What will happen to Milwaukee’s image when Walker wins the recall?
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Allow me to make a not-so-bold prediction: Gov. Scott Walker will win the June 5 recall election. (Whoa, whoa—take it easy. Step away from the comments section!) Still with me? Good. Pro-Walker ads have been flooding the airwaves for the past few months, and a recent Marquette Law School poll gives the nominally embattled guv a six-point lead over Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett. That sounds about right. I recently went on a weekend fishing trip to Rhinelander, which is a four-hour drive north from Milwaukee. For three of those four hours I saw nothing but “I Stand With Governor Walker” signs. Hell, I even saw a handful of “Scott Walker For President” billboards. When I reported this back to my friends, they were shocked. It seems that amidst the sexy recall-fever and the extremely useful #wirecall hashtags, many people have forgotten that there’s a whole lot more to this state than just Madison and Milwaukee’s East Side. News flash: There is, and it’s populated by pissed-off motherfuckers who are ready to vote.
But I don’t want to get too political with this blog (too late, I know), and I certainly don’t want to turn it into a self-loathing liberal mope-fest. Maybe the outcome of this election isn’t even the point. What I’m concerned with is how Milwaukee’s already fragile image will fare after the events of June 5. Put another way: Can we withstand a governor who loves talking shit about us?
If you haven’t been paying attention to Walker’s every move as of late, you may have missed a few of his pointedly anti-Milwaukee comments. At a recent event in Oconomowoc Lake, the governor stuck it to his opponent by insisting the people of Wisconsin don’t want to see their state “become another Milwaukee.” Oof. The Business Journal ran a piece yesterday that included those remarks, as well as Barrett’s response:
“I think what the governor is doing—trying to divide this state and pit people against this city—is wrong. In his acceptance night speech, he said he didn’t want Wisconsin to be like Milwaukee. What exactly did he mean by that? What was he getting at?”
I’ll echo the mayor’s concern: What was Walker getting at?
On the surface, the “not another Milwaukee” comment is about that ever-popular four-letter word: jobs. Walker’s campaign spokeswoman Ciara Matthews says as much in her response to Barrett’s response:
“Mayor Tom Barrett has failed the people of Milwaukee and is attacking Governor Walker as a means of avoiding answering questions about those failures. Whether Tom Barrett likes it or not, he has presided over a 28% jump in unemployment and raised taxes and fees on the people of his city by 43%. These are the facts of Tom Barrett’s record regardless of attempts at distraction and dishonesty.”
But stripping away the rhetoric (Distraction! Dishonesty!), it’s easy to read Walker’s comments as good old-fashioned fear mongering. Hey, blue-collar voters who don’t live in the city: You wouldn’t want the entire state to look like the hell-on-Earth Thunderdome that passes for Milwaukee, would you? Have you seen the news lately? Madison may have been Walker’s enemy during the first blush of the recall (“This is Madison, you know, full of the ’60s liberals. Let ’em protest.”), but Barrett’s nomination has put Milwaukee squarely in his crosshairs. Milwaukee’s mayor—and Milwaukee itself, full of scary people that probably don’t look like you—is the problem.
And that bullshit image is something we’re going to have to deal with, regardless of who comes out on top. So what can we do? I’m normally not a cheerleading, “Everything local is kewl!” kind of dude, but I find myself mentally preparing to defend even the dopiest of Milwaukee institutions. Barrett is doing the same:
“I look at it and I ask you as representatives of the business community: Do we want to have a governor who is trying to make people afraid of this great city? And we’re standing here really at the hub of all that’s going on here with Summerfest, with the Calatrava (art museum) with the festivals we have. Great music. The Performing Arts Center. Do we want a governor who is going to try through his paid media to scare people from the city? I don’t think so. And I hope that’s not what we’re going to end up with. Because this great state is not going to move forward if we are continuously pitted against each other.”
Stripping away the rhetoric once again (Paid media!), it’s clear that Barrett loves his city, and that he’s ready to go to the mat for it. I think we’re all going to have to go to the mat in the next few months, whether we’re ready or not. Let’s do this, Milwaukee.