Milwaukee mayor also rips critics over withdrawn slaughterhouse proposal

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett had plenty to boast about in his 2020 State of the City address — the looming Democratic National Convention, the ongoing development boom, the reduction in crime and national publications’ rediscovery of the city as a tourism destination, but the mayor’s remarks Monday also took aim at an effort to purge thousands of voters. 

The four-term mayor criticized Republican efforts to curb voting access, including the conservative group Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty’s recent effort to scrub more than 200,000 Wisconsin voters from registration rolls.

“This isn’t what democracy looks like,” Barrett said. “This is what disenfranchisement looks like.” He said efforts such as the voter purge and strict ID law disproportionately affect poor people, the elderly and students. 

He went on to say it’s “a dangerous assumption” that anyone deregistered in the purge would have the necessary documents on-hand for registration on election day.

“Every eligible resident of this city has a right to vote,” Barrett said.

Barrett has for months been a vocal opponent of WILL’s voter-purge lawsuit. The lawsuit is currently caught up in lower courts, but could end up at the state Supreme Court.

Last week, the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors voted 14-3 to allocate an additional $50,000 to voter registration and education efforts after about an hour of discussion. The additional funds doubled the existing budget, Wisconsin Public Radio reported.

The Milwaukee County resolution says the county “supports the enfranchisement of its voting citizens” and identifies voter suppression as an issue that “often disproportionally (sic) affects lower-income and black voters.” It also implies that WILL’s lawsuit directly targets Madison and Milwaukee voters because the cities’ residents historically vote for Democrats.

The mayor also took some time of his speech to slam “some elected officials” who in October effectively killed a proposal from meat company Strauss Brands to relocate its headquarters to Milwaukee’s north-side Century City Business Park. Strauss ended up withdrawing its plans.

Animal-rights protesters, many of whom came from out of town, argued the facility would bring odors and pollution to the area. Milwaukee Alderman Robert Bauman, whose district does not include the business park, sided with them. The district’s alderman, Khalif Rainey, initially supported the project but reversed course after the protests.

“Two-hundred fifty good jobs, good union jobs, were turned away based on deliberately false statements from people who put politics and naked self-interest ahead of the needs of Milwaukee residents,” Barrett said. “We cannot tolerate this.”

In an email Monday afternoon, Bauman said he was not at the address but pointed to his vote to bring the proposal out of committee to the full city council.

“I voted in the affirmative so I have no idea who the mayor is talking about,” Bauman wrote. However, Bauman was the first to move to send the proposal back to committee. He also criticized Barrett in statements to the media, saying the mayor’s administration “mishandled (the project) from the start.”

Rainey could not immediately be reached for comment.

Strauss is currently headquartered in the city of Franklin, a southern Milwaukee suburb. The company’s new $60 million facility would have initially employed about 250, with entry-level union jobs paying $14 to $17 per hour, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. In his speech, Barrett described the proposal as a “clean and modern facility” with “an ethical and responsible operation.”

“In the end, Strauss continues to operate in a Milwaukee suburb, far away from the neighborhoods where jobs are needed most,” Barrett said. “Those who spread falsehoods should be ashamed.”

Perhaps in reference to Gov. Tony Evers’ year of clean drinking water proclamation in 2019, Barrett boasted about the city’s achievements in minimizing lead poisoning. Milwaukee has reduced lead poisoning in the city’s children by 70 percent since 2003, according to the city Health Department.

Barrett said the city has replaced more than 2,500 lead water lines since 2017 and has given 13,000 water filters to households.

“We’ll continue to fight for state and federal funding to keep our children from all lead hazards,” he said.

The city also received a $5.6 million federal grant last year to help with lead paint abatement.