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Q&A with State Senator Lena Taylor (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 State Senator Lena Taylor. 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 the state senator from District 4, Lena Taylor. Thank you so much for being here.
State Senator Lena Taylor: Good to be with you. Also, number four on the ballot!
So, let's jump right into it here. Why are you running for mayor?
I’m running for mayor because I believe that we need a leader with vision, we need someone who will not keep the status quo because the status quo has made us fall behind tremendously. I want us to not be number one in the nation for horrific disparities for people of color. I want to create a place that people can come, 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.
One of the biggest issues facing the city, and one that I've written a lot about is local control and the city's relationship with the state. The City of Milwaukee is not very far away from being in a very difficult situation with its budget. And 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 as mayor?
First of all, I agree with you completely, the budget is in a huge challenging situation. I also agree that we've not gotten our fair share of shared revenue. I think we're maybe at numbers that are earlier than 2009 shared revenue numbers. I think where I'm gonna push back and disagree – and I do agree that even a sales tax when the county voted to say they wanted a sales tax for transportation, and arts and or other stuff, I can't remember all of the what the language was at that time – but even when we by 70-something percent, the state would not allow us to do it. I was a member of the Joint Committee on Finance, and they wouldn't allow us to do it.
However, I believe that there are other revenue streams that we can do. I don't believe that a sales tax is a solution. I think it's a band aid on cancer. I think the truth of the matter is, we're going to have to think of new revenue streams, new industries, new things that we can bring in. For me, going to fight for our fair share of revenue is important to me. Being able to show what we give to the state, and try to make sure that the percentage of what we get back is more in line is important. But I also think we're gonna have to start new industries, and ask for the opportunity to start new industries. And so urban agriculture is huge for me in a state where agriculture is our number one industry, but why is it not a part of our workforce investment boards? Why are we not maximizing what we can do? Why are we not moving urban agriculture in indoor growing, which is going to literally grow by 100% in the United States? It's a global market, and the pandemic has made that even more. So that's just one example of bringing in new revenue streams by new industry and new opportunities. I also think that's going to happen with homeownership. If individuals have an opportunity to become homeowners, it's going to also generate additional revenue.
So 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 few years on a local level? And what would be some of your priorities going forward?
Let me also go back and say the pension is a huge part of where we are with our budget. And so we're going to have to rethink what's happening with the pension, and what we pay out in the pension. And so that means we may have to do something different for new people coming in. But we still are more than likely going to have to think about what we do for individuals who are already in that system.
In regards to the pandemic, I don't think that we started well, with the pandemic. As a matter of fact, I was very vocal when I ran against the incumbent mayor saying that I did not think that we were. And 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. We're, like you said, almost in our third year, and ultimately, now we're going to have to use credible messengers, people to engage people so that they can look at what they can do, from a preventative disease steps that they can do, in order to be better.
I'm encouraging them to wear the mask, encouraging them to take their vaccine. But we've had vaccine challenges even for our children for some time, like 50% of the children that need vaccines often have only taken vaccines in the city of Milwaukee. I've done public service announcements, actually, with myself and some of my colleagues even across the aisle trying to encourage vaccine use. So credible messengers, community health workers, that's something that President Obama shared that Milwaukee should do when he brought the My Brothers Keepers group in. And I think we should do that in order to be able to help us deal with the pandemic better.
We should trace better and test better. Tracing, we just get an “F.” We get an “F” in tracing. And that's been from the beginning. I'll never forget, when one of my former staff persons happened to be at a place where some individuals had caught COVID. I don't know if they caught it at that place, or whatever, the point was, they were there. And they were people who got COVID. And she never got any information whatsoever from the city. One (person) died. And so you think that she would have at least been called or got a letter or something. And then I know others who had North Shore health department doing the follow up for when they got COVID. And North Shore was doing things that our health department was not doing.
So the point is, we could have done better and tracing and testing. Do I need to speak to that? 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 I've actually even motivated some business owners that I know, and they are now doing free testing for individuals, but we still have not taken those individuals and help to market that we even have businesses that are doing free testing so that people know the other sites.
So the pandemic isn't the only crisis that 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, like you mentioned, is 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, and mass incarceration, on housing. The list goes on.
What have you done in your current role to make a positive impact on these issues? And what would you do as mayor to address segregation and address some of these disparities that we continue to see?
The first thing I want to say is the city came kicking and screaming, in order to do make racism a public health crisis, even though they were number one in segregation, identified as the worst place in the nation to raise a Black child, to be a Black American, had the worst disparities in reading between our children of color and our children who were not. So that's just some basic stuff, right? Not to mention, not even 7% of Black folks in the city are homeowners, and the poverty rate. So one of the things that I've done, and that is important to me, that I will do as a mayor is I've used my voice. I've used my voice to speak to the issues, and to speak about that these things exist, and that we should do something about it. I appreciate the county being the leader. And then the city did it and didn't even really make a big deal about it like the county did, because they should have been ashamed that the county did it before them when they're actually the one out of 19 municipalities that has these “worst” stats.
My entire career has been one where I spoke about not only our disparities, but spoke about the things that we could do in order to try to move things forward. So whether it is trying to work with groups in Oak Creek, for example, with the racial slurs and the issues that happen with our children, trying to help our schools to know how to respond when children have been called various names, or for that matter, in the 4th Senate District, when a teacher asked a child to research slave games, and to demonstrate them for the children – in a very progressive community in my district, matter of fact, one of probably the most progressive, they would argue in the state, Shorewood. And being a leader to not only call the school on it, be a part of helping them to see that they needed to do something, and I need you to know it wasn't comfortable when it happened.
So I will be one and I have been a voice, even when the conversations are uncomfortable, 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.
The other thing is, I would want to create what I'd like to call healing circles. And I don't think that those will just help with issues around race, but also issues around trauma. Because the things that you mentioned have created some really deep trauma in this community that also has to be addressed. So I'm going to call them healing circles, because at this point, I don't know what to call them. But where we have emergency response teams that can not only help when there are situations of violence, or homicide, non-fatal shootings or helping people to navigate through that trauma, but also helping us navigate through these hard conversations that we're going to have to have.
Also, you mentioned education, I want to be a part of what we do with our education system. No, I don't mean that I want to be the educator, or I want to be the head of the schools. That's not what I mean. But I want to be a partner. I want to put the full muscle and resources of what the city has at the table with the schools. So I'm not saying fit a budget-challenged city that I'm about to give them a whole line of money or something like that. But I do believe that our health department and our various departments can be resources in other ways. I do believe that I can be an ambassador for the school district to get companies to do different projects or things with the school district. And then you mentioned mass incarceration and housing, and what will I do to deal with this issue of racism. So, we still have covenants that are on some properties saying (they’re) not being able to sell to somebody that looks like me. Even though those covenants are not legal, they're still there. Because those houses have already been there, so we have to kind of still deal with some of those covenants.
The inequality in the quality of houses that are available, the issue of mass incarceration, and education, I think, are all connected to access to opportunity. So what I want to do is create pathways in pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship so that it basically is breaking down steps for people so that they can be empowered for work, they can be empowered for entrepreneurship, and homeownership. I want to give something that's not happening in the city, equity, in how we serve, how we develop, and how we create wealth and health in this community.
So the Black Lives Matter movement and the protests that we saw in the city, in 2020 made a big impact on Milwaukee. How do you see it continuing to impact policies and conversations in the city going forward?
So I have to be honest with you, it kills me when people make any protests or something like tha Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter is actually, there's an organization that is Black Lives Matter, but black lives do matter. And that's what the people who are protesting cared about. What do I think about people speaking up and letting their voice be heard? I think it was Dr. Martin Luther King, who said the voice of the voiceless and the unheard are riots or, you know, that kind of concept. So, I think that what it does is it shows a couple things. One, a new generation of people who are willing to get in the streets and say enough is enough. And I think because of that, it's going to require a different level of accountability, or at least that's my hope going forward. But I think it has generated some change already. And I think that's a good thing. And I want to see us continue to move.
As mayor, I will make sure that my appointments to the Fire and Police Commission, in particular – because this really has intersected around community police relations – that my appointments to the Fire and Police Commission will reflect individuals who understand the historic issues that we have had, and the direction that I'd like to see us go. And then I have to put my hands back and allow the Fire and Police Commission to do their work, to be independent, and not to be yanking them back with a chain like a leash on the leash. And that's what I think happened previously, with the Fire and Police Commission under the previous administration. I really want to see that changed. Really, really, really, really, really.
So switching gears a little bit, I want to talk a bit about the mayor's role in economic development in the city. Mayor Barrett often used TIF districts for bigger projects, the city uses grants for various projects throughout the city. There's obviously many different approaches that 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 those decisions?
Oh, not at all hands off. I believe that the city needs to play a role. But more importantly, I want to have an administration that believes in transparency and inclusion of the people of the community. I don't think people can just come and say, I want to plop this in your neighborhood. I think neighborhood associations in the business improvement districts need to be a part of neighborhoods getting developed. But I don't want to be the only way that it can happen. I don't mind developers saying, “we're interested in such and such area,” but they don't get to dictate it, they have to make sure that they connect.
I'll give an example. Most recently in a district that's not even mine, I had an opportunity to speak to someone who bought a property and wanted to be able to develop the property and the direction that they wanted to go. And the neighborhood association was like, “Hold up, wait a minute.” And so I made it a point to interject myself in the process, although not my district, to help them to communicate. And guess what? They wanted a similar thing, but they were talking past each other. So they didn't know that because the neighborhood association was like, “you don't get to come and just do something.” And the developer was like, “this is what I want to do,” and wasn't hearing that what they were asking was so similar, that all they had to do both was adjust a little. And now they have a great project. So you know, I want to encourage that kind of inclusion.
And we can't just develop downtown. I think I said that already, but I want to say it again.
I think it's an important point, and it kind of ties into my next question then too, which is: what's one development project in the city that would be on the top of your to-do list?
Well, right now, we're still in the midst of it. So it's still on my to-do list as a not a mayor, which is the Martin Luther King Library. And the reason that that's important to me is because we had a building that really was not being used, I think, to its fullest capacity. And we had a library that was just way too small to be able to completely service a community. I was excited to be able to be again, that catalyst to bring those entities together. And although, I would have liked a theater to be developed there. But the development of Martin Luther King Drive so that we have the best Martin Luther King Drive in the nation is a priority for me.
There's also an area of land that I have to check. So I don't know that I want to have you write about it. But at the end of one of our freeways, I'm very interested in seeing if we can convert that, so that we can have some more places that we can build housing because we're at least 30,000, they say, quality affordable housing short. So doing those types of things. I could name like three more if you want me to: Northridge area, right? Hugely underserved for a long time, is a huge concern of mine, Midtown, not in my district – actually in one of my opponent's districts – but needs to be more than what we have, that Walmart and all that parking space sitting there is just not sufficient. And it's actually rather sad that we don't even have a business improvement district in the area. That's just a couple, a few.
The 2020 Census results came out recently and showed that Milwaukee has not been growing from a population standpoint. Do you see that lack of growth as a problem? And what are some of the ways you think the city could reverse that trend?
I definitely see it as a problem in that we lost population, even though we have such a huge increase in population, compared to our loss of white citizenry and Black citizenry, we gained Hispanics. So that was great. The Hispanic community saved us in a lot of ways. Because I want to say they grew by, I think 20 or 30,000. And we lost that much in the white community, I forget how much we lost in the Black community.
So, short version is yes, it's a problem. Why do I think that happened? What I believe is that individuals don't move to a city, especially young couples, if they don't see that they have schools that can meet the responsibility of rearing, preparing their children, for life. And so I think our school system is part of that. I also think people need to feel safe. And I think, in addition to education and public safety, I think people of color, in particular, African Americans have left in record numbers going to different places. Because if you don't feel welcome in a place, you don't want to be there. And so losing our, our millennials, brain drain, has been a huge problem for us. And I'm hoping for what happened to Atlanta for a long time, right? 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. And that's going to be, entrepreneurship and homeownership, I think is going to be able to move us in that direction becoming a destination for pre-apprenticeships and apprenticeships, pathways to empowerment.
So you touched on the next part of my question then, which is that one of the areas that didn't see the population growth over the last decade was in Hispanic communities, and also Asian communities. Where do you see the mayor having a role in an issue like immigration?
I think there are many things, I don't fully know how they did it, so I have to go and look, but in one city, they did something connected to people who might have immigration challenges, for them to be able to be involved in elections. I'm not really sure what that was. So I want to first educate myself on what my options are, and what other cities have done.
Look, I don't believe in recreating wheels. I believe in looking at best practices, and being given them the best compliment ever: copying. And doing that. And so that's number one. Number two, and really, maybe I should flip them around, my number one is talking to those communities, the Asian community, and the Hispanic community to know what issues matter, and how we can best help in those ways. I've already been a champion and trying to get a driver's licenses and trying to get legislation to not allow immigrant communities to be able to get services.
But I do want to say that the African American community, I think, according to the census data is also affected about 2% by immigration. And so whether it is the Somali community or other communities, I want to make sure that we are looking at the challenges that exist for them, and trying to make sure that we address them. And those challenges, I would argue, are great – everything from being able to understand because of language barriers, financial challenges, housing, all of those things become issues. So trying to make sure that we have the people that listen to them, have the people in place to be able to help to disseminate help where we can and then looking at the best practices that are being done in other places to see what we can do. One other thing, by the way: I've already been a champion on the issue of redistricting, for example, so that those communities know what they need to do so they can have a voice so they can pick candidates of their choosing in our city so that their voices are heard.
Another issue that 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, I wrote about the possibility of tearing down the Stadium Freeway, Highway 175 on the west side of town, and converting it to a boulevard. State officials did not rule that out as a possibility somewhere down the line. So what are your thoughts on the future of the Stadium Freeway? Do you think it should be torn down?
So it is tight. Is so tight, I'm just not telling you, the double stack and all that, you know, a lot of different thought processes on how that should be, having a cemetery on both sides really creates some major challenges. I don't know if a boulevard is or is not the best way. But I will tell you that we're going to have to think of something because even with whatever even if they were to do something now, that is not going to last, because it's so tight.
Now, I will say we might not have all this issue if the stadium had been built downtown, so that businesses and everyone could benefit, but I wasn't elected then. So short version, can't say whether or not I agree with your proposal or not, but can say I think you're spot on that we're going to have to think of some other options. I definitely believe that infrastructure work, like dealing with transportation contracts, it's a huge way to be able to put money into our city and money in our community. That is, if we make sure that when the contracts are happening, that prime contractors are put in a position to have to do work with subcontractors. Because without that, what we found is that the state does not meet its minority contracting goals. And the only time that we ever have is during the Marquette Interchange, and it was on some of the projects like painting or whatever that we got to higher percentages.
You've been closer to this issue than some of the other folks in the field being in the state legislature. What are your thoughts on the I-94 expansion proposal in a more broad sense?
In a broad sense, I think more concrete doesn't do us good all the time. And, are you talking about the I-94, like down there by Racing, Kenosha area, that expansion? Or are you talking about still by the interstate?
Yeah, the East-West, around the stadium interchange, and that 3.5-mile mile stretch of road.
I definitely, by all means, know that we need a solution. It's a bottleneck. I just am not 100% certain on what that solution fully should be. And not being on the transportation committee have not been fully engaged in seeing renderings or possibilities or fully even hearing like I would have if I was still on the Finance Committee, what things had been proposed.
But what I will tell you is whether it is coming out of the Marquette interchange, like it's so tight. It's tight from there, and tight all the way through. We did the Zoo Interchange and did the other side, but the in-between is a hot mess. I don't know how we connect, I didn't even do a lot with the um – what are the cars that kids used to boys used to play with a lot growing up that I liked, some people got spanked with the tracks, what is it called? I can't remember what they're called. But anyway, the point is, is making the little, playing with the cars. So I don't know how to say how it should be designed. But I can say to you that I don't believe more freeways are always the answer. I just can't imagine how you break up such a huge Zoo Interchange concept. And a Marquette Interchange concept on the other side, and how we connect that or how we go around that or, you know. But being a mayor would be something of course, that it would become, you know, on the list of priorities, to be able to know – especially because the infrastructure dollars are coming. And I asked to be on the committee so that I could be a part of that process. And instead, the governor put two alderpersons on the committee, and I don't even think they’ve gone to the meetings the way that they were supposed to. So I'm not as informed either, I think is the answer.
Something else that's coming over and over again in this campaign is the issue of safe streets, reckless driving, and vehicle thefts. What would be your strategy to address these issues? And how does that strategy differ from some of the other candidates running for mayor?
First of all, I would have done something years ago, when it first started happening and when they were doing task forces. I get tired of us task-forcing and studying and doing reports and doing that. They put out all of that, and did really not that much.
I've said continuously that one of the things that we need to do is make sure that driver's education is available. Driver's Education not being available is a problem, and although I know the task force said it, many kids can't afford it. So even though it may be in the schools now, if you can't afford it in a community where poverty is huge, then they're still learning how to drive from Grand Theft Auto, and there's no reset button. So, making that a reality, if it means going in asking for philanthropy dollars, if it means creating mechanisms for driver ed schools to be able to be better partners, wanting to do that, if it means going to Madison and helping to advocate for drivers ed, so that it is available, even at no costs, especially for individuals whose families are economically not in a position for that to happen. So that's number one.
The redesign of streets. I know we know how to do it, because we do it downtown. I know we know how to do it. Because we're letting other businesses and other areas of the city use the curbs, use the big blocks of concrete, and then allowing them to be in the street a little bit for their people to be served on the curb side. If we know how to do it, let's do it in all the neighborhoods, not just some of them – especially areas where we see we have larger issues and larger concerns.
I also would like to use a couple of creative things that I've not seen my opponents doing. One is taking that energy that young people – and it's not all young people doing it, just for clarity. I saw an old guy doing it the other day. It used to just be people, meaning reckless driving, going through a light before the light changed. He was an older white guy, actually! One time I saw a woman, she had to be about my age – I don't want to call her old (laughs) – but I saw a woman doing it. It used to be people with no plates. Now it's even people with plates. It's become normalized so that now I think even more people are doing it. So one of the things I want to do is flip that energy, especially among our young people interested in going fast, interested in cars, doing that kind of stuff. Guess what? I want to create a collaboration with NASCAR, Milwaukee Mile, dealerships, auto body shops, auto mechanic shops, people who have classic cars, people who have those sharp motorcycles. And I want to bring those motorcycle clubs and those people together so that we can use them to turn that energy that the young people have into a positive way. This is where you go fast, not on our streets, but at the Milwaukee Mile, right? This is what you can do differently.
And then the last thing is, yes, we need to do something about the stolen cars. So we know there are two types, and it took us a while to start handing out clubs. But why not do kill switches? And if you can't get the manufacturer to do it, why not get a collaborative together with businesses? With individuals selling the Kias and Hyundais and say, look, we need kill switches. We don't need a rock bottom right. And you can see this also as your marketing because what we're going to do is some public service announcements so that people know that they can do this and talk about the companies that are a part of that with us. They already paid money in marketing. They want people to buy their cars. They don't want people to think I don't want to buy a Kiea because it's gonna be a problem. Thinking out of the box.
So a new poll has ranked public safety as the top issue in this race, and in particular, Milwaukee has been experiencing significant increases in violent crime. 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?
The first thing they can do is appoint all of the positions on the Fire and Police Commission, that for the last more than a decade, the city has not done under the leadership of Tom Barrett, and very candidly, under the leadership of those that are on the Common Council now. Because the only power they really have when it comes to the Fire and Police Commission is when their budget comes before them is to hold out. When the appointments come before them, is to hold out. So there's been no hold out. I'm not talking about press releases. I'm not talking about talking about what you want. I'm talking about demanding what's needed and being the catalyst to make that happen.
I created the legislation more than a decade ago, and I was not able to get the former mayor to move on that. That's a problem. Those are two more positions where there can be voices from individuals in the community to help move us to de-escalation and better community-police relations. Second, the homicide rate is, I think, it's on track to beat last year already. Including an increase in officer-involved shootings, meaning officers shooting (people), but also officers being shot. All of that is a problem. And so there's a program that I brought back after I went to the Harvard School of Government, to the city early, very early in the beginning of the former mayor's tenure, and it was the High Point, North Carolina, model. That model is kind of like “Let's Make a Deal.” Door number one: we have all the intelligence to send you to prison. Door number two: we have the ability to wrap services around you and put you on a pathway to empowerment for work or entrepreneurship. But you choose, buddy, you choose. And if you choose wrong, click click click, we got you and we are sending you along your way. 60 to 70% reduction of violent crime is what it showed us. As well as in Racine and Mount Pleasant, it has the Cop House model that I also brought to the city and the previous mayor would not do it. Then Chief Flynn did not like the High Point, North Carolina model nor the Cop House model. Both of those models build community-police relations, and also helps to not just think we can mass incarceration our way out of this. And being a city that has the zip code that has the highest mass incarceration rate in the nation, we have to think differently.
And I'll also end with doing something I think is really important, which is holding the state accountable for individuals that are coming back. I don't know if you're aware. But it’s actually two other things: the state and then the court system. So the state, I don't know if you're aware, but 60% of those individuals that are incarcerated in DOC are people who re-enter. And of the percentage that reentered, 40% of those are people who didn't even have a new offense. But for the 60%, my position is: did the state do what they needed to do with the portfolio that I was able to help us get in place years ago? Are we actually doing the steps in the portfolio, so that people are prepared to succeed instead of prepared to fail? Because prepared to fail just means an assault on public safety. Prepared to succeed means reduction in recidivism, and safer streets. So I want to do a better job of tracking who comes home, and how prepared are they to come home? Because I'd like to start keeping a nice little running list for the state to say you didn't do this, this, this and this and this is what it costs us, and this is what you owe us. So that is a thought process that many of my colleagues or opponents have not thought about.
And then lastly, the whole issue of the court system. Violent crime is up because we have nowhere to put the people. We cannot have a trial if the system is not able to have the trials. We cannot lock everybody up, because we don't have enough space in the jails and the prisons to lock folks up. We actually need to lock up the people who are the largest risk of harm to our community and the non-violent individuals, we should not be as much. So we have to sift that differently. And we have to ask for help from the feds and the state, to, at least for two years – I think four, but I know people won't be able to handle all that – at least for two years, to do something to create a way to deal with the backlog in the court system. So those are the things that I'm hoping to do in order to be able to get us to a different public safety place, and to move us in a different approach.
And of course, we need law enforcement in the midst of that, and I want to be able to analyze what we're going to be able to do with that, because I can't just add people. But we may need to. And I know that's a curse word nowadays for some people. But we may have to add, but we may not if we reshift what we have some law enforcement individuals doing. I'd love to have an emergency response team that goes to help to deal with issues of mental health that goes on social workers, and psychologists, people who are those kind of professionals who understand.
So one question for you here on education. You talked about this a little bit already as well. But with the way the government is structured in Milwaukee and Wisconsin, the mayor doesn't necessarily play as direct a role as some other elected officials on the topic of education. But it is another issue that has been top of mind for many as of late, especially with many schools in the city having to go virtual, and teachers and schools constantly having to adjust. So what role do you think the mayor of Milwaukee should have when it comes to education?
First of all, you're, you're almost close to right, the mayor has no role in education. And no one moves to a city, especially a young family, if schools cannot perform for the children that they want to have. So I think that it is important that the mayor is able to be involved in that process. I don't have to control the schools. I don't have to be the sole picker of a superintendent, but I do want to be engaged. Period. I want to be able to talk about the departments that are in my administration, how they can help the school district to be stronger. The teachers are on the frontlines of seeing the issues that exist with our children and their families. How amazing would it be for us to hear that from teachers and thus, send community health workers out to be able to help to connect people to services that they need to get in front of stuff, instead of waiting for it to implode? It would be amazing.
Right now, there's a piece of legislation – I've not had a chance to read it yet. I'm almost scared to read it because I know if the devil is in the details. But there's a piece of legislation that they've already put out. This isn’t new. My entire career as a legislator, I don't know if there's ever been a session when I haven't heard somebody talking about a takeover of some type. And I know a lot of people say it's just about the money. I can't argue that it isn't about money, right? Some people say oh, it's just about how they hate Milwaukee. I can't argue that some people do seem to have a dislike for Milwaukee. But I will say that when you just close your eyes, forget who it is – Republican, Democrats, whatever – and you look at the outcomes of our children, that the outcomes require us to figure out what we can do for the ecosystem that supports our children.
And I know after being a legislator for 20 years, that this is almost pie in the sky. But I'm putting it out there because I'm a person of faith. So the word says speak not as though what is not is so. I'm saying it wrong right now, but my point is that we've got to do something to prioritize our children. Period. We've got to think out of the box. We can't use the same model that they use for my parents and my grandparents to go to school. We've got to figure out, how do we give them hands-on education experience? How do we get companies and organizations to partner with MPS better? I sometimes feel like they partner with suburban schools and charter and choice schools more than traditional schools. And so, that's where I hope to use my journey with education, as one that will help to build those supports.
I'd like to digress if I could for a quick moment with you. I'm the girl that lives on the block I grew up on, barely made it out of high school and went to an amazing high school that so many others did really well in, but I didn't. At one point, I had a 1.8 GPA. It wasn't because I wasn't a smart girl, but it was because I was multitasking everything but my homework – depression, family challenges, sexual assault, that trauma that had happened earlier in my life. And thinking I was cute, and he was cute, and everything else. And so as a result, my education was not my priority. Well, that has to be flipped on its head. Because I had a mother, who picked my school, told me I was going to college, picked my school, my major, my counselor, my classes, my dorm room, my furniture, the driver, the seat I was sitting in, the time we were going and I'm convinced she signed the application, because I don't remember signing it – although it probably wasn't fraud, because her name is Lena Taylor, too. But many of our young people don't have that. So trying to be that voice so that they can see someone and they can understand that journey to try to empower them to be on a different path. I want to use everything I am to hold the banner for education.
I appreciate you sharing that story. Thank you. So one more here. And then we'll have a little bit of a more fun lightning round. Reflecting on your career in public service. What's one accomplishment you are especially proud of?
Oh, my goodness, I think it is the justice reinvestment work. So this happened when the Democrats were in control, when Jim Doyle was the governor. I was the chair of the Judiciary Committee. We brought in experts, and they analyzed the justice system. And they told us what our issues were. And this came after I did something that was called the State of the Justice Tour, where I literally took the Judiciary Committee around the state. We went to 10 different communities that had prisons, we visited the prisons, we went inside the prisons and did town hall meetings inside the prison with inmates. We also spoke with staff. We also spoke with the wardens. And we also spoke with correctional officers. We took that work and fed it into the justice reinvestment work with those other experts. And we actually got some progress.
Now, I didn't get all the things that they told us to do, so much so that they almost didn't even put Wisconsin on most of their work going forward because they were pissed at us, because we did not do enough, period. But I later came to forgive Jim Doyle and the Democrats for that, because we didn't do it the way that they said, but Jim Doyle put some things in the Department of Corrections and we saw progress that happened. It took a while, but we saw some of that progress happen. And from that, DA Chisholm brought the things he learned back to Milwaukee County and used it on the CCC. So I'm excited about that work that I did during that time. You know, no, do I get all the credit? Of course not. But to know that that work led to some real work that created change in Milwaukee County. Our numbers are still insane but it lets you know just how insane our members were before that.
So before we let you go, we’ve got a lightning round here with some fun, Milwaukee-specific questions for you. Ready?
Oh my gosh, I’m ready.
Milwaukee is a frozen custard town. What's your pick, Kopp’s, Leon's or Gilles?
Summerfest or State Fair?
At a Brewers game, what is your pick to win the sausage race?
I can't remember, the little Hispanic guy (laughs).
I think that would be Chorizo.
They all look the same! He’s new, so I’m always for the new underdog.
What is your favorite park in the city?
Lincoln Park because it's the park that is near my home.
What is your favorite local coffee place?
Colectivo is what I do more than anything.
What is your favorite local beer?
You know, I'm not a big beer drinker. But I will say that when I'm out somewhere, I'm doing Miller. I'm doing Miller, Miller Lite – with a whole bunch of limes.
What is your favorite place to see a concert in Milwaukee?
Summerfest has really great grounds for seeing a concert. And I love the fact that you can even do it on the grass.
All right, last one here. Gonna end on a high note. Where were you when the Milwaukee Bucks won the NBA Finals?
Man, I was at my house wishing that I was somewhere closer!
Do you get a chance to celebrate at least?
Well, we celebrated. But I didn't get invited to the parade, even though I was like the main reason that the stadium got done. I never got invited, I never got a chance to hold the trophy or touch the trophy. But I did get two individuals who reached out to me, Peter Feigin and Alderman Wade, because they remember the work that we did to make it happen. And I texted back saying it was all worth it. Not just the jobs, but the championship. City of champions now!
Absolutely. Well, no better place to end on that than that moment of collective joy for the City of Milwaukee and that championship. Lena Taylor, thank you very much for taking the time to talk with us today.
Thank you and have a great day.