By Jim Rowen for   Published Apr 20, 2004 at 5:21 AM

{image1}Tom Barrett gets all he wished for -- and no doubt a whole lot more -- when he is sworn in Tuesday as Milwaukee's first newly elected chief executive since 1988.

Foremost on most people's minds is the raw racial divide in Milwaukee made broader and deeper during the 2004 mayoral election.

Barrett cannot resolve these deeply embedded and emotional matters in a month or a year, and it's not all up to him; a formal congratulation and pledge of cooperation from outgoing Mayor Marvin Pratt -- no matter how personally hard to do -- would be good for everyone. What he can do, and what he should do, is show he is serious about a serious matter, and use that same thoughtful tone as the signature of all his administration's work.

In the near term, Barrett can quickly establish a solid working relationship with the presumptive incoming council president, Alderman Willie Hines. A two-term African-American alderman representing a central city district, Hines is young, smart, engaged and respected on and off the council. A partnership between Barrett and Hines is in the city's interest. Both can make it happen.

Barrett also needs to devote considerable time on his office calendar and outside the building in the central city, listening to individuals and groups and reinvigorating the relationships he had as a North Side member of Congress. He needs to personally assure African-American Milwaukeeans that their needs and priorities are his, too, because they are the city's. There is genuine opportunity in what the campaign stirred up.

He can add substance with good staff and cabinet appointments and his first budget. That is where key economic development priorities will be funded -- and again, there is no doubt that Barrett will do exactly that.

Barrett can also move quickly on other specifics, and on one over-arching thematic change. First, the specifics:

--Ethics: He pledged in his campaign to strengthen the city's ethics code and enforcement. Talk about a hanging curveball, slow and right down the middle. Hit it out of the ballpark.

Campaign finance disclosure would be enhanced. Lobbyists would register. All gifts would be banned. The possibility of a fourth aldermanic indictment for corruption, suggested in Friday's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, adds urgency to meeting this goal. These initiatives were in Barrett's 100-day plan: They should be part of his 100-minute plan, being rolled out in draft form as fast as staffers can pull them off a hard drive.

-- Transportation: Barrett can strike a blow for improved transportation and regional, cooperative growth by immediately asking Gov. Jim Doyle to endorse spending $91.5 million in approved federal funding to extend METRA commuter train service from Chicago through Kenosha and Racine to Milwaukee. The Southeast Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission has approved the plan: So did the mayors of Racine, Kenosha and Milwaukee last year. As did the county executives of Racine, Kenosha and yes, even the rail-phobic, talk-show driven Milwaukee County executive, Scott Walker.

Doyle stepped back from adding his all-important name to approvals last December after Pratt asked him to wait. But Barrett, who supports the plan, can get this valuable transportation and development engine on track with a phone call to Doyle.

-- City Development: Barrett has a host of key jobs to fill in the City Department of Development (DCD) -- including commissioner and urban planner. Commissioner Pat Algiers has told Barrett she will not apply for the job but will stay until a successor is named. That's good: Barrett should take his time with a national search -- and then make an appointment to serve two purposes: first as a symbol of a new administration and secondly, to serve as a key player in Barrett's redefined development agenda -- partnering aggressively with the private sector, foundations and other governments to push improvements to neighborhoods beyond the downtown.

This agenda should not come at the expense of downtown, because that has been good for the entire region. But it should focus on redevelopment with intensity and dollars -- city, county, federal, business, foundation -- to bring housing, retail and jobs to the North, South and West.

And let's recognize this: The nuts-and-bolts basics of the commissioner's job, and those of the other most important vacant DCD position -- urban planner -- was the expertise and passion that Norquist brought to city government. The goal should be urban design, zoning, planning, architecture, finance, and making them work together.

Look no farther than the magnificent Sixth Street Bridge. Norquist had a direct role in blocking the flat, interstate-style span the state transportation department wanted there, designing the beautiful bridge to bring traffic into, not over, the Menomonee Valley and finding the financing to make the bridge a reality.

He also had credible help in translating ideas from bricks and mortar, in using public planning processes and streamlined rules, when he named UW-Milwaukee urban planning professor Peter Park as DCD urban planner. This pairing -- Norquist as something of a Captain Kirk figure, with Park playing Spock -- added tremendous value to the city, and in large measure is responsible for making Milwaukee a re-energized residential, commercial and entertainment destination.

Barrett will certainly in many ways separate his administration from Norquist's -- and that's how it should be -- in tone, personnel, and goals. But on these two critical appointments, Barrett would do well to consult with Park, who is now Denver's city planner, and with Norquist, the CEO of the Congress for a New Urbanism, in Chicago.

Barrett's broad, over-arching approach to economic development can be the model for changing the way Milwaukee, other governments and the private sector talk to and do business with each other. He has said he will invite a Milwaukee Public Schools official into the cabinet. There is a good chance he can work out a deal with the county to make 911 services more efficient. He can adopt the leadership role proposed in Milwaukee County executive candidate David Riemer's comprehensive plan to merge government and businesses' buying power and drive down the cost of health insurance.

Barrett will be under tremendous pressure to meet and talk with hundreds of groups and individuals. He will also be expected to perform miracles, which is not in the job description.

But if puts the goals of his 100-day plan into motion, and focuses on some quick wins (ethics' reforms, progress on the Park East corridor, lower taxpayer costs for a more attractive Harley-Davidson Museum design), he'll get his footing and find the time for the longer-range work that Milwaukee needs.

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