Candidates vying to represent the 10th Assembly District, newly drawn to include Shorewood with neighborhoods in Milwaukee's inner city, spoke passionately Monday night at the about ways to address the needs of two demographically diverse places now politically bound together.
"I’m not as familiar with Shorewood as I am with Milwaukee, and if Shorewood was isolated, I wouldn’t really know how to approach you because you all don’t really see the problems that we have," candidate Ieshuh Griffin of Milwaukee said during the forum, organized by Grassroots Shorewood. "I’ve never really seen a boarded up home in Shorewood. I’ve never really seen homeless people in Shorewood. But I understand Shorewood has issues as well … and I can serve you. I believe in diversity; I think it’s a good thing that we have two sides of the coin and we’re integrated."
All four Democrats in the 10th district race — Griffin, , Millie Coby of Shorewood and Harriet Callier of Milwaukee — attended the forum, hoping to win the seat held by Rep. Elizabeth Coggs of Milwaukee. Coggs plans to run for her cousin Spencer Coggs’ Senate District 6 seat, and with no Republican on the 10th District ballot, the winner of the Aug. 14 primary earns the seat.
Pasch, who represents Shorewood in an assembly district that was redrawn to cut Shorewood and include more of the North Shore, berated the redistricting plan for dividing her district.
"The district was pretty much destroyed in the redistricting plan," Pasch said. "I am not ready to give up the work I started in the state Legislature just because of the redistricting ... It was a divide-and-conquer effort on (Republicans') part and I hope we can rise above that."
Finding the face of the new 10th District
Pasch was in Milwaukee for living outside the 10th District, in Whitefish Bay. She has committed to moving into Shorewood should she win the election. Pasch asserted that in office she has always worked on issues faced by the city of Milwaukee, and would continue to pursue these priorities if elected in the 10th District, in her positions as chair of the Milwaukee Democratic Legislative Caucus and Assistant Assembly Democratic Leader.
"I’ve been representing Milwaukee issues since I got to Madison," Pasch told Patch after the forum. "They are issues that I know people in Shorewood also care about. I’ve been a strong voice for Milwaukee and I will continue to be a strong voice for Milwaukee.”
But Shorewood resident Coby, formerly of Milwaukee, said she would be a better representative because she could bring an understanding of both neighborhoods to the assembly seat. Coby said her adoptive mother died when she was young, leaving her homeless in the city.
"I didn't have anywhere to go; I didn't have any family," Coby said. "That's the face of many of the constituents of the Milwaukee side. They're wondering where they're going to live, where their next meal is going to come from. There were many days when I didn't have food to eat. I didn't have clothes to wear; I had to wear the same thing over and over again. So I've lived both sides."
Coby said she moved to Shorewood in order to send her son to the public schools, and she joined the other three candidates in emphasizing education as an issue both Milwaukee and Shorewood can work to improve.
Forum focuses on education
Candidates fielded several questions about education Monday, and all had fistfuls of criticisms for state policies and proposals from the funding formula down to voucher programs and merit pay systems.
"Instead of equalizing things up so everyone has a high ceiling for education, they’ve equalized things down," Pasch said, referring the state funding formula for public schools. "We need to look at that formula, we need to look at it seriously, and we need to redo it."
When asked about merit pay for teachers, the candidates agreed that it could be problematic.
"(A) merit system does not work for me," Callier said. "At any point you’re using a merit system where human lives are involved, whether it’s health care or education, it does not work."
On the voucher system there was more disagreement. While Pasch was the only candidate to say point blank she did not support vouchers, Griffin was the only one to back them.
"I’m a product of a choice school; I graduated valedictorian of that school," Griffin said. "The reason I chose a choice school was because when I was in public school I saw a lot of things I did not like as it relates to the discrimination, the lack of education and so on. I support that every parent should have the right to educate their child as they see fit."
Navigating a shared future
Grassroots Northshore Founder Keith Schmitz, who helped organize the forum, said Shorewood's new district brings a unique set of challenges, but he thinks Shorewood's priorities actually align well with the needs of the inner city.
“It is obviously two different areas that are brought together in one district, but I think what this does is it affords an opportunity," Schmitz said. "There’s a lot of issues that need to be solved that apply to all of us and if we can find a way for all of us to work together, I think this turns this redistricting in regards to Shorewood into an opportunity to create some change.”
Schmitz cited transportation as an example of an issue the two communities can ally on.
"I’m sure a lot of us support the idea that we need mass transit in order to reduce the stress on the environment, but we also know that mass transit is also necessary for a lot of people in the 10th District to get to jobs," he said.
All of the candidates expressed excitement about the unique diversity of the district and opportunities for collaboration.
"Shorewood is definitely a beautiful place, and I wish I could see some of the things in Milwaukee, specifically the central city, that I see in Shorewood, and hopefully if I’m elected I bring some of those things into the inner city," Griffin said. "The reason I’m running basically is because is we don’t see these things; we don’t have this type of quality of life, quality of service. We don’t even have this type of commitment as far as uniting, coming here and listening to your potential representatives, because there are a lot of unique issues going on in Milwaukee."
After the forum Monday, Schmitz hardly caught a breath between talking to attendees, candidates and their supporters, excitedly forging new connections for a new team in a new district.
“The nice thing about a lot of Shorewood residents is we tend to live beyond ourselves," Schmitz said. "Of course we like to take care of our own particular needs, but we also realize there’s things that need to be done for the common good, and ultimately when you do things for the common good it does benefit all of us.”