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Friday, March 21, 2008

Candidates on Business, Airport and Freeway

Witkowski and DeBraska compete on the South Side

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According to Alderman Terry Witkowski, his South Side Milwaukee district has “problems” that other lawmakers would envy. The neighborhood has high homeownership, relatively low crime, economic engines such as Mitchell International Airport and the 27th Street business corridor, and a lot of civic involvement.

But Witkowski said those assets can be problematic when trying to get attention and services from City Hall. “Other areas [of the city] get financial assistance and help because they are poverty areas and we are not,” Witkowski said. “Because we’re doing well, there’s not a lot of attention paid to us by the city of Milwaukee.”

Witkowski, who has served on the Milwaukee Common Council since 2003, is facing former Milwaukee Police Association head Bradley DeBraska in the April 1 election. While Witkowski is running on his efforts to bring more services to the overlooked district and develop relationships between the city, business and residents, challenger DeBraska is arguing that he can cut “pork” from the city’s budget so that essential services such as police and fire protection are preserved and property taxes can be reduced.

“Middle-class families and the elderly are really struggling and taxes clearly are too high,” DeBraska said. “And that means that some things are going to be cut.”

Safety, Airport and Development Concerns
Witkowski said that he has been working to promote the district as a whole to develop more business activity and neighborhood pride and safety. Witkowski has helped to start two business groups—the Airport Gateway Business Association and the 27th Street Business Association—and nine neighborhood associations.

Witkowski has also brought together elected officials from the area to discuss economic development near the airport. Witkowski had the area declared the “Garden District,” which he feels will spur business development and neighborhood pride while deterring crime.

“This gets people active and gives the area an identity, which also plays into safety and development,” Witkowski said. The alderman said that he’s arranging meetings with Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn to call attention to the district’s safety concerns. Witkowski said that former MPD Chief Nannette Hegerty pulled patrols from the area, believing that they should be used in high-crime areas.

Witkowski noted that he worked with the state to reduce the number of homes that would be taken because of the expansion of Interstate 94, and is monitoring the Department of Transportation’s plan to eliminate an 894 freeway offramp at 27th Street, which could affect businesses there. Witkowski said that he would ask the state to upgrade the streetscaping on 27th Street if business declines as a result of the freeway changes.

“I think that I’ve shown that I’m willing to work hard and be creative and work with groups and individuals to gain them a bigger voice not only at City Hall but with other layers of government,” Witkowski said of his five years in office.

But challenger DeBraska has a dimmer view of the neighborhood’s status and proposes different solutions than Witkowski does. DeBraska said that he decided to run for office “to bring a better quality of life back to the district. We’ve clearly lost it.”

He said that Witkowski has not responded to citizen complaints well enough and that police protection must be restored to the area. “You can sense in talking to people that they don’t feel safe,” DeBraska said. “They don’t have to articulate it, but you can feel it.”

DeBraska said he would ensure that the police and fire departments are adequately funded and staffed by cutting spending in other areas of the city’s budget. “I used to do that as a living when I was with the police department,” DeBraska said. “I had to identify all of the pork and then shift it for [other] issues. I haven’t looked at a budget for three years, but I know that [pork] is there.”

DeBraska said he would fight the state’s proposed changes to 27th Street, saying that businesses would move south to Oak Creek and Franklin to be closer to the freeway exit. “They shouldn’t be restricting or closing the ramp,” DeBraska said. “They should expand it to expand the business district and therefore the tax base in the city of Milwaukee.”

DeBraska said he would like to spur development around the airport because it drives economic development in the region. “The property values are in large part dictated by this development,” DeBraska said. “Depending on what types of businesses want to come in, the community has to have a say in what’s going to be developed. Any business should have a fair and equal opportunity to develop with the community’s interests in mind.”

DeBraska said that while the airport is under the supervision of Milwaukee County, as alderman he could play an important role. “The alderman is critically important in bridging the levels of communication between the homeowners and the business development on the periphery of the airport,” DeBraska said.

What’s your take? Write: editor@shepex.com.

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