Home / Government / Mayors mouth off: Milwaukee, Madison leaders feel disconnect with governor elect (VIDEO)

Mayors mouth off: Milwaukee, Madison leaders feel disconnect with governor elect (VIDEO)

Protesters hold up signs Monday critical of efforts to turn away federal stimulus money for high-speed rail in Wisconsin during a rally at Milwaukee City Hall. (Staff photos by Kevin Harnack)

By James Briggs

The mayors of Wisconsin’s two most populous cities are off to a quiet, yet turbulent start with the state’s governor-elect.

Three weeks before inauguration, Republican Gov.-elect Scott Walker is advancing an agenda at odds with the interests of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, both Democrats.

Walker already thwarted a major transportation project both mayors say would have benefited their cities. But Cieslewicz said he is angry because he never had the chance to voice to Walker support for the Madison-to-Milwaukee high-speed rail project, which died last week when the U.S. Department of Transportation redirected nearly $810 million in federal stimulus money to other states including California and Florida.

Cieslewicz said he called Walker immediately after his successful gubernatorial campaign and followed up several times afterward, but never received a response.

“If this is an indication of how Scott Walker’s going to run his administration, I think we’re in for a very long four years,” Cieslewicz said. “He’s got to understand he’s governor of the entire state and all the people, not a couple of radio hosts in Milwaukee.”

Representatives in Barrett’s office on Monday said the mayor was not immediately available for comment, but that Barrett, Walker’s opponent in the gubernatorial election, also hadn’t spoken to Walker since the election.

Gus Ricca, a member of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, holds a sign critical of Gov.-elect Scott Walker's effort to turn away federal money for high-speed rail in Wisconsin.

At a rally Monday in Milwaukee to support high-speed rail and job creation, Barrett criticized Walker’s opposition to accepting federal money for the rail project.

“This is a happy period right now for the workers in California; this is a happy period right now for the workers in Florida, because they have leadership in those states that recognize that this has always been about creating jobs where people can support their families,” Barrett said.

Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie would not say whether Walker tried to contact Cieslewicz or Barrett, but said Walker “followed through on his campaign promise to stop the Madison-to-Milwaukee train line.”

“Governor-elect Walker will work with all local elected officials moving forward,” Werwie added, “starting when he takes office in January.”

Werwie did not offer specifics regarding when Walker might speak or meet with Wisconsin’s mayors.

Although governors-elect do not always meet immediately with big-city executives, relations seem particularly strained between Walker and the Milwaukee and Madison mayors, said Charles Franklin, a University of Wisconsin-Madison political science professor and co-developer of Pollster.com.

“You’ve got the guy Walker beat (Barrett) on one hand, and Mayor Cieslewicz saying he can’t wait for (Walker) to be the former governor,” Franklin said. “That’s pretty bad before the guy has taken office.

“I would assume at some point in the near future those relations would have to get a little better, just because so much of the state policy — in terms of education and funding for transportation — involves the cities.”

Walker also could need help from Barrett and Cieslewicz to fulfill a jobs pledge, Franklin said, because mayors often are on the front lines for recruiting new businesses.

Some of Wisconsin’s mayors will be in better standing than others with the Walker administration. For instance, before Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt announced last week he would seek re-election in April, Walker said he would consider hiring Schmitt for a cabinet post.

Like Schmitt, the mayors of Milwaukee and Madison could be around for much, if not all, of Walker’s tenure as governor. Barrett has announced plans to seek re-election in 2012, and Cieslewicz also is up for re-election in spring.

While Cieslewicz asserted “the whole state’s gonna have a difficult time working with Gov. Walker,” the mayor also said he wants Madison to partner with the state.

“If he wants to turn around and embrace a modern economy, we’re there to help him do it,” Cieslewicz said. “He’s not off to a very good start.”

Cieslewicz cites Walker’s opposition to stem cell research as another position that eventually could result in job loss from UW-Madison.

Cieslewicz has yet to discuss any of those issues with Walker. But, Cieslewicz said, “It wasn’t for a lack of trying on my part.”

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The Daily Reporter’s Joe Yovino also contributed to this report.


  1. The cry babies in the unions and the dinasaur pro train crowd need to stop whining.
    Wake up. Walker is doing what’s best for the State, not a minority of people who think that they are the only “working people” in the State that matter. Did the same crowd whine about Humpty Dumpty Doyle when jobs at many other companies left the state during the horrible 8 years of a loser democrat regime. You cant’ fix stupid. (Democrats)

  2. Of course both of these democrats would be upset with the Republican Governor-elect. The handouts are going to stop. It’s high time for some real fiscal responsibility.

  3. It wasn’t Milwaukee County Executive Concrete Scott Walker who donated Wisconsin’s hard-fought $810 million to other more-visionary states, it was the incumbent Governor Jim Doyle who snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Why Doyle folded two months before Impeachment-Elect Scott Walker took office will forever remain a mystery. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel poll shows a massive negative reaction statewide on that decision.

  4. Thanks for those rail and construction jobs Wisconsin. Now, if you will just stop all stem cell research at UW-Madison, we can get the researchers, patents, and jobs in bio tech to join the rest of us here in California.

    Stay rusty, my rust belt friends!

  5. If this is an indicator of the type of decisions to come from Scott Walker, I am encouraged. In my opinion, whether or not the the railroad is part of some visionary plan is, to put it bluntly, irrelevant; I have yet to hear a convincing argument about the feasibility of high speed rail in and through Wisconsin. Sure, our overreaching and over-extended federal government will “foot” the bill (at the tax payer’s expense, and with a little help from the printing presses!) for the CONSTRUCTION. However, the maintenance costs and the costs to run the system will likely be supported by the Wisconsin taxpayer. Convince me of the fiscal viability of the project; just like any business would have to do for a prospective client!

    I believe many tough stances will be needed, from this point forward, to try to restore some fiscal sanity to our government. Also, is it the government’s job to keep people working? Maybe it’s time to turn down the tax and regulatory pressure on the businesses, large and small. After all, it is ultimately the businesses themselves who will provide the jobs needed to keep people working.

  6. Unfortunately, this seems like a sign of the times to come. Our Gov-elect seems too willing to voice his opinion to the media yet the door is closed when it comes time to talk or build bridges with other partners that can help this state succeed. He doesn’t seem willing to discuss anything, just 100% agreement with his concession demands. Some day the shoe will be on the other foot in terms of transitioning to another administration and hope the people of this state remember 4 years from now how rudely they were treated.

    This is going to be a very long 4 years – I want my vote back!

    Signed – A Republican

  7. Congratulations Walker on killing investment in WI’s infrastructure. But wait theres more we will still have to pay for it, just now it will benefit everyone else. I’m glad some are encouraged by walkers trampling over everyone who doesn’t agree with him. However as has been stated he is guvner of all WI not just Sykes and Bellings demographics. If he operates as such he will be 1 and done.

  8. When will people realize we are financially tapped out. So often we hear how we are behind Europe in our social programs. To those I say, watch the news. The European Union is having to bail out countries. People are rioting in the streets because their government’s teats have run dry. Someone needs to induce some fiscal responsibility to our government (and our “entitlement” addicted populace) as there is not an American Union to bail us out.

    Should anyone be surprised that the mayors of Milwaukee and Madison are not on board with Scott Walker? Not me. It is a sign Mr. Walker is on the right track.

    Wake up people. Our government has to cut costs and it will impact us all. Let’s start now while we can minimize the impact.

  9. Wake up Scott Walker didnt solve any of Milwaukee’s financial issues, in fact he generally made things worse. Thats why Walker didnt carry Milwaukee, and why he won’t solve the states budget problems.

  10. Sure Jac, Walker really messed things up. Perhaps you should chair the Re-elect Tom Ament committee, especially if you got one of his sweetheart pensions.

    A Republican, any Republican, not carrying either Milwaukee or Madison is hardly news now is it.

  11. An employee of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission once told me that the taxes and fees paid by trucks into Wisconsin coffers pay only about 60-70% of the damage that they do to Wisconsin highways. Who makes up that difference? You taxpayers do. And you can bet those costs are many times greater than new rail passenger services. As it was, the State of Wisconsin spent over $2 billion on its already overbuilt highway system in the last year or so. If costs are really the issue here, that is where Walker should have focused his energies. Oh wait. He probably wouldn’t want to do that after receiving campaign funding from highway concerns!

    Furthermore, do any of you naysayers even understand the passenger-train proposal to begin with? Do you have any understanding about transportation issues in this country in general? Do any of you know that the State of Virginia sponsored a similar rail passenger extension (from Washington, D.C., to Lynchburg) in late 2009 and now it’s making money? The work that was poised to begin in Wisconsin as Walker was (by a thin margin) elected had NOTHING to do with true high-speed rail other than maybe it would foster true high-speed rail many years from now. The project was simply to EXTEND an EXISTING, successful, popular, and continually growing rail passenger service—Amtrak’s Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha Service—beyond Milwaukee to Madison with conventional U.S. train speeds of 79-90 m.p.h. using existing equipment.

    This extension would have provided, for example, Watertown area residents with an easy way to get to Milwaukee’s General Mitchell Field Amtrak station; or, it would have allowed Brookfield/Waukesha County residents an easy way to get to/from Chicago (currently, many of those residents have to drive to downtown Milwaukee or the Amtrak Milwaukee airport station to catch a train to Chicago). It would have allowed Racine-area and north suburban Chicago-area UWM students an easy way to Madison. Most of all, it would have allowed comfortable, safe, fast travel between Madison and Chicago, one of the most heavily traveled travel corridors in the Midwest. I travel on I-90 and I-94 frequently to Madison for business. It’s not pretty and it’s going to get worse.

    Wisconsin has taken a giant leap backward. Oh well, at least your rejected monies will help your friendly neighbor to the south, Illinois. They like their passenger trains and rail ridership figures for their state-supported runs prove it.

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