By Dave Begel Contributing Writer Published Sep 18, 2014 at 5:04 AM


There is no other word for what a local organization called Common Ground is doing to the efforts to build a new arena in the City of Milwaukee.

Common Ground has an initiative called "Fair Play" that’s designed to spark a significant improvement in school and public recreational facilities in Milwaukee County. It’s a worthy initiative for the increasingly influential grassroots lobbying organization.

I am a strong supporter of improving sport and recreation opportunities for children in Southeastern Wisconsin. I’ve seen the educational and health value of these activities up close and wish we could find the money to upgrade the opportunities and facilities.

My problems with Common Ground are illustrated by a few quotes from the report it released Tuesday.

"While powerful billionaires/multi-millionaires (Wesley Edens, Marc Lasry and Ted Kellner) are trying to find a way to use our public tax money to build a new Bucks arena, where millionaires will play and an elite group of people can afford to watch them play, our kids and community members are using unsafe, terrible, and broken athletic fields and parks," the report said.

This is one of those jealous insensitive poor mouth claims that so diminish the issue on the table. But then we get the blackmail part of this whole thing.

"On April 8, 2014, 800 members of Common Ground voted that if public dollars are used to build a new Bucks arena, that at least $150 million need to be set aside for improvements on public sports and athletic facilities as well (aka Fair Play)," the report said. "If Fair Play is not part of the plan, then Common Ground would actively oppose the new Bucks arena."

I know and have friends who were involved in the creation of Common Ground. One of their lead organizers is a good friend. But they aren’t doing themselves any favors with this kind of blackmail.

Here’s how Common Ground identifies itself on its own website.

"At Common Ground, we develop solutions to our communities’ toughest problems – together. This is done through our Issues Campaign.

"We bring the city and the suburbs together. We identify issues, do our homework, get specific about what we are going to do, take action and win. The more we win, the more power and strength we all gain. We are a growing force in Southeastern Wisconsin.

"Some of our Issue Campaigns include:

  • Increasing police presence in Milwaukee neighborhoods.
  • Working with the City of Milwaukee to add 3,000 jobs to the Youth Jobs Program.
  • Getting five of the world’s largest banks to give $31 million to maintain and rehab foreclosed properties in Milwaukee.
  • Addressing the healthcare crisis by creating our own health care cooperative.
  • Working to make sure all of our children get a quality education."

I like all of these things. I think they are all worthy. The goals of Common Ground are admirable and the idea of mobilizing over 50 organizations, including almost 40 religious organizations is a powerful concept.

But this idea of "your either cave in to us or we are going to oppose you" is way off the mark. Let’s have an honest debate about the issue of the facilities. Let’s get the people who could fund this involved -- Milwaukee County, the City of Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Public Schools -- and let’s reach a (I hesitate to say it) common ground.

But this is not an either/or world we live in. We have to find ways to deal with myriad problems and issues. Just because we do one thing doesn’t mean we can’t do another thing.
Common Ground has some skills and some desirable goals. But there are a couple of lessons that might prove valuable to the organization.

One is to find one issue and focus all of your wealth of people power on that issue. For example, bring all your stuff to the idea of making sure the educational outcomes for every child in the county are successful.

The second lesson is one that comes from Otto von Bismarck, the first chancellor of Germany who is widely regarded as a sophisticated statesman.

"Politics," von Bismarck said, "is the art of the possible."

Here is the list of the 11 most-in-need playgrounds, according to the report, and the money required to improve them:

The 11 most-in-need playgrounds -- and estimated costs of repair -- according to the Fair Play report:

  • North Division High School: $9.4 million
  • Rufus King High School: $9.2 million
  • Vincent High School: $8.9 million
  • Milwaukee Hamilton High School: $7.4 million
  • Lincoln Park: $7.2 million
  • Lloyd Barbee Montessori: $6 million
  • Washington High School: $4.4 million
  • Reagan High School: $3.8 million
  • McGovern Park: $2.5 million
  • Rainbow Park: $2.5 million
  • Riverside High School: $1.8 million 
Dave Begel Contributing Writer

With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.

He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.

This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.

Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.