And Your Election Winners Are … Those Who Delivered in the Middle of a Pandemic

Polls are closed, and I want to thank everyone who stepped up today to deliver a safe and effective election in South Milwaukee amid almost impossible circumstances.

We will let history judge if we should have voted at all in the middle of a pandemic.

But no matter how that story is written it should clearly note the efforts of our clerk’s office, city employees and other poll workers, led by City Clerk Karen Kastenson.

Without them, we never could have pulled this off. Their contributions will long be remembered, and never taken for granted. Heroes, all of them.

I am told things went smoothly, as I knew they would. Turnout today was very low, with 1,212 voting, out of more than 11,000 registered voters. Of course, more than 5,000 people requested absentee ballots, including the approximately 600 people who voted early the last two weeks.

We’ll add up all the numbers and share them in coming days … but it looks like we will fall short of the 7,485 ballots cast in the 2016 presidential primary. (And potentially well short, depending how many absentee voters did not meet today’s deadline for submitting or postmarking ballots. We will see what comes in the mail the next couple of days.)

Whatever happens, this historic election is done, and counting is underway. Results will be announced on Monday.

I know one winner already: Our team. And I’m proud to lead them.

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Indecision 2020: Election is on, and Absentee Ballots Also Due Tuesday, Courts Say

The chaos continues around Tuesday’s election, following two Supreme Court rulings Friday evening.

First, Election Day will be held as scheduled, after Gov. Evers initially ordered it suspended on Monday afternoon, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled.

Then the U.S. Supreme Court court ruled all absentee ballots must either be returned or postmarked by April 7 to be counted — a reversal of a ruling last week that gave voters until April 13.

Details on the rulings here … and you can read my broader concerns about our leaders in Madison here. I also delivered a citywide phone message this evening, and you can see the contents of that here.

Long story short, we will get it done locally tomorrow, thanks to the hard work of our clerk’s office, all of our teams supporting them, and all of those working at the polls and counting ballots in the days ahead. Because that’s what we do. Accountability for our state leaders must come later. 

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Election Chaos, Brought to You by Our State Government

Today’s update from the city. PDF

Governor Evers has ordered the suspension of Tuesday’s election, and Republican leaders have vowed to fight it in front of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

In other words, as I write this, we are less than 18 hours from the start of live voting, and we still do not know what will happen when polls open on Tuesday.

That is a failure of leadership from our governor and lawmakers. Shame on all of them.

Let me be clear: We have been taking necessary steps to make the experience as safe as possible for voters and our poll workers. Whenever the election is held, we are planning to enforce social distancing, sanitizing, and even adding locally made acrylic barriers between workers and the public.

You can read more about the steps South Milwaukee is taking here.

No matter what happens on Tuesday, I can’t thank City Clerk Karen Kastenson and her team enough for getting us ready for this day – and to all of the poll workers (including a number of city workers being redeployed) for stepping up to help this week and beyond.

While many of our poll workers have understandably declined to work on Tuesday, at least South Milwaukee has enough to pull this off. A number of communities in the county are using National Guard members to help.

The City of Milwaukee has been forced to reduce its number of polling locations from 180 to five – five! – for a city of nearly 600,000 people. Oak Creek reduced its voting sites to one, from six. Waukesha, with a population of more than 70,000, also went to just one.

Thankfully, about 45% of registered voters in South Milwaukee have either voted or have a ballot in their hands as you read this, including the approximately 600 who voted in-person at City Hall the past two weeks.

But the reality is stark: That means more than 5,000 people have noted yet, in an election that was expected to draw more than 80% of voters to the polls. Do the math: Unless Gov. Evers’ order is upheld, we could see thousands people at the polls on Tuesday.

Of course, if the election is held, turnout will be lower, and that would be one of consequences of the inaction of our leaders in Madison. There will be disenfranchisement in this election if the election is held on Tuesday. People will “sit this one out” vs. risk infection at the polls – it’s a guarantee.

That is most likely to happen in larger cities like Milwaukee. For example, how many will choose not to vote in the Sherman Park neighborhood, the epicenter of the outbreak in Wisconsin? How many will choose not to vote because of the long lines almost certain to materialize as thousands of people show up at five Milwaukee high schools on Tuesday?

Of course, this has political implications, which is obscene to even think about here. But it most assuredly is being contemplated by some in power, just like most decisions being made in Madison these days, even in the middle of a pandemic. That is the state of our state in 2020.

Many saw this coming weeks ago.

On March 22, I joined more than 300 leaders from across the state in signing a letter to Governor Evers, Rep. Vos and Sen. Fitzgerald asking them to “take action now to reduce the risk of our residents, members of our staff and our election workers, and to avoid unnecessary disenfranchisement of voters.” I helped write the letter that the League of Wisconsin Municipalities circulated for signatures – that is how strongly I felt about this then, and still do.

We heard no response. So I wrote a personal letter on March 26. From it …

Over the weekend, you received a letter from the League of Wisconsin Municipalities co-signed by more than 300 local leaders from across the state, urgently asking you to offer us options around voting in the middle of a pandemic.

Four days later, I have seen no response, and there remains no unified action at the state level. That is a failure of leadership, and, to me, a willful choice to not respond to those who are focused on delivering this election safely and fairly as you read this. Instead, as this election moves to chaos, you offer us hand sanitizer and well wishes.

Again, I received no response. The election was to go on as scheduled.

Meanwhile, local communities did exactly what I thought they would: pursue their own fixes to try and keep the public and workers safe. Some closed early voting entirely. Some limited hours. Some offered it via drive-through, or by appointment. Some asked everyone to purposely misrepresent their situation to get around the ID requirement. Some filed lawsuits, seeking even more dramatic solutions.

Then came the last few days.

Friday’s call for a special session by Governor Evers smacked of a “too little, too late” half measure, with a predetermined outcome made real when the legislature gaveled in and gaveled out their sessions in less than a minute.

But that decision was made years earlier, the result of years of discord and divisiveness between the two parties. There is no way the legislature was going to work with the governor on a solution because in today’s zero-sum game of politics, compromise is weakness. If I’m right, you must be wrong – and you must be angrily criticized and ridiculed for taking the position you do, even during a pandemic. Especially during a pandemic.

Governor Evers knew Saturday’s result the minute he called for a special session. Just as legislative leaders knew what the response would be when they floated the idea the next day of allowing churches to reopen for Easter services. 

In that way, this is just another example of political gamesmanship, rhetorical bomb throwing and disgusting demagoguery at a time when we can least afford viral opportunism.

So it’s no surprise we are where we are today in Wisconsin, faced with encouraging the largest gathering of people in the country in the month of April on Election Day, faced with having to act against the advice of health professionals to hold a live election that could and should be held any number of other, safer, ways.

That’s probably the worst part of this. All along, we have been saying how important it is to listen to the advice of health leaders. “Be safer at home,” they said. “Limit personal contact.” “Stay at home and save lives, and flatten the curve.”

On Tuesday, before Gov. Evers issued his 11th-hour order, we were left with no choice but to ignore their clear directives, due to dysfunction in Madison and the lack of political will to do anything about it.

Shame on all of them.

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April 2: COVID-19 Update Includes Word of First South Milwaukee Death

Here is a PDF version of our update … and more information on the first death of a South Milwaukee resident due to COVID-19.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the victim’s family.

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Supporting Small Business With a Special Edition of “Bridges” Magazine

In February, we announced plans to launch “Bridges,” a new City of South Milwaukee news magazine in partnership with the South Milwaukee School District. We quickly went to work preparing for our first edition … and then the world changed.

So we’ve regrouped, and we have a new plan for our first magazine: A special publication of “Bridges” all about supporting local businesses, including free ad space.

We are proud to announce that each South Milwaukee business will be given space for a 1/6th-page ad – 2.33 inches wide by 4.875 inches tall – to promote their operations during and/or after the emergency order.

Let customers know what your business is doing during these challenging times. What ways are you meeting with clients during this time of social distancing? Are you offering carryout or delivery? Any special discounts or free add-ons? If you are closed now, what are your plans to reopen when this crisis is passed? You get the idea.

Interested? Fill out this form by noon on Thursday, April 2.

You can either submit your own completed ad (high-resolution, color PDF for print), or complimentary ad design will be provided, if needed. All ad content will be needed by end of day on Tuesday, April 7. We will not be able to accommodate you after this date.

We are anticipating mailing the newsletter the week of April 13.

The City of South Milwaukee is fully funding design, print and mail costs, and we and the school district will include a small amount of content related to our local response to COVID-19.

Thanks to Caprile Marketing/Design for stepping up to help with this issue.

Design or other questions? Call Barb Caprile at 414-215-7999.

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A Community Coming Together in a Crisis

South Milwaukee always steps up. Always. And it is now, as we get through the COVID-19 pandemic, together.

  • I’ve already written about the work our city teams are doing. The selfless, team-first approach being shown by our workers – led our first responders, Health Department and Clerk’s office, which is trying to run an election in the middle of all of this, as well as the nurses coming out of retirement to help, the Street personnel helping guide in-person absentee voters as they arrive at City Hall, and others staffing up to process absentee ballot requests, and more – their work continues to inspire me. 
  • Local retailers like Walmart, Pick ‘n Save, Ace Hardware, ALDI and Mara’s Sewing House have stepped up to assist the city in obtaining supplies that are critical to assure continuity in essential city operations. Mara dropped off 50 hand-sewn masks at the South Milwaukee Fire Department on Friday – adding to the 100 already donated anonymously. Learn more on the department Facebook page
  • South Milwaukee Human Concerns, as usual, is stepping up too. While they have limited their hours, they continue to their mission of getting food in the hands of those who need it most – a need that will only grow as the economic recession takes hold. Details here
  • And don’t forget South Milwaukee schools and the Grobschmidt Senior Center – they are also working to ensure no one goes hungry during this emergency. 
    • The Senior Center continues to serve drive-through lunches for seniors Monday-Friday. Interested? Or know a friend, neighbor or family member who is? Sign up here
    • Also, the South Milwaukee School District is resuming its meal service program on Monday, March 30. All kids in the city are eligible, with lunches (and a breakfast pack for the next day) being served from 11:30 to 1 p.m. at three locations. Details here
  • We are stepping up as a city to help local businesses, too. Details here
  • A special shoutout to American Acrylics USA, a South Milwaukee company that has stepped up to quickly produce plastic shields we will use to separate voters from our poll workers on Election Day, April 7. The order came in Thursday and they quickly tackled the project – and other communities are ordering too. Thanks to owner Mike Wittman and all of the workers at this local company, as we take the steps necessary to keep us safe come Election Day, proudly shopping local in doing so.
  • Businesses are helping businesses, too. One example: Last week, Rose Mob Grill food truck cooked food from the temporarily closed South Milwaukee Café, lest it go to waste, with all proceeds going to the cafe owners. They also donated a portion of proceeds and all tips to Human Concerns during fish fry service, and donated food to hospital workers. Owner Brittany Rosales is also supporting Moran’s Pub with sales from their online store.
  • I also love how churches are stepping up, offering remote worship in many cases, daily affirmations and more.

Know of another example of South Milwaukeeans stepping up to help? Let me know! brooks@smwi.org.

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The New “Temporary” Normal of Church Services in South Milwaukee

It’s a new normal for South Milwaukee churches, too.

Click the links to see how some area congregations are changing their approach to worship amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Many are doing some sort of Facebook Live or recorded YouTube video services.

We can use all of the prayers we can get these days.

Here is a sampling of those offering online worship …

If I missed one, let me know!

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