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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014

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In Milwaukee Buzz Commentary

Milwaukee, a great place on a Great Lake.

Is Milwaukee a great city?


OK, these are fighting words.

Or, at the very least, a gauntlet of sorts has been thrown down.

From no less a source than the governor of Wisconsin, our fair city has been maligned, deemed less than special in the pantheon of great American cities, in the Midwest or anywhere.

To use Gov. Scott Walker's exact words:

"If you want to keep people in the city, you should have a great city."

Not exactly a slogan for the local tourism board, huh?

That was Walker's response last week to suggestions from political opponents that his move to eliminate the city residency requirement for public employees would cause some residents to flee the city and harm property values.

The adult way of looking at this is to consider the political context of Walker's remarks. Walker was defending his latest proposal to end a residency requirement which strikes some as a relic of the past and others as a safeguard against carpet-baggers willing to get paid here but spend the money somewhere else.

As a city home-owner, I understand the reality behind the property tax bill I receive each year, the city is a distinct government entity that binds all city homeowners together in a financial pot that defines the community.

Doesn't matter if you have great friends in West Allis, Shorewood or Mequon; if you live in the city, there are boundaries whether you acknowledge them or not. In some places, you cross the street and you're out of town. But if you want to work for the city in many jobs, you can't be over the line.

My friends who work as schoolteachers, police officers or other city employees have learned to adapt quite well, thank you. For example, I always remember the friend from the police department who invited me out to his incredible home years ago on the far northwest side of city limits.

When I complimented him on his home, he remarked not only were all the homes in the area just as nice but that public safety wasn't an issue.

"Most of my neighbors are cops," he smiled.

Milwaukee Public Schools teachers have had the same gripe over the years, which is why recent loosening of the rules for new teachers seems to have sparked a new campaign for firefighters and police officers, both represented by powerful unions that have political influences during Wisconsin's tumultuous political season.

Walker has been the beneficiary of some of that police and firefighter union support.

It's understandable that reasonable objections to a residency rule created in way back in 1938 should be considered for a contemporary workforce that doesn't live the same urban lifestyle as the early 20th century.

Frankly, Walker's words might have had a hint of truth behind them if he had presented them in a more positive manner. As stated, his opinon seemed insulting to some Milwaukeeans who acknowledge the city's problems but chafe at the idea that it's not a "great city" compared with the competition around the state.

When I threw out the question: "What would the State of Wisconsin be without Milwaukee?" on my social network, the most common answer was "North Dakota."

You get the idea.

I toyed with calling various government officials in town to get their response to Walker's suggestion about the city's lack of greatness but realized most would probably answer according to their political allegiances or civic boosterism.

It's never a good idea to suggest your city isn't "great" even if you agree with that assessment in some areas. Particularly, if you're a longtime resident (like me) who is fed up with this endless nonsense from politicians from other places who insist on painting Milwaukee as some insidious hamlet filled with violent criminals that most Wisconsinites should avoid.

Let's admit it; it does get old. Particularly coming from your governor.

Personally, I think Milwaukee is a great city, particularly compared to others in Wisconsin. I don't think it's perfect but I think things could get better if we decided to emphasize the best things about living and working here without giving in to any suggestions that suggest otherwise.

The residency laws notwithstanding, nobody should be ashamed of living in Milwaukee and most should think of the city as being a special place to make friends and raise a family.

Gov. Walker, of all people, should know that.

Talkbacks

fetlarpo | Feb. 21, 2013 at 5:44 p.m. (report)

Wow, another lefty perspective.....please stand next to the other lefty parrots and do your Walker bashing.

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ChateauDweller | Feb. 20, 2013 at 12:43 p.m. (report)

FYI--North Dakota has a thriving economy and 3.2% unemployment....

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blurondo | Feb. 20, 2013 at 12:34 p.m. (report)

I have long believed that racism is at the root of negative comments about Milwaukee, whether from outside the city or from within. Another long held belief is that anyone who earns their living in the city but does not live there, should be paying a city income tax to cover the costs of the many services that they receive while working. They include, but are not limited to: police protection, fire and paramedic services, street sanitation including plowing and salting, street lighting, traffic control, tree and boulevard maintenance and many more services that non-residents benefit from everyday without contributing to their costs.

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phunkocity | Feb. 20, 2013 at 12:04 p.m. (report)

Its too bad the majority someone's social network thinks Wisconsin is comparable to, literally, a plain state. And why take offense to the comments of any politician's opinion of any city?

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Badgergirl | Feb. 19, 2013 at 4:17 p.m. (report)

Amen Eugene. As you indicated, it seems that a lot of the "Milwaukee hate" comes from suburbanites, who, based on their outdated views of the city, either haven't been to Milwaukee in 20 years or who only see the city through their car windows on the way to and from work. Milwaukee has its problems, but, despite the negative picture these individuals try to paint, many city neighborhoods are vibrant, diverse, and beautiful, and they certainly have more going for them than the tract housing, strip malls, and chain restaurants offered by the suburbs. And, what the suburban Milwaukee haters fail to realize is that, whether they like it or not, Milwaukee is the economic and cultural engine of the state--it is not Wauwatosa, Whitefish Bay, Oak Creek, or Cudahy. Thus, as Milwaukee goes, so goes its surrounding communities, and so goes the state for that matter. Everyone in Wisconsin should have a stake in Milwaukee's success. But, sadly, that is not true, and what the attitude of many suburbanites goes to show is that individuals who do not live in the city grow out of touch with it and they no longer care about it. The last thing one should want is such indifference on the part of police, firefighter, and teachers if they are allowed to live elsewhere.

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