Wednesday, July 28, 2010

After Milwaukee floods, Barrett leads, Walker bolts

Last week, the city of Milwaukee and its surrounding suburbs were hit by devastating rain showers that caused severe damage to the area. Sinkholes developed in several areas, including one that swallowed an entire car in a neighborhood blocks from where I once lived.

It was so bad that Scott Walker, gubernatorial candidate for the Republican Party of Wisconsin, asked for federal aide for the county – a somewhat ironic gesture since Walker himself is against most federal involvement in local government (he tried to refuse federal aide previously when the stimulus package was passed).

Over the weekend, Tom Barrett, the Mayor of Milwaukee and Democratic candidate for governor, canceled campaign plans in order to assess the dangers and damage in Milwaukee and areas surrounding his city. Where was Scott Walker?

He continued his campaign trips as planned.

This isn’t a criticism of Walker per se, not an essay on how he should have stayed home and followed in Barrett’s footsteps. Scott Walker is free to campaign as he scheduled if he feels he needs to. What’s more, he did swallow his pride, asking for help from the feds when he knew it was a task too overwhelming for him to handle on his own.

Rather, this is a commending of Barrett, of the Milwaukee mayor doing something generous and selfless, and acting in a way that was beyond his call of duty. Barrett is the model example of how our politicians should be – a statesman who is warm and helpful, working with people directly in times of need, putting aside his own pursuits when others are facing personal difficulties.

Walker did his job that week; he assessed the damage then went off to campaign on the weekend. He did what Milwaukee County citizens expected of him, but not very much beyond that (besides, perhaps, the surprising request for help from the federal government).

Barrett, on the other hand, went beyond what was called for – he very well could have continued his scheduled plans, forgetting the people at home for a couple of days while he himself vied for support for his campaign. Instead, he helped not only his own constituents, but those of Milwaukee County as well – assessing the damage not only in his own jurisdiction, but investigating what work was needed in areas outside of the City of Milwaukee.

It’s not the first selfless act Barrett has committed. Last year, Barrett and his family attended the Wisconsin State Fair. Upon leaving for the day, the family encountered a domestic dispute that was getting violent. Barrett, after telling his family to get somewhere safe and to call the cops, intervened, defending a woman who would have been beaten severely by her grandchild’s father.

Barrett sacrificed his own body – and at the time potentially his life – in defending that woman, taking several hits from the attacker who was using a tire iron. The man who attacked Barrett and the woman, Anthony Peters, was sentenced to 12 years in prison this week. Barrett was there for the sentencing, serving as a witness for the court in determining what punishment was just for Peters. It was a stark reminder of the selflessness of Barrett’s character, of how he puts people first, sometimes before his own well-being.

This past weekend, however, we were shown that we don’t need those reminders – Barrett’s actions remind us frequently of the man he is. Putting aside the campaign for a moment – a campaign he’s currently losing according to most polls – he instead took a weekend off from getting votes, opting instead to work with those directly affected by the violent storms, to assist in the recovery effort.

We have a choice this November. We can elect one of two men to lead our state into the next decade. Both are career politicians – but one, unlike the other, will put aside politics and his ambitions when necessary in order to help others who are facing difficulties.

If it wasn’t clear before this week, then it should be clear by now: Tom Barrett is the man we need leading Wisconsin.

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