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Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2008

South Side Candidates Consider Safety and Development

12th District aldermanic primary features five candidates

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With the murder of Miller Brewing executive Lodewikus “Vic” Milford in Walker’s Point in late January, crime prevention is at the forefront of the minds of the five candidates running for Milwaukee’s 12th aldermanic district, which includes the near South Side and Walker’s Point neighborhoods.

Incumbent Alderman James Witkowiak faces four challengers on the Feb. 19 primary ballot, including Angel Sanchez, who was the district’s alderman from 2000 to 2004, splitting Witkowiak’s cumulative 12 years on the Common Council. In alphabetical order, the candidates are: Edwin Cruz, 48, a We Energies high-voltage underground cable splicer, wants to “make a difference in our community.” He says residents have complained about graffiti, police protection and skyrocketing property taxes for which they see no return. “I don’t know how much of a difference I can make, but I’d like to get into the budget, see where our tax dollars are being spent,” he said.

Cruz said he wants “efficient government” and only favors spending on “vital city services” like fire, police, street, garbage and plowing services. He wants the city to support development with critical infrastructure, but not through “corporate welfare” or “slush money” subsidization or loans paid back through future taxes.

Crime is the biggest city issue, he said, and he’d like to get “a bang for my buck.” Cruz recommended that police and the city focus on prosecuting small crimes or ordinance violations like abandoned cars, license plate violations or smashed windows.

Cruz wants to hold negligent absentee landlords accountable for code violations or owning nuisance properties. He has a goal to rehabilitate 200 to 400 run-down residential properties, giving low-income people an opportunity to own or rent a home.

Cruz does not support the school choice program because he doesn’t think public money should pay for private schools and because there’s not enough accountability for choice schools. Freya Neumann, 65, Title I community relations specialist for Milwaukee Public Schools, said concerned parents asked her to address “safety, education, jobs and high taxes.”

She pointed to a recent study by the Institute for Wisconsin’s Future indicating a $643 million shortfall in state taxes because of “corporations not paying their fair share.” She said she would work with state officials to close corporate loopholes and fund education programs, shifting the burden away from the property taxpayer.

She praised recent efforts by police to reach out to the community, but said a more holistic approach is needed to provide better alternatives for youth than crime—engaging community programs like the Community Learning Center and the Latino Community Center.

She identified the biggest issues facing both district and city as “education and jobs.” Neumann said she would approach the unions to “see what is out there in the market” and seek out apprenticeship and job training programs. She advocates the concept of “best value contracts,” as in Madison, where public contracts are awarded not just on the lowest bid but on social factors, such as contractors providing health care and prevailing wages.

Originally from Mexico and now an American citizen, Neumann holds a master’s degree from UW-Milwaukee and has worked for MPS for 24 years. She is bilingual and is a member of Voces de la Frontera. For more information: www.freyaneumann.com.

Angel Sanchez, 38, who works with Renner Architects building the “condo canyon” by the Milwaukee River, wants “to restore city services,” improve quality of life and increase safety. He recalled his aldermanic record (2000- ’04) bringing in dumpsters for neighborhood cleanups, instituting double-sided parking, reining in parking checkers during road construction and installing stop signs.

Sanchez also said that the 12th District had led the city in economic development, which he said creates jobs and helps the city’s tax base. He noted, however, that the business community finds it difficult to do business in Milwaukee, a mind-set he would like to change in order to “put Milwaukee on the map.” One idea is a district “economic summit” to create a blueprint for desired businesses. He would also like to analyze the developments not approved by the city over the past eight years. He supports light rail.

Sanchez described crime as “out of control” and as the city’s biggest issue, with the police department “overloaded.” Sanchez proposes a “yellow tape rule,” where police would leave crime scene tape up longer to get neighbors to talk about crime. Sanchez would also ask police not to rotate officers through different districts.

Sanchez wants schools to teach financial literacy. He added that addressing health care costs, which are “bankrupting America” and hamstringing the city budget, would require a “collective effort.”

James Witkowiak, 58, funeral home owner and the incumbent (1992-2000; 2004- present), said he wants to keep the most ethnically diverse district as the fastest-improving area of the city.

Proud of rising homeownership rates, Witkowiak said he wants to maintain various initiatives such as a Business Improvement District (BID), two new tax incremental finance (TIF) districts, a new Targeted Investment Neighborhood (TIN) program and a Main Street program. Crime is the biggest issue citywide, he said, but noted that in the district the “perception is much worse than the truth,” with District 12 crime statistically “relatively low and on the decline.” He pointed to neighborhood associations, block watches, crime meetings and district attorney identification of hot spots like drug houses as successful tools in the fight against crime.

Economic development should hold property taxes at bay, if not at some point permit their reduction, he said. To encourage development and increase the tax base, “we have to look at what our competition is,” he said, comparing Milwaukee to its suburbs and other markets, getting creative to match or beat their incentives. Internally, he wants to shift more of the city’s redevelopment emphasis from Downtown to the neighborhoods.

Witkowiak introduced bilingual communication to City Hall and secured funding for the Southside Organizing Committee’s bilingual services. He supports school choice and is endorsed by the Milwaukee Police Association. For more information: www.witkowiak.com.

JoCasta Zamarripa, 31, a community public affairs organizer for Planned Parenthood, said her district needs more than a part-time alderman. “I don’t feel that we have had the representation that we deserve,” she said. While acknowledging the importance of “thoughtful, long-term economic development,” Zamarripa said she wants to flip the aldermanic priorities and put residents’ interests before those of businesses.

Zamarripa advocates the “community benefits” model, where developers agree to community standards such as guaranteeing prevailing wages and affordable housing.

She said the proposed Rivianna Condos project was a good example. Zamarripa wants to work with the mayor and the Milwaukee Area Workforce Investment Board to increase job training and offer small-business incentives that encourage local entrepreneurs. She said crime is the biggest issue for both city and district; she supports bringing beat cops to the district. Zamarripa wants to improve community and police relations, increasing participation in block and neighborhood watches.

Zamarripa volunteered for the Kerry/Edwards campaign in 2004 and as a field organizer for Fair Wisconsin in 2006. She was a bilingual tutor at Kosciuszko Middle School and part-time office manager for the Southside Organizing Committee. She recently graduated from the Latino Nonprofit Leadership Program.

Zamarripa is endorsed by the Center Advocates PAC, Wisconsin’s LGBT political action group and MPS board member Jennifer Morales. For more information: www.forwardwithjocasta.com.

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