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Q&A with Mayoral Candidate Ieshuh Griffin (TRANSCRIPT)
Part of our coverage of the race for mayor in Milwaukee. The primary is Feb. 15. If you live in the city, you'd better be voting.
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.
This is part of our interview series with the candidates for mayor of Milwaukee. Each candidate was asked the same series of questions on topics including local control, the covid-19 pandemic, segregation and racial disparities, economic development, population growth, immigration, transportation and infrastructure, reckless driving and vehicles thefts, public safety, and education. At the end of each interview, we had a “lightning round” with some more lighthearted, Milwaukee-specific questions.
Free subscribers will be able to read many of these answers in stories in the coming days. Paid subscribers will have access to the full interview as a podcast and as a transcript.
Below is a full transcript of The Recombobulation Area’s interview with Ieshuh Griffin. Listen to the interview as a podcast here.
Dan Shafer, The Recombobulation Area: Greetings and welcome to The Recombobulation Area. My name is Dan Shafer. The City of Milwaukee is going to be having an election for mayor. In less than a month, on February 15, we'll have a primary that could prove to be the most competitive mayoral primary in a generation.
Before we all cast our votes, we're going to be talking to the candidates. There are seven people on the ballot, and it's time for us to get into the issues. Joining us today is community activist, Ieshuh Griffin, thank you for being here.
Ieshuh Griffin: Thanks for having me.
Let's just let's jump right into it here. First question. Why are you running for mayor?
I’m running because I'm trying to effectuate change from the situation that we've been in, a dire situation we’ve been in for a long time under the reign of former Mayor Tom Barrett. The discrimination, the lack of fairness, and the repeatedly failing to have effective representation that we've had in the city.
One of the biggest issues facing the city right now, and one that I've written a lot about is local control. The City of Milwaukee is not far away from being in a very difficult situation with its budget. That situation is very much tied to the state of Wisconsin, which has shrunk the city's portion of shared revenue, and denied options for new revenue sources, like a sales tax increase.
What would be your big picture strategy for addressing this issue?
I’d have to look at the clarity of the legislation, and to work with the state as it relates. Because in all honesty, a city is really nothing more than a creature of the state. With the collaboration and the rights of the city and the responsibility of the state as it relates to the city, I will look in depth info, and see how that will benefit the city as it relates to local control, how far we can control things and what we can do to kind of loosen the grip of the state.
Do you think Milwaukee should raise its sales tax?
Not at all. I think we need to look at what we have going on now. I don't think anything that's not conducive to the needs of the people should be looked at unless it's something as far as the corporate tax. We've been relaxed along with the corporate tax, that will be something that I wouldn’t have a problem looking into. But to penalize the people repeatedly, it's like no tax is high taxation, no representation, because it still gives us sales services or the dwindling resources. I definitely would not look at raising the sales tax, I would look at other options.
Another big issue facing the city is, of course, the COVID 19 pandemic. Hard as it is to believe we will soon be entering the third year of this pandemic in America. How would you evaluate the city's response these past two years and what would be some of your priorities going forward?
As it relates to the city's response, I think that the former mayor, even the acting mayor are just not doing the job that needs to be done for the people. As it relates to the COVID-19 itself, you have to look at the constitutionality of trying to force vaccination on people and mandates to wear a mask. And that's not the issue. The issue should be reducing the number of COVID-19 cases by utilizing the resources that are given to us on a city level. There is no emergency anymore, when I say there’s no emergency anymore, there’s no order, there's no government order of that nature.
So I think at this point, the government is using a COVID-19 excuse over and over to stop services that were in place before COVID-19 even came about. But as it relates to COVID-19 itself, I'm definitely willing to look at resources to help stop the spread of it, to educate the people how they can be best protected, but I'm definitely not for vaccine mandates and mask mandates and punishing city workers that they don't give vaccines because that oversteps the boundaries and the authority of the city.
The pandemic isn't the only crisis the city has faced in recent years. The City of Milwaukee declared racism to be a public health crisis in 2019. This is a city that's often referred to as the nation's most segregated and continues to see some of the worst racial disparities in the country, on economic inequality, on education, mass incarceration, on housing, the list goes on. What would you like to see done as mayor to address issues like segregation and racial disparities?
That's one of the reasons why I'm running because of the discrimination, discrimination in services and racial inequality, I'll have a zero tolerance for discrimination. Equality across the board, regardless of race, gender, or economic status. That's one thing that I will advocate. Prompt, courteous service. I also have community compliance officers looking at where the government is telling people; I would like to study the ratio of the denial of services. I would not allow that to happen under my administration.
Milwaukee is one the most segregated cities in the nation. And I think that the failed services over and over in the targeted areas is by intent. From the school system, to the jails, to housing, it affects a greater dynamic on one group of people didn't the other. However, as a totality, we're all being affected by it. And I think one the reasons Milwaukee is not a top tier city is because of blatant racism. Have we not had racism and discrimination, if we work together in a unified manner, Milwaukee will be phenomenal.
So last year, in particular, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the protests made a big impact on the city. How do you see that movement continuing to impact policies and conversations in Milwaukee going forward?
I'm not wanting to say it's a Black Lives Matter thing. I think all lives matter. But at some point, some issues are Black, some issues are white, some issues are Hispanic, some issues are Asian, and it all depends on what is going on in that situation. If Black lives really matter, we shouldn't wait for Black life is killed. Or only categorize Black lives matter when police do something. We should say Black lives matter from the start of birth. White lives matter. Asian lives matter. Homeless lives matter. Life matters, period. I'm trying to bring up equality, not division. And it's true that certain people hurt certain minorities, certain groups, even women have issues that other groups do not have. I will look at that as a case by case basis, not a broad generalization of everybody.
Just to go a little bit further, like with the homicide and suicide. Homicide is the lowest amount of gun violence in the city was suicide was 71% higher. Suicide are a majority by white males, and I think that's because of the stigma on white males. There’s a stigma that’s on Black males. The stigma of racism. Because of inequality, because of discrimination white men are often depicted as being racist, when, in reality, that's not always the case. But I think that the suicide is because of the stigma that's put on people just like the homicide, and the the crime rate, because people are profiled. If we looked at homicide and suicide together, we’ll see a lot that’s in common for them both.
I want to switch gears a little bit and talk about the mayor's role in economic development in the city. You mentioned before, you're critical of Mayor Barrett, he often used TIF districts, taxing incremental financing districts for big projects. The city often uses grants for various projects around the city. Obviously, there's many different approaches we've seen over the years.
But when you look at the big picture for development, do you want the city to be more proactive about what's going to happen? Or do you prefer more of a hands-off approach, letting businesses or developers make decisions?
Definitely proactive. Because we have resources when we want the resources. I'm looking at development and redevelopment and collaboration with small businesses in general. We definitely need to be hands on. That’s why I say one of the most underrated things in the city is our services because the services are there, they're not being utilized.
So what's one development project in the city that would be on the top of your to-do list?
IG: I have an “Ieshuh for the People” plan. One of them is for economic neighborhood development under supervision, bringing the people literally to the table for long-term sustaining jobs employment. For the dollar houses, trying to get the boarded up homes and dollar houses back into the hands of the people. Financial literacy. Also a juvenile justice plan, so we can try to bust the pipeline to prison by utilizing some of these services or resources to give vouchers to children to do things such as revamping the driver's education program to stop or curb reckless driving. There are a number of different initiatives I have in the “Ieshuh For the People” plan that I would love to put in place if given the opportunity to as mayor.
The 2020 Census results show that Milwaukee has not been growing, from a population standpoint. Do you see that lack of roof as a problem? And what are some of the ways that you think the city should address that?
I think it’s because of the racism, the discrimination, the lack of jobs, the poor housing, the failed leadership, people are leaving. I think to kind of circumvent that, we have to do better. A wound doesn't heal from the outside in, it heals from the inside out. It starts with the government, and putting the needs and addressing the needs of the people first. And that's something that I look forward to doing if I’m elected mayor. Every policy should be every policy should have a goal with solutions and not just studies.
One of the areas where the population didn't see growth over the last decade was in Hispanic and Asian communities. Where do you see the mayor having a role on an issue like immigration?
Well, it all depends on what we’re saying as it relates to immigration. Are we only talking about giving them equal opportunity? I’m definitely going to look into the laws and how we can apply the laws to afford people equality. We can't be a person’s judge, jury and prosecutor. We don't know the dynamics and the reasons why immigrants come, leave or come back. As long as it’s in a manner that's legal and in accordance with the law, I believe in opening the door and welcoming all our citizens of Milwaukee and giving everyone an equal opportunity.
Another issue I've written a lot about is transportation and infrastructure. I wrote a long series on the proposed expansion and widening of I-94. And in particular, wrote a bit about the possibility of tearing down the Stadium Freeway, Highway 175, and converting it to a boulevard with the goal of kind of connecting some of those neighborhoods on the west side of the city. State officials did not rule that out as a possibility down the line. So what are your thoughts on the future of the Stadium Freeway and kind of just the infrastructure in general, on the west side of the city with the I-94 expansion?
I’ll advocate for that as well. I think that was a good idea. It’s just about seeing it come to fruition. Infrastructure is definitely a responsibility for the city, as it relates the design and construction, operation, things of that nature. Again, looking at the resources and coming together and collaborating about the funding for the infrastructure.
What are your thoughts on the I-94 expansion proposal, in a more broad sense?
I don't have a problem with that at all. I think expanding I-94 would stop a lot of different traffic accidents and things of that nature. I don't have a problem with expansion at all. I would like to see such expansion come into existence.
Something else that's been coming up over and over again lately in Milwaukee is the issue of safe streets, reckless driving vehicle thefts. What would be your strategy to address these issues? And how would that differ from what some of the other candidates who are running for mayor have been talking about?
Reckless Driving is not just about car theft. Drunk driving is reckless driving. Speeding is reckless driving. And also car theft definitely is reckless driving. We have to look at each category in itself. As it relates to drunk driving, I would advocate for ignition locks that correlate with breathalyzers and can lock the ignition at a certain point. As far as car thefts, a brake lock that only the owner knows the combination to. As it relates to car thefts, a kill switch in an app that will lock a person in the car and go directly to the police. So each situation will have its own unique way of having a solution with each one.
A new poll has ranked public safety as the top issue in this race. Milwaukee has been experiencing significant increases in violent crime in recent years. After a decline in the latter part of the 2010s, the homicide rate has gone up again with record high numbers in the past two years, but along with a new mayor, Milwaukee has a new police chief and several new members of the Fire and Police Commission. So with this new leadership in place, what can the city do differently to combat violent crime?
Public safety is a function of the government. But public safety is to ensure the protection of citizens and their well being not just in violent crime and crime overall. Public safety is the responsibility of the city, the county and the state, in collaboration together. And I think to utilize the resources that we have to offer people hope, jobs, counseling, even sensitivity training, and I think these things combined can stop the runaway train before you get that far.
(Audio gets distorted)
Adultery is listed as a crime. It's a felony in Milwaukee, so do we enforce adultery, statute as it relates to crime and prosecute those who speak with married people? So it's a matter of perception. What crimes are we trying to enforce? Why do we not enforce other laws and relax on certain laws and enforce others? Are we purposely trying to stigmatize people or do we fight crime altogether? Do we have the resources to say, you know, because there's a situation in a real life situation where a person had an affair, went out and got drunk and actually almost killed somebody. Crime, crime, crime. The whole situation was something criminal. And so it’s not to make light of a situation as relates to crime, but I’m saying that we have to as the city officials have to take crime serious and in all dynamics, all categories, and put the resources to where it needs to be with counseling, addressing people’s needs, having jobs readily available, housing, things of that nature to take some of the stress off the people so that they don't get desperate to do certain crimes, and don't feel like there's no way out.
One more question here on the topic of education. With the way government is structured in Milwaukee and Wisconsin, the mayor does not play as direct a role as some other elected officials as pertains to education but it is another issue that has been top of mind for many as of late with many schools in the state having to go virtual again, teachers in schools constantly having to adjust. What type of role do you think the mayor of Milwaukee should have when it comes to education?
The mayor does have say so on charter schools, appointing people on the committee. Charter schools can be examples of how we can get the education curriculum and students' needs right on track. And then we can correlate it with MPS because, like Lena Taylor has pointed out, the city owns the buildings, and could require things if they want to utilize the buildings. Also, the use of buildings for private schools, and also collaborating with the county and the state because education does not belong to one agency, they didn’t put the power in the hands of one agency.
I’d also advocate for a mayoral takeover of MPS. I think that the mayor taking over MPS would be beneficial for the city as well as the students. Diversity in appointing people, having a direct look at what’s going on. And even with the buildings, I think the mayor does have a say-so because we can get the lead laterals out of these old buildings that need help. Those are a number of things the mayor can do because the mayor wears a number of different hats. And so to collaborate and to join forces with other entities as it relates to MPS is feasible.
Alright, so last few questions here. I just have like a lightning round of more fun, Milwaukee-specific questions. You ready?
Frozen Custard. What's your favorite Kopp’s, Leon's or Gillies?
Summerfest or State Fair?
When you go to a Brewers game, what's your pick to win the sausage race?
I have never been to a Brewers game in my life. I was at a movie at the Brewers stadium but I've never been to a Brewers game. I’ve been to a number of Bucks games, but never a baseball game.
DS: What is your favorite park in the city?
Do you have a favorite local coffee place?
No, I don’t drink coffee.
Do you have a favorite local beer?
I don’t drink beer. Never ever drunk beer in my life.
What's your favorite place to see a concert in Milwaukee?
I haven’t been to a concert in a while, but I will say somewhere outdoors. Jazz in the Park. I like Jazz in the Park.
Where were you when the Milwaukee Bucks won the NBA Finals this past summer?
Trying to help others. I was able to see it, but I was trying to help other people. I wasn’t able to actually be there.
Were you able to celebrate with those who you were with?
Oh, definitely, you know, everybody cheered for them. So yeah, we celebrated for sure.
I'm a big Bucks fan myself. So I wanted to make sure to end on a positive note. There was such a great moment of collective joy for the city.
I would love to see them win again!
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me. I know we got to a lot of different topics over the past half hour or so here. So really appreciate your perspective and best of luck in these next few weeks before the primary.
Thank you and thank you for having me.
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.