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The Cold Filtered Ramblings of Gene Mueller

Leadership and tragedy: different cities, different problems, the same appetite for change

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I've only been awake about seven hours this Sunday, but I've already heard/read/seen the word "leadership" used about a kazillion times.

It got worn out as I watched "Meet The Press" where the topic was federal spending and the answer from those in both parties was the same--leadership, be it in Congress or the White House.

I saw it in Alan Borsuk's story about the state of the Milwaukee Public Schools, a piece in which he takes to task almost everyone involved in education: the state, the mayor, the school board, the electorate and the city has a whole.  

I read it again in the Wisconsin State Journal's piece on Governor Scott Walker's legislative agenda--one that he says won't be nearly as divisive, centered more toward leading the state to economic goals and transportation solutions.   Less about Voter ID/same day registration.  More about jobs.

And, I'd see it again in a story in the Dallas Morning News, one that talks about how the city moved forward in the days, months, years and decades since the assassination of President Kennedy there in 1963.   Dallas, rightly or wrongly, got much of the blame.  Instead of wallowing in it, the city's new mayor and other leaders decided to use the murder as a catalyst to fix what was wrong with their town.   From the ambitious (a new symphony hall, regional transit and civic center) to the relatively benign (being able to snag a cab late at night) Dallas got it done, or at least, most of it.  

The point is, they tried.

Borsuk makes the same case for MPS, wondering if it'll take a calamity to make us seriously examine what's wrong with public education in Milwaukee and finally make the hard calls it'll take to fix the system.   One of the experts he quotes points out how it took Hurricane Katrina to drive home those in New Orleans just how truly messed up Crescent City schools were.

Is THAT what it's going to take in Milwaukee?  

Our list of needs is long, aside from MPS.  The Park East, public transportation, minority unemployment, the unanswered question of whether we want to build a new arena.   The BMO/Harris Bradley Center debate is sparking talk of tying the needs of the Bucks to other municipal projects in the form of a tax that could be applied to multiple causes, not just the NBA.   It's what Oklahoma City did, another city struck by unspeakable tragedy years before in the form of the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building.

Milwaukee's had it's share of horrors, too. some of them only months old and all garnering global headlines.   It should be the hope and demand of all of us that our leaders don't need another calamity before being prompted to make hard choices and big decisions.   And, it's on us to demand more.   It's on you to stop accepting business as usual, dismissing inaction as  "that's just Milwaukee" while cracking a joke about how adverse we are to change.

Other cities did what needed to be done--or at least tried--after tragedy.   How cool it would be in this new year to see our town become refreshingly pro-active.  Dark forces, evil deeds and natural disaster prompted other towns to get off the collective municipal duff.   Let's hope we can effect change without such sad motivation.


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