WEST BEND -- Republicans are launching a new effort in the state Assembly to improve Milwaukee's central city, but Democrats have taken issue with the man who will lead the work.
State Rep. Bob Gannon, R-West Bend, has been announced the chairman of the Assembly Committee on Urban Revitalization. In January, Gannon said "murder and mayhem" in the central city were the reasons for a lack of jobs, and the resulting argument with Democrats ended when Gannon flipped off the Assembly minority leader on the chamber floor.
"My first reaction is, it's got to be some kind of joke. Bob Gannon is probably the most anti-Milwaukee Republican lawmaker we have," said State Rep. Christine Sinicki, D-Milwaukee.
In an interview on Thursday, December 29th, Gannon defended himself against the critics and said he's been doing his homework to prepare for the new role.
"The worst schools in the state are in the same neighborhoods with the highest crimes and the least amount of jobs. This has been ignored by Democrat leadership over and over," Gannon said. "I’ve asked the speaker for us to try to get involved and see if we can have some solutions.
"I've got news for you. Call me names, bully me, do as you please, but I will do what’s in the best interest of all citizens in this state."
Gannon said he has met with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, Police Chief Ed Flynn, District Attorney John Chisholm, Milwaukee police union head Mike Crivello, Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, and a local pastor since the summer.
Gannon said his committee will focus on crime, jobs and schools.
"I want a report out from every district attorney in the state, that if there's a gun crime sent to your office by a police department, what did you do with that incident," said Gannon.
He declined to discuss other priorities for the committee, saying that Assembly leadership will decide which bills his panel will discuss.
State Rep. Janel Brandtjen, who this year said she wanted to cut funding to Milwaukee over the crime rate, will also serve on the committee. Brandtjen is a Republican from Menomonee Falls.
In an unusual move, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos appointed a Democrat from Milwaukee as the committee's vice-chair. State Rep.-elect Jason Fields, who was re-elected this year, has supported voucher schools when he previously served in the Assembly.
"My concern is that, under the title of 'urban revitalization,' any Milwaukee education bills are going to go through that committee," Sinicki said about Fields' appointment.
Vos said Democrats are wrong, and that charter school bills would go through the Education committee.
"It just frustrates me that instead of saying, 'Wow, Speaker Vos went out and actually appointed a Democrat to a leadership position, now we have an opportunity to lead,' they spend all of their time not only bashing me for doing it, but bashing the Democrat," Vos said. "Unfortunately, it’s why Democrats continue to be in electoral decline, because they just don’t get it."
Gannon says he wants to bring his members on a "field trip" to Milwaukee's Sherman Park neighborhood to meet with people about the August unrest, in which several businesses were destroyed by fire over two nights of disorder.
Gannon said he has been satisfied with the work of rank-and-file Milwaukee police officers.