After just four months on the job, Oak Creek Mayor Steve Scaffidi admits he wasn't fully prepared for the events that unfolded Sunday at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin.
But how could he be? The 35,000-person suburb of Milwaukee rarely sees a homicide, much less what is being called an act of domestic terrorism.
Scaffidi hasn't slept much since Sunday, conducting national and international interviews non-stop, as well as taking calls from the governor, President and visiting with victims' families in between. We caught the mayor by phone this morning for a quick update on the evolving situation in Oak Creek.
OnMilwaukee.com: How and when did you find out about the shooting on Sunday?
Steve Scaffidi: I got a call from the fire chief probably three minutes after the first 911 calls went out. I was riding out to my garden to do some watering, and I headed over to city hall to start taking calls. I was over at the site within 15 minutes, and I spent the next 10 to 12 hours there.
OMC: So the situation was still very volatile when you got to the Sikh Temple?
SS: Absolutely. I had to wear a vest. I was right across the street. I've never seen anything like it. Oak Creek rarely has a homicide; to see something like this, on this scale, with the FBI and armored vehicles, it was almost like a war zone.
OMC: As mayor, is this something you could've even vaguely prepared for?
SS: As a mayor, maybe not, but I know that the fire and police departments are very expertly trained, and obviously that showed in the actions of Brian (Murphy) and the rest of the officers and the fire responders.
As mayor, I'm learning as I go. I've had some knowledge of how the media works, because I worked in media for a while. I'm definitely getting some quick, on-the-job training. I've probably done 50 radio or TV interviews, and I have three more this morning. I'm doing what I can do; we're trying to be honest about what we know. We don't talk about things that we don't know.
OMC: Are things starting to slow down at all for you?
SS: It's been non-stop. It shouldn't be about me, but I haven't had a ton of sleep. I thought it was slowing down this morning, but it actually picked up again. In about 15 minutes, I'll be doing a radio interview in the police chief's car as we ride downtown for an FBI briefing. That will take up the morning, and I have a couple of things scheduled. It's actually not slowing down in the manner that I thought it would. We'll be busy all week. Obviously, we have our vigil at the National Night Out event.
OMC: Clearly, you can't know everyone in Oak Creek, but were you familiar with the community at the Sikh Temple?
SS: I've been involved with city government long enough to know that they've gone through an approval process. They're really great community members, great neighbors. I spent a couple of hours with many of the elders of the temple and some of their family members yesterday. Just the chief and I, and no media, just listening to their concerns and talking things out.
I can't be more impressed with the compassion and the kindness of these people, given what happened on Sunday. That they can react in such a peaceful, non-violent manner. It's frankly overwhelming that while I haven't come close to losing anyone in this event, I felt close after speaking to them.
OMC: Are you satisfied with the coverage of the event so far?
SS: I haven't had a chance to really watch any of the coverage. I think if I had a chance to sit down and watch it, I might have a chance to reflect on it. But I literally have not seen any of it. At some point, I'm sure my wife has DVRed quite a bit of this coverage, I'll probably watch some of it. But maybe not.
OMC: How has the support been so far from the greater Milwaukee community?
SS: It's been outstanding. Not even just the media response. I tweeted last night that we had 27 agencies (on the scene) – and it's actually beyond that now – and I've met many of the officers and departments. It's been overwhelming. I've been reached out to by nearly every government agency. Obviously, the governor called me. The President called me Sunday night. It's just been tremendous. Every level of support and kind of support that could be offered has been offered. At some point, I will thank all of these people.
OMC: I wondered how the country would look at Oak Creek and southeastern Wisconsin when this news broke. But so far, no one is pinning the blame on this community. Instead, they're blaming this act on the suspect. Is there any silver lining on how Oak Creek and Milwaukee is coming together to respond to this event?
SS: I'll make these comments tonight: the events on Sunday will not define what this city is about. There is a reason why we have 23 places of worship in this city, of all different denominations and faiths. They are all valued members and improve the diversity of this community. Clearly the Sikh Temple is an example of that.
This will not define us. Every agency I've talked to, every reporter that I've talked to, at any level, has said that how this was handled both by our fire and police and city staff – and hopefully myself – has been handled professionally, at the highest level. I take that compliment. Despite having four months on the job, I think we reacted properly. We've given the information we have when we've had it. We haven't held press conferences to hold press conferences. We've told the truth on this, and I think people respect that.
Andy is the founder and co-owner of OnMilwaukee.com. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.
Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.
Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.