By Doug Hissom Special to Published Aug 10, 2007 at 5:14 AM

To the surprise of few techies in town, Milwaukee’s highly-touted wireless network as proposed last year has fallen short of its optimistic projections and essentially shut down.

A news report Thursday finds Midwest Fiber Networks representative Donna Raffaelli-Meyer saying initial tests of a project demonstration area don’t work and it is probably going to drop the effort.

Raffaelli-Meyer said an “aggressive and eager” deadline was perhaps a bad idea and that it would take at least two more years to finish the system, a bit beyond the March 2008 deadline it negotiated with the city.

Milwaukee-based Midwest Fiber came to City Hall promising to give the city a $20 million wireless internet network in exchange for exclusive access to city underground conduits. Despite continued delays, questions as to whether the company could afford the project and a few broken promises, city leaders continued to back the plan.

The failure puts egg on the face of Mayor Tom Barrett, who touted the project as putting Milwaukee on the high tech map since we would be the “first” to have an all-city wireless network that all residents would have access to. It also has lopped off some of the credibility of the city’s info manager Randy Gschwind, who was forced to take the heat from a Common Council committee a few months ago on behalf of Midwest Fiber.

Gschwind staunchly defended the program’s progress in the face of skeptical aldermen who were already seeing through the smokescreen of optimism.

The city’s Web site makes no mention of the halt and in fact indicates the project was on track. Dated in May, the report states that Midwest Fiber had some 22 antennas installed and had about 80 more to go, projecting that 60 would be installed in the following month.

In mid-July, two weeks after the demonstration area was supposed to be up and running, it became apparent that all was not well for the plan.

Questions to be answered next should include whether the city will promptly seek a more reputable vendor with deeper pockets; whether Midwest Fiber will have to remove its equipment at its own expense or just be able to sell it to another operator and why it won’t have to pay penalties to the city for keeping its wireless future on hold for two years.

New Face on County Board: Milwaukee County Exec Scott Walker lost a possible ally for the County Board this week as Chris Kujawa failed in his bid for the County Board against Patricia Jursik in a special election.

Kujawa, a vice president of KEI Landscaping, declared early his support for Walker’s policies. Jursik, a Cudahy attorney, showed more independent thought, such as supporting a referendum that gives voters a say on whether the county should the sales tax 1% a dedicate the money to the parks or transit system–which is opposed by Walker.

Jursik beat Kujawa 3,104 to 2,622.

The election was held to replace Ryan McCue, who was elected Cudahy mayor in the spring. Candidates were already hopping on the ballot before Walker called for a special election. He had the prerogative to save taxpayers money by waiting for the spring 2008 election, but speculation ran that he wanted another ally to try and get a no-tax-increase budget passed–something that’s been increasingly hard to do after residents have dealt with the realities of the austere approach to most of what the county does.

Rethinking the Tryst: A plan to ban motels and rooming houses from renting rooms by the hour was put on hold last month. Ald. Michael Murphy is proposing the for the city ban at hotels, motels and rooming houses, which would also ban hotels from renting the same room more than once in a day. The proposal was held for another month after the city attorney’s office raised questions about enforcing the ordinance. It will be heard again Sept. 11 or so.

No rooming house owners showed up to testify on the matter, however, rooming house owner Damen Hanneger came to defend the fact that his house on South 4th Street wasn’t causing trouble even though he caters to the poor, destitute and drug-addled, statements that caused Ald. Jim Bohl to chime, “I don’t think we are on the same page here.”

A Darling Race After All: State Rep. Sheldon Wasserman (D-Glendale) has made it official that he will take on state Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) in 2008 for her North Shore seat. Wasserman, 46, has been in the Assembly since 1995, defeating a Republican. Darling, 63, was elected to the Assembly in 1990 and to the Senate in 1992.

It should be one of the more interesting area races come next fall, since incumbents are rarely challenged by serious candidates these days. But Wasserman is a consummate campaigner and due to redistricting in 2002, the district has a lot more Democrats than it used to have, giving Dems hope. He had also considered a bid for Milwaukee County executive.

Darling is an excellent retail politician as well, but she has gone from every writer’s favorite headline-based legislator to one that essentially is following the GOP playbook. Perhaps she will go back to her old days of legislating by headline -- trying to write legislation based on the latest shocking headline -- now that a race is on.

He’s officially kicking off his fundraising efforts on Sept. 25, “at the beautiful lakefront home of Bonnie and Leon Joseph” on Beach Drive in Fox Point, according to the official e-mail invite. Suggested minimum contribution is $100.

The Josephs are part of Reilly-Joseph real estate and, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign’s finance database, Leon Joseph gave $500 to an earlier Darling campaign, while never before donating to Wasserman. Bonnie Joseph’s campaign contributions have been almost solely in the Democratic camp.

Water World: Environmentalists are growing wearing of delays in the state Legislature to approve the Great Lakes Compact. The compact was approved in 2005 by eight Great Lakes’ governors and two Canadian provincial premiers and must now go to state legislatures and Congress for approval. The historic agreement prevents individual states from stealing the water for export or profit outside the boundaries of the watershed.

State Rep. Jon Richards said at the time he thought it would be a matter of months for Wisconsin to get behind the compact. Well, that obviously didn’t happen and water groups like the Friends of Milwaukee’s Rivers are mass e-mailing to try and get Richards off the snide and write the legislation.

For his part, the Compact was passed when Republicans controlled the Legislature and were unlikely to consider anything with a Democratic name attached. He also faces a relentless public relations and lobby effort by the City of Waukesha to try and obtain Lake Michigan water despite the fact that the Compact will not permit it. Now, though, the Senate is controlled by Democrats and Richards might consider looking to that house first for passage.

Doug Hissom Special to
Doug Hissom has covered local and state politics for 20 years. Over the course of that time he was publisher, editor, news editor, managing editor and senior writer at the Shepherd Express weekly paper in Milwaukee. He also covered education and environmental issues extensively. He ran the UWM Post in the mid-1980s, winning a Society of Professional Journalists award as best non-daily college newspaper.

An avid outdoors person he regularly takes extended paddling trips in the wilderness, preferring the hinterlands of northern Canada and Alaska. After a bet with a bunch of sailors, he paddled across Lake Michigan in a canoe.

He lives in Bay View.