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Lena Taylor: ‘I will be a voice, even when the conversations are uncomfortable’
In an interview with The Recombobulation Area, the state senator talked about using her voice to be a catalyst for change.
The Recombobulation Area is a weekly opinion column by veteran Milwaukee journalist Dan Shafer. Learn more about it here.
The City of Milwaukee is going to have an election for mayor. On February 15, we'll have a primary that could prove to be the most competitive mayoral primary in a generation.
Here at The Recombobulation Area, we’re going to be covering that election and getting into the issues. As part of that coverage, we are interviewing the candidates. Paid subscribers will be able to listen to full audio of those interviews and read a full transcript of what each candidate had to say.
In addition to those longer-form interviews, we’re also going to be featuring some of what candidates said during our interviews in breakout stories like the one you’re reading here.
Lena Taylor, the longtime state senator from Wisconsin’s 4th District, wants to use her voice to spark change in Milwaukee.
“One of the things that I have done that I will do as a mayor is use my voice,” she said. “I've used my voice to speak to the issues.”
In an interview with The Recombobulation Area, Taylor emphasized a number of ways in which she could use her voice to be a catalyst to move the city in ways she says it has stood still. She wants to get involved.
On education, she said, “I do want to be engaged. Period.” On economic development, she said “the city needs to play a role” and that she would be “not at all hands-off.” On changes at the Fire and Police Commission? “I'm talking about demanding what's needed and being the catalyst to make that happen.”
Taylor discussed a variety of circumstances where using her voice has brought about change, and said that as mayor, it would be important to speak out and have tough conversations.
“We need someone who will not keep the status quo because the status quo has made us fall behind tremendously,” she said. “I want us not to be number one in the nation for horrific disparities for people of color. I want to create a place that people can come to, that people want to come to that's safe and prosperous with a wealth of apprenticeships, entrepreneurship pathways and homeownership pathways. I'm running because that has not existed.”
That “status quo,” Taylor said, has led to African Americans leaving Milwaukee in record numbers. She wants to reverse that trend.
“I'm hoping for what happened to Atlanta,” she said. “To say, this is a place you can come, this is a place you can feel comfortable, this is a place where you are welcome, this is a place where you can thrive, and to create that.”
Taylor listed addressing under-developed areas at Northridge and Midtown as priorities, and said that on the top of her to-do list would be the development of the Martin Luther King Library, with the goal of having the “best Martin Luther King Drive in the nation.”
Taylor also shared a number of outside-the-box ideas to make change in Milwaukee.
On the issue of reckless driving, she first emphasized the need to bolster access to affordable drivers’ education. But Taylor also said she wants to engage with groups like NASCAR and the Milwaukee Mile to bring people together “to turn that energy that the young people have into a positive,” to say, “This is where you go fast, not on our streets, but at the Milwaukee Mile. This is what you can do differently.”
On an issue like Milwaukee’s looming budget challenges, Taylor favors a state solution to grow the city’s share of shared revenue, but opposes the proposal to raise the sales tax. Instead, she says, the city needs to create more opportunities for home ownership, and also “think of new revenue streams, new industries, new things we can bring in.” One of those industries? Urban agriculture.
“Urban agriculture is huge for me in a state where agriculture is our number one industry,” she said. “Why are we not maximizing what we can do? Why are we not moving on urban agriculture in indoor growing, which is going to literally grow by 100% in the United States? It's a global market.”
Taylor also doesn’t back down from levying criticism when she feels it’s warranted. She was particularly critical of the city’s pandemic response.
“I think that we haven't done our best job with information so that we can inspire our people to be more concerned about their health, and very candidly, to make the right choices themselves, because I don't think we're going to be able to mandate our way to getting people to do right.”
She was especially critical of the city’s testing and tracing efforts.
“Tracing, we just get an “F.” We get an “F” in tracing. And that's been from the beginning,” she said, adding that the North Shore Health Department was doing things that the Milwaukee Health Department wasn’t. And on testing, “The lines were ridiculously long, people were in them for hours. So, my position is, if you’ve got a long line, maybe you need some more places that you can do testing.”
So, whether it’s getting directly involved in key issues, offering unconventional solutions, or simply offering some criticism, Taylor is going to use her voice.
“I will be one and I have been a voice, even when the conversations are uncomfortable,” she said. “But I am of the belief system that you can't address anything if you don't even admit you have a problem. But admitting you have the problem is the first step of being able to move us in a different direction. And I believe that communication helps us. I believe it helps you to be enlightened about what happens.”
For the full podcast version and transcript of our interview with State Senator Lena Taylor, subscribe to The Recombobulation Area. Get started for just $5.
Stay tuned for more of our coverage on the race for mayor in Milwaukee.
Dan Shafer is a journalist from Milwaukee who writes and publishes The Recombobulation Area. He previously worked at Seattle Magazine, Seattle Business Magazine, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine, and BizTimes Milwaukee. He’s also written for The Daily Beast, WisPolitics, and Milwaukee Record. He’s on Twitter at @DanRShafer.
Follow Dan Shafer on Twitter at @DanRShafer.