things would turn out.
“I mentioned that there were a few intersections in our neighborhood that did not have any stop signs at all — I'd seen fender benders, I'd seen people speeding through those intersections,” Kennedy says.
“I mentioned that to him and he said, ‘Just please follow up with an email,’ and I did and he responded immediately. He had his people go out and study the intersections and within probably a month or six weeks, there were stop signs installed in four different intersections, at least, in the neighborhood.”
Kennedy says she hopes Murphy will guide the next Alderperson to connect with constituents as well as he did.
“It's nice to know that somebody in politics cares about your neighborhood,” she says. “I think every meeting he ever had in my neighborhood, he started by saying, ‘I'm just honored to be here, I'm happy to be part of this community,’ And just had a lot of really positive things to say about the neighborhood and how he wanted the best for us. And that was his job — to help our community stay and become better and I just feel like he really worked at that.”
Lake Effect’s Xcaret Nuñez spoke with Ald. Michael Murphy about his choice to retire and his plans for the future. Below is an excerpt of the conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity.
Why did you decide this was the right time for you to retire?
Murphy: It was a very difficult decision, one in which, when you work in public service, it's hard to give it up. For me, it came down to this: I think it's an opportunity for some younger people to take advantage of the open seat and give them an opportunity to run for office. Also, as I've gotten older, I've decided that maybe I'd like to take on a different endeavor in some areas where personal growth for my own life and family is something I would like to consider. Public service, if people do it the right way, is all-encompassing, and I dedicated pretty much most, if not two-thirds, of my professional life and personal life to the service of our community. And I will just take a little bit of a break to focus more on my family and some other personal endeavors.
What could the next chapter of your life look like? And will you still be active in the community?
Murphy: Yes, I will. I mean, my parents were immigrants to this country, and one of the things they instilled into all their five children was an obligation to give back to this country. And so all of us, in one way or another, have tried to meet that goal and objective for our parents. So I'm sure I will continue doing some sort of service, whether it's volunteer, in one or another capacity, but we plan on staying here.
What made you want to continue to be an Alderman for so long?
Murphy: It's a great question. I had the greatest job in the world. Every day, I could go to work, and I would be able to make a difference in improving the lives of people. That's a great opportunity and a great gift.
You know, I would get stopped at the grocery store, and commonly, people would bring issues up to me. I always remember a story where somebody brought up a federal issue. And I said, 'Listen, I'll be happy to help you, but it's really an area out of my jurisdiction, it's really with Congress, and you might want to check in with your congressperson,' and they go, 'Well, no, they're way too busy. That's why I'm talking to you.'
For an Alderman, we're the closest to the people. I deal with everything from garbage collection to police services to housing. So, I'm at the forefront of helping people every single day. So, if you're an actively engaged Alderman, you're answering your own phone, you talk to citizens, you go door to door, you meet them at their businesses, you see daily what's going on in their lives.
There's an old saying, 'All politics is local,' and you can't be more local than being an Alderman. But, you know, it's instilled in me from my mom and dad that public service is something that we have an obligation to give back to this country. I'm the first of my family to be born here. I take that seriously. And I hope I fulfilled their dreams for me and my brothers and sister, who all have been teachers or communicators. So, I think it's a very honorable job, and I encourage people to look at politics as an honorable profession if it's done the right way.