Monday, July 30, 2007

Scott Walker Will Never Support City Rail, Move Forward Without Him: Part II

A few days ago, I posted an analysis of Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker's intransigent one-track opposition to rail transit for City of Milwaukee residents.

My point was that Walker is largely a creation of Milwaukee's loud, pro-Republican talk radio show hosts, and for them, blocking rail transportation for the state's largest urban and Democratic population is a means of keeping their suburban audience stirred up.

So Walker is their guy, and he will not, cannot cross them on their most sacred of litmus-test issues. Especially if Walker wants to be promoted some day to the seat held by the region's senior Republican office-holder, US Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner.

So the Journal Sentinel editorial board is spinning its wheels when it urges mediation between Walker, and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett - - as if mediation would bring Walker to the same middle ground on transit that Barrett is already occupying.

Barrett has already offered to basically split $91.5 million in available transit federal funds with Walker.

That would allow the County's bus system managed by Walker to receive some upgrades and also leave Barrett with some financing to begin work on one his priorities - - a three-mile, downtown trolley loop - - for the city he manages.

Walker has more than once rejected that compromise - - as recently as in a Journal Sentinel Sunday, August 29, 2007 Crossroads interview - - and in an earlier discussion in March, among many.

As far back as an April 6th, 2002 Journal Sentinel story during the race for County Executive, Walker was described this way when it came to rail transit:

"Walker is opposed to light rail, or any rail-based option."

So what's to mediate?

Walker has had years to endorse city rail, (coincidentally, just as he has years to lead on pension reform, but hasn't) yet all he's done is finally support commuter rail through Kenosha, Racine and Milwaukee Counties - - a benefit to his suburban base, but a virtual wash when it comes to measurable benefits to the downtown.

As a component to a comprehensive AMTRAK/trolley/commuter rail and bus system, linked at the city's new multi-purpose transit hub in the old AMTRAK station - - sure, commuter rail is a plus.

But as the only new rail option on the table, and in town, it's flawed and wanting.

So how do you get the rail debate on track in Milwaukee?

If you want a rail system for downtown Milwaukee, as the Journal Sentinel has editorially backed, the paper and others with a deep commitment to the city will have to support a candidate for County Executive who shares that vision.

A candidate who can approach modern transit and downtown development linkages with more than a reflexive, politically-motivated "no!"


Dave said...

Barrett asked Walker directly if he would support any transit plan that included rail and he said "No". So he's really not behind KRM either.

Anonymous said...

It reminds me of the debates about extending light rail to the northern suburbs of Baltimore when I lived there. One of the arguments (I'm not kidding) was that those inner city people (black) would use the light rail to gain access to wealthier northern (white) suburbs to steal things.

Quite ludicrous image, a criminal hauling a plasma TV to the train station to wait for the next ride back into the inner city. What a criminal mastermind!

James Rowen said...

To Catherine:

Your Baltimore experience is not unique. When light rail was going down to political defeat around here in the 1990's, the leading opponent, downtown merchant George Watts, said light rail would bring "strangers" to the suburbs.

A remark generally interpreted to mean "minorities."

Anonymous said...

I agree - It is better to go around an obstacle like Walker than through.