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11th-hour politics in Milwaukee is ‘Red Hots’

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.

Muhammed Nasir Khan

Muhammed Nasir Khan

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.

2 comments

  1. So let me get this straight…Mr Khan salvages a dying, crime ridden restaurant and the neighbors want to close it because the name alone reminds them of the old business? So the solution here is to remove the business from the community? And leave a vacant building? Yeah, that makes sense. Don’t offer the possibility of jobs, don’t have tax paying small businesses, and don’t offer a service to your neighborhood because you know, that might be bad for it. Or is it possible that the community just didn’t want a Pakistani immigrant?

    Mr Bauman’s version of the story — which I read in the WSJ letters offers no credible explanation beyond the idea that the neighborhood couldn’t get over its trauma of the old restaurant. Nothing he said contradicted the central point of the WSJ opinion piece that the economic climate, contrary to the rhetoric of this administration, is incredibly hostile to entrepreneurs.

  2. This operator put approximately $50,000 into renovating this business that was a total dive. He worked closely with the department in making all the inprovements he needed to run this business. Bauman’s decision destroyed him and his dream. But, of course, Bauman doesn’t take the blame – he shifts it to the department. Today the alderman have given themselves even more power when it comes to issuing food licenses. It’s time someone stops them.

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