The Words We Choose


So said one person in their comments on a blog post I shared about the new health order issued following Wednesday’s Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling. I did not publish it, per my policy, because it was also full of swear words.

But I share it here to say this is where we are when it comes to political discourse in America, in Wisconsin, in South Milwaukee.

Granted, this is an extreme example. But a quick scan of social media in the past week, and beyond — including my own blog and Facebook pages — shows a host of ugly, personal attacks, accusations and name calling.

Some have called me a “dictator” and “king” and “tyrant” for standing behind the local health order in place across all but one community in Milwaukee County right now. I have been called “Herr Brooks” for supporting our health officer and other health experts in trying to take a responsible, measured, and safe approach to reopening, for fear of unnecessary sickness and death. I’ve been called a liar, lawbreaker, a “POS,” and a hater of small business (despite being a small business owner myself and spending more than a decade fighting for them in South Milwaukee).

Of course, this is not only in our city. This is happening across social media — and in normal discourse — and about and from leaders across our country, about and from the highest levels of government to those on the front lines. It’s happening in neighborhoods, among friends and families.

This has somehow now become OK in 2020 America, and I can’t stand for that. I won’t stand for that. We are better than this. We have to be better than this.

We need to get back to a place where we can agree to disagree reasonably, where we can respect opposing viewpoints and those who hold them, where we can overcome differences amicably to work together and get things done. We must move away from our “winner takes all” mentality,  away from a place where politics is a zero-sum game, away from a place where “if I’m right, you are not only wrong, you must also be shouted down and ridiculed because of it” — and to a place of mutual respect.

The division must end, and it starts with the words we choose, starting with me.  I am passionate in my viewpoints, and last week said a few things on Facebook in the heat of the moment I’d probably take back if I could. I can do better, too.

As we move ahead, let me be clear: I can take it, and I will as I have for more than a decade in politics. In many ways, this is what I signed up for. I’ve taken my share of arrows, and I welcome and encourage disagreement. I have even created platforms (including this one) to allow people to do so. I will continue to share information all of these platforms, always putting a high value on communication and transparency.

With that in mind, I offer this ….

  • While I will continue to post on Facebook as a means to share information to a large audience quickly, and will continue to monitor comments, I will likely not engage on any comments that tag me. It’s overwhelming, and Facebook is not the right platform to have reasonable debates on issues, at least not now.
  • Instead, email me at
  • Or call me and leave a voicemail at 414-768-8049. I receive an email message with an audio file of all voicemails left on my office line.
  • You can also comment on my blog, constructively. I will attempt to respond to all questions raised in that manner.
  • I’ll also respond to as many questions via direct Facebook messages that I can.

In other words, there are plenty of ways to contact me, and I will always make sure that is the case. I welcome feedback, and I will take all of it with my head held high, always staying focused on making what I think are the best decisions I can on behalf of the people who have entrusted me with the responsibility of leading this city.

I take that responsibility seriously, and will continue to work toward a day of respectful debate, constructive criticism and acceptance that we are stronger, together.

Stay healthy, and united, South Milwaukee.


Filed under South Milwaukee

17 responses to “The Words We Choose

  1. Jan Schoenung

    That’s the problem with social media. Everyone is in everyone else’s business and write things they would probably not ever say to your face. This is why I stay away from social media.
    There’s nothing wrong with voicing your opinion, it’s your right. But as my mother would say, if you have nothing nice to say about someone, don’t say anything at all.

  2. Pat Jursik

    Good for you. Cudahy with hundred cases of Covid is the last community that should open. Our test right now should be public interest and common good, not greed and selfish demands.

  3. June Marie Ruszczynski

    Unfortunately, this reflects the direction society seems to be heading in. Profane, Godless, and disrespectful. I certainly hope that the above is an exception to the kind of response you usually get. I think you are doing an excellent job navigating in uncertain circumstances.

  4. Robert Kieck

    Mayor, sometimes we all say things we wish we could take back. We are only human and that’s just part of our nature. It takes a big man to say what say what you said, but it takes a stronger man to stand up for what he believes in. Stay strong, there will always be those that don’t agree with you and think they can do a better job but don’t do anything. 1 Timothy 2:2 says to pray for those in authority. My prayers are with you. God’s blessings Pastor Kieck

  5. Daniel D Reszel

    Thanks, Erik, for doing your best to lead South Milwaukee through this awful pandemic. I appreciate you being guided by facts, data and science and not by emotion.

  6. Erik Harelstad

    This is a toxic environment where people present the worst of themselves. It takes a strong person to do public service it takes a very weak person to wish horrible things into others.

  7. Jackie Drummer

    Thank you, Erik, for choosing to lead, even when the going gets tough. Though we can and will have differences of opinion, we must remain civil. Our children are watching how we adults treat each other, now and always.

  8. jhayslett

    This kind of hatefilled, venonmous and anti-family screed is so disappointing, Erik. But, as you know, it’s much more prevalent these days in which social media provide not only a platform, but also the kind of anonymity hoods and bedsheets gave KKKers before some national leaders indicated that public and blatant expression of bias, hatered and violence is OK. Lacking in today’s “Don’t tell me I can’t” attitude of some people is any concern for what would be for the greater good of our community or society. Babs wanting to get her hair done and Bubs wanting to hoist one with his buds at the pub is their priority, not who they might infect, apparently even if it’s some one in their own family. As you know, we have not always agreed on everthing, but I appreciate and respect your leadership in South Milwaukee and neighboring communities. Our city is stronger and better for it.

  9. Marlene Ott

    I am so sorry you are subjected to such hatred and disrespect. It is heart-breaking to see the level of incivility so many of our citizens have stooped to. It puzzles me to try to figure out what a person who writes such nasty stuff hopes to accomplish by doing so. It makes him/her look foolish and unbelievable formed and self centered. I’m proud to see that SM has stood strong with every other community except one and continues to follow the guidance of health experts as we make decisions. I’m proud of you for your courage and unfailing respect of everyone, whether they deserve it or not. SM has been blessed by your leadership as you work to beautify the community, clean up Main Street, and encourage small businesses.

  10. Ron

    Well said Erik. Keep up the many avenues of communication you have started, you are doing an awesome job!

  11. Pay & Jack DerHovsepian

    We too have found you to be a strong leader for South MIlwaukee.

  12. Brian

    Well said. Keep up your strong leadership. Just a comment on the Supreme Court ruling because I get a sense from reading people’s comments that they do not understand it. The ruling did not at all deal with the merits of having a shut down. The ruling did not address the core health issues. And I think the court realized they did not have the expertise to address this. What the ruling did say is that the governor’s office should have obtained the legislatures approval before executing this order. This was all about process not the merits of the order or the health concerns.

  13. Chris

    Well said but why would somone say such things?

    Could it be you Mayor, are controlling what is commented on your board, and you only select the content that approved your actions, and make you seem like you have 100% support of the community, yet you refused to “Approve” and print anyones comments you didn’t agree with, because it was against you? Fact? I know this happened.

    Could it be you actually overstepped your communities Constitutional Rights and ability to make a living? Who are you to ignore the US and WI state superme courts judgements, and you are playing Ruler, over your community? Yet you follow the Dem Gov orders over the Supreme Courts Judgement? Talk about actually ignoring America’s Supreme Courts Law and Rulings. You call yourself “Honest”?

    Understand Mayor, you are getting paid now aren’t you during this crisis? Why? Why don’t you stop all your incoming cash flow for 2 months, and see how easy it is to make a honest living for our family and children. I never seen City Hall give 1 penny or food to a single person during this entire emergency, or help work out anyone rent payments they need to make or they’ll get kicked out of the apt? Why? Oh thats right, you own your home and rich now aren’t you, vs those who work a cooks and in your small local businesses, who lived paycheck to paycheck? Why don’t the city buy food and give it to our cities citizens in honest need?

    Imagine your very families food table and jobs are taken away, by a Mayor, who oversteps 2 Supreme Courts rulings of Constitutional Rights of its citizens, and they don’t support their legal right to live free, or go to work?

    You only provided 1 point of view, and refuse to actually step into those in dyer needs shoes realistically, and in fantasy only, so you have no clue how those who worked in local businesses, and now no income to pay rent, or food, and you use worthless words calm them. How do they get free food or rent during this crisis? You are professional and have savings, and bering Mayor, we all know you can walk into any bank or business in SM, and they’ll rollout the red carpet to you, and give you anything you want. That does not work for say a 22 year old family, with children, who flip burgers or work in your cities businesses to put food on their table, and live paycheck to paycheck. Now week 10, still not a single paycheck or help by your city, so they are to stay calm?

    So you think everyone is in the same condition as you, all awhile you and all city employees, many who don’t work, still get full pay during this crisis. Pull their money and give to your community. But thats not how it works now does it?

    So Mayor, words do matter, but your inaction to your community harms its vast majority of your community members. You silence them by refusing to approve any comments in the past on this blog, that were against you, and you simply just trashed their commons negative to your actions, so you can keep this game playing, into the 2020 elections.

    But you fail to comprehend peoples contsitutional rights to work, or make a living you have removed, and why people are upset. Freedom to individually choose to go outside or not, it up to the person, as the Constitutional states, but you as Mayor removed this freedom of choice, and imposted this born Constitutional Right and invaded their rights as a US citizen.

    Remember, only 450 WI people died of this virus, out of 5.8 million people. More people die in car accidents, and 5,000 died this season of the flu, yet shut down our nation for 450 deaths? FL and GA fully opened up weeks ago, and their numbers of infected actually dropped – so you see, this is about the election. During the 1918 pandemic, they kept people indoors and learned being inside caused the spread more then those outdoors. Even the BBC last week, had their health Direct say on BBC TV, that not enough people died.

    So removing comments that are against you and your policies, keeps the readers in your army of one brain thinking, like lost brainless sheep, that leaves no way to grow, learn, or view things in other community members expereinces. But glad you now approve comments that question your judgement, something you never did before. You are learning and growning into Freedom. Next you need to learn Constitutional Rights of your community members, and let them have their god given rights, and no longer follow criminal Gov officials who go against Supreme Court Law, that clearly, you follow blindly. Power that important to you?

  14. Debra Manske

    The Constitution protects first “Life,” second Liberty, then happiness. I wish this particular situation contained only the consequences of behavior for the individual deciding for him/herself, but the behavior can have significant consequences for innocent others. Thanks for considering that, Mr. Mayor, you have in all instances acted for the greater good and protection of our most fragile citizens (the measure of an exemplary society). Hang in there. This is tough. We’ll do alright together.

    • Chris

      Betcha you own your own home, and have a paying job, with a bank account filled that this doesn’t affect you.

      Guess you care not on how families are suppose to make money to feed their children, nor have a income to pay rent. So how much money did you give to help others from your own pocketbook. Betcha you didn’t give 1 penny, as you sit on your weekly income you get. Guess you think all those working in small businesses in SM, they are live like you, with a bucket full of money. This is how those who have, don’t care about those that do not have need to keep the masses down.

      Your #1 Life, is being taken away to many, because you control and surpress the #2 Liberty, thus you are causing the death of life to many by controlling illegally their Liberty… See how your #1 and loss of life and heath is being caused your removal of #2 Liberty of others? You just don’t comprehend your #2 control is causing loss of life #1. Just because it does not affect you, you think everyone lives as you do. Which clearly, isn’t normal. Your are brainwashed not put your real feet in others shoes, and don’t comprehend the hardships many face. Follow what I say and comply.. I am right and you all wrong. We are with you, but you give not 1 penny or offer a homeless family into your home and give them shelter. Didn’t the good book say do this?

    • Jan S

      “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” That’s in the Declaration of Independence, NOT the US Constitution. As for the rights given US citizens in the Constitution, ALL bear equal weight under the law, regardless of the order they appear in the document. YOU have the right to stay in you home and protect yourself from a virus. This does not outweigh MY right to move about MY country freely. Despite what you, Brooks, and others would like to see, the uniform in my closet still has the flag of the United States of America on it and, as long as their is breathe in my body, I will fight to defend that flag and all the rights it represents!

  15. Michael Hundt

    Facebook and other social media have become a platform for the most vocal. Unfortunately, many times the most vocal are the most negative.
    Hang in there, “Boss” !

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