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Politics & Government

Hot Button Issues Likely to Take Center Stage in 2016 Milwaukee Aldermanic Elections

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Jimmy Emerson, flickr
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It could be a lively spring election season in the city of Milwaukee. All 15 Common Council seats are up for another term in April and so is Mayor Tom Barrett's. 

There are rumblings of voter dissatisfaction on a myriad of issues. It appears enough challenges are being mounted to potentially turn over the entire council.

Tory Lowe is walking through a north side neighborhood he hopes to represent next year. He plans to challenge Ald. MileleCoggs in April’s election. Lowe says the district is struggling with many issues, including a soaring homicide rate.

“There are a lot of abandoned houses, there’s a lot of drug activity going on. Somebody just got killed in front of the 5th district police station. What we’re seeing is a manifestation of neglect,” Lowe says.

Lowe believes political newcomers such as himself would bring a fresh perspective to problems facing the city. He says his candidacy already has a huge Facebook following and he’s confident he can topple the seven-year incumbent, who’s also an in-law. Ald. Coggs declined to be interviewed for this story.

An issue that Keisha Krumm predicts will drive voters to the polls next year is the new Milwaukee Bucks arena. Krumm heads the non-profit group Common Ground. She says many residents are upset over the Common Council’s vote in September to allocate $48 million for the complex.

“This felt like an insult to citizens that we were not truly engaged in the decision and able to negotiate an opportunity for our city,” Krumm says.

One long-time Milwaukee alderman who supports the city’s expenditure is Terry Witkowski. And he insists it will make perfect sense to voters.

“The gentlemen from New York brought in a developer who’s working on ten blocks. Yes, they got a piece of land for a dollar but that land hasn’t gotten any taxes off it in 40 years and instantly they’ll be paying taxes on it. There are plans for housing, for offices, for hotels,” Witkowski says.

Witkowski says he plans to run for a fourth term in 2016; and it appears he’ll face a challenge from a restaurant owner in the south side district.

Downtown, a nightclub owner is considering a run against veteran Ald. Bob Bauman and would make the streetcar an issue in the campaign. Bauman helped shepherd the streetcar project through the council in February, and he does not seem concerned about being challenged as a result.

“Frankly, fine. Everybody has a right to run for office. You get 200-400 signatures and you get on the ballot. That’s the nature of politics,” Bauman says.

One person who plans to help some candidates who are challenging incumbents is community activist Craig Peterson. He participated in an unsuccessful signature drive this year to halt the streetcar. Peterson describes it as another issue city officials rammed through without listening to opponents.

“The debates last year or the lack of debate involving the mayor’s trolley proposal was simply a scab that was ripped off of a more serious problem in the community,” Peterson says.

"There are some large macro issues that people disagree with," says Council President Michael Murphy. He’s the city’s longest-serving alderman, having first won election in 1989.

Murphy will also likely face a challenge in April. Despite what he calls divisive macro issues, Murphy says residents typically base their city votes on multiple factors.

“In the end, people will make their decisions on: is the alderman following up and returning calls as it relates to building code violations, is the snow being plowed, is garbage being picked up, are the police responding to their concerns,” Murphy says.

Several organizations, including Common Ground, plan to prod voters next April. Perhaps the presidential primaries, held the same day, will boost the numbers. But the last time around, in spring of 2012, only 28 percent of voters here cast ballots for local leaders.