By Marie Rohde
Are claims that the city of Milwaukee is choking the life from small businesses with arbitrary and oppressive regulations legitimate? Or are they 11th-hour political ploys aimed at defeating Mayor Tom Barrett in his bid for governor?
Today, the Institute for Justice, a self-described libertarian law firm based in suburban Washington D.C., is releasing a lengthy report entitled “Unhappy Days for Milwaukee Entrepreneurs,” one of reports aimed at eight American cities that the institute says has bad-for-business policies.
The Wall Street Journal on Monday cited the report in an editorial headlined “License to Kill” and specifically mentioned an incident involving an entrepreneur whose hot dog restaurant was shut down hours after it opened. The editorial blamed the death of the business on the caprice of the local alderman, Robert Bauman, and the controversial policy of aldermanic privilege that gives them considerable power when it comes to businesses in their district.
Bauman, who says aldermanic privilege is overrated and played no role in this case, has another version of the story.
The entrepreneur, Muhammed Nasir Khan of Mequon, leased the restaurant at North 27th Street and West Kilbourn Avenue. Then, according to the study, poured hard-earned cash and hours of work into getting the restaurant, Judy’s Red Hots, ready to open. The restaurant had been closed because of health code violations.
Bauman said he warned Kahn that he opposed the reopening because of crime that had occurred on the premises.
“It was a haven for crime,” Bauman says. “Drug deals, all sorts of things that the neighbors were complaining about. He didn’t even bother to change the name. By reopening it, he was saying that it was going to be business as usual.”
Khan, according to the report, was given a permit by the Milwaukee Health Department, one that Bauman said should not have been issued.
Bauman says the decision not to allow Khan to open the restaurant came after a six-hour public hearing. Neighbors, Bauman said, overwhelmingly objected to Judy’s Red Hots reopening, even under new management, because of the impact on the neighborhood.
Bauman charged that the institute’s report, coming out a week before the hotly contested gubernatorial election that pits Barrett against Scott Walker, the Republican county executive, is the latest in a series of politically motivated reports aimed at tarnishing Barrett’s tenure as mayor.
“None of the others held up,” said Bauman. “They are all politically motivated and made for TV.”
Marie Rohde is a staff writer at The Daily Reporter. She prefers the Dog Haus on East Brady Street in Milwaukee.