Sunday, October 5, 2014

'No one gives a blank about low-wage workers.'

Supervisor Theo Lipscomb (Left) and
former Supervisor Eyon Biddle

On September 25, 2014, the Milwaukee County Board held a regularly scheduled meeting. It was the day that Boss Abele was supposed to present his 2015 recommended budget.  However, showing his incompetence and/or disdain for the people of Milwaukee County, Abele didn't bother to show up.

So the Board went on with their other scheduled business.

One of the agenda items being addressed was the proposed sale of part of the Park East area to a local
plutocrat, Jon Hammes.

As Dan Bice of the corporate media giant Milwaukee Journal Sentinel breathlessly and recklessly reports, Milwaukee County Supervisor Theo Lipscomb brought up an issue of concern regarding the sale:
At the County Board meeting on Sept. 25, Milwaukee County Supervisor Theo
Lipscomb relayed a damaging story, based entirely on hearsay, about businessman Jon Hammes — the man behind the project — shortly before a vote on the proposal.

The 8-year-old rumor, Lipscomb said, had come from former Supervisor Eyon Biddle.

"In 2006, as a young organizer, working on behalf of janitors trying to get downtown property owners to pay a reasonable wage, Eyon was down with other janitors protesting outside of a meeting," Lipscomb said during the board meeting.

"They were being escorted out, and Mr. Hammes personally walks Eyon out, puts his hand on his shoulder and whispers in his ear, 'No one gives a blank about low-wage workers.' I felt he could say that to a young black man because he was wealthy and entitled. And who was this kid anyway?"

It was an incredibly rash and harmful charge against one of the Milwaukee area's most powerful and community-minded businessmen. The County Board eventually voted to send the proposal back to committee.
Needless to say, Hammes and his friend, Abele, were outraged about this story getting out:
"There is no truth to those allegations," said Hammes' attorney, Marc Marotta.

On the day that Lipscomb made his remarks, Hammes was named to the Marquette University Board of Trustees. He also sits on the boards of the Medical College of Wisconsin, the University of Wisconsin Foundation, the YMCA of Metropolitan Milwaukee, the United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Teach for America.

Marotta added, "It's a real embarrassment to the county and to the area that someone in Theo's position would make such an irresponsible statement based on hearsay about someone who has done so much for our community."

Equally upset was Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, who backed the deal. Abele said he has worked hard with other officials to turn the largely empty and ignored Park East corridor into an attractive location for businesses.

"However, when developers see personal attacks like this from elected officials, it makes it hard to convince them to work with us and even harder to get them to invest in Milwaukee County," Abele said via email.
Except that what Lipscomb said was absolutely true.

Unlike Bice, I had no problems contacting Biddle, who attested that the story is accurate. Biddle also told me that he tried to call Bice twice, but Bice never got back to him before running the story.

Biddle also commented about the story on his Facebook page:
This story is absolutely true. Dan Bice and I played phone tag so I was unable to reach him to provide further context. Jon Hammes telling me that he didn't give a shit about low wage workers pretty much made me who I am today.

I applaud Supervisor Theodore Lipscomb and his leadership on this issue. He is looking out for working class people.

"They were being escorted out, and Mr. Hammes personally walks Eyon out, puts his hand on his shoulder and whispers in his ear, 'No one gives a blank about low-wage workers.' I felt he could say that to a young black man because he was wealthy and entitled. And who was this kid anyway?"
Contrary to Bice's allegations, the story is not hearsay. It is factual.  (Ironically, at the bottom of the same article, Bice is forced to correct something else he inaccurately reported. And that's not the first time either.)

Boss Abele trying
to buy his way out of
another mess.
Another thing Bice failed on is reporting that Hammes is one of the people that received WEDC money and then turned around and  held a fundraiser for Scott Walker.  Apparently, Hammes isn't quite the upstanding pillar of the community that Bice and Abele are trying to pretend he is.

But it does help explain why Boss Abele was so willing to stand up for his fellow plutocrat and friend of Walker's instead of the working people and taxpayers of Milwaukee County.

It is disappointing, but not surprising, that Abele would again take the pro-plutocrat, pro-poverty, anti-worker position again.  He has done it repeatedly in the past four years, most notably with Palermo's Pizza.

It is outrageous that Abele and his friends are not just trying to ram their plantation economics down our collective throats, but that they are doing it so blatantly and arrogantly.

Needless to say, Hammes, Abele and Bice all owe Lipscomb an apology.  And since they lied about Lipscomb publicly,  the need to apologize to him publicly.

Then the Board should take a long hard look to see if Hammes is really someone they want to do business with.

Finally, the voters and taxpayers of Milwaukee County should take a long hard look at Abele and his long string of unacceptable behaviors and wonder if we really need an elected county executive that is unaccountable to the people.  Then they should vote yes to restoring democracy to Milwaukee County.


  1. Also check out the workings Hammes did with the Edgewater hotel project in Madison. He got a multi-million dollar TIF district under one Mayor, then when Soglin came in and said it was unaffordable and reduced the TIF, it turned out the TIF wasn't so necessary to the project, and the hotel is now open.

    Funny how those things work, and how Bice ran with his story without getting the other side of it from Biddle. It's almost like Bice is a rightie who's favoring the plutocrats over the County Board, isn't it?

  2. Perhaps slightly off topic, but does this proposed deal have anything to do with the site-selection for a new Bucks arena? I know Park East is in the running. And I believe Hammes was part of a group of investors who was trying to buy the Bucks from Kohl... and from how these things get intertwined, I imagine Hammes will be the company that actually gets the contract to build the new arena.
    Anyway, props for actually reaching out to Biddle on this! Pity that Bice/MJS aren't even making an effort to appear like real journalists.

    1. This arena will probably be built close to this area, meaning that the land's value will skyrocket, Hammes wants in while it's still cheap.

  3. Let's for the sake of argument say that Hammes really made this comment to Biddle (even though I do not believe he did).

    Who cares?

    Hammes is putting together a project that would employ hundreds of the people that you supposedly stand up for in good, high-paying construction jobs. Not only that, this plan could lead to further, and much needed, development in the northwest end of downtown; potentially leading to even more jobs for the high number of unemployed citizens of Milwaukee.

    People like Biddle and Lipscomb claim that they have the best interests of Milwaukee in mind here, but isn't it obvious that the person who is helping the city the most in this situation is clearly the man that is putting forth a project (without public financing) that will employ hundreds and provide development to a portion of the city that desperately needs it?

    Also, let's take a look at the comment. Again, for the sake of argument, I will take Biddle at his word that the story is true. Hammes' comment was a one-off remark that was made in the heat of a contentious situation eight years ago. I say "one-off" because there is nothing in Hammes' history that would lead anyone to believe that he has a vendetta against low-income workers. So something as irrelevant and innocuous as this little statement, made nearly a decade ago, should shut down a major development project? And if your answer is still "yes" let me ask you, who really suffers here? Whether this project happens or not, Hammes will still be wealthy, however, a few hundred of your fellow Milwaukee citizens that are in dire need of work will continue to sit out of the job market.

    It's high time that people like Lipscomb, Biddle and you get your priorities straight.

    1. Wow, you got so much wrong in that comment it's hard to tell where to even start.

      First off, did Hammes make that statement?

      Well, Eyon has no reason to lie. He has nothing to gain by lying. Heck, he doesn't even live here anymore.

      Hammes, on the other hand, has tens of millions of dollars to lose if the deal goes through. I would say that is ample enough incentive for him to lie.

      Yes, it is wonderful that the construction workers will have good paying jobs for as long as the project lasts. But it is unacceptable that the long term jobs will be underpaid and without benefits. It is pure exploitation.

      For all the money Hammes has, there is no reason for him to exploit these workers except for pure greed. This also reinforces that he probably made that statement.

      What you are doing is using a divide and conquer mentality so loved by the likes of Walker and Abele and it as abhorrent as the plantation economics behind it.

      Yes, Biddle and Lipscomb have done more for the people of the county. They are making sure that the workers - all the workers - get a fair shake. Hammes is only looking to exploit these people for his own gain.

      The fact that Hammes would participate in pay for play politics with Walker is enough in itself to show that he is not really concerned about the best interest of low income workers. He is only concerned for the best interest of his bottom line.

      Hammes could easily pay the permanent workers much more and treat them with respect and he will still be as rich as all get out.

      The land can still be developed. The construction workers can still be well paid. But so can the permanent workers. If Hammes feels he cannot do that, then we can find someone who is willing to make a real commitment to the community to do so.

      To say that Hammes is the only option and that it's his way or no way is a false choice.

      But, my anonymous friend, let's look at the most egregious part of your comment.

      To say that "no one give a blank about poor people" is irrelevant and innocuous is to insult the very people that are being exploited. It is a sign of elitism and arrogance. It is the argument of plantation economics, which is based on slavery and racism.

      If you feel that it is more important for one man to increase his already vast wealth than it is is to treat all workers with respect and to pay them a living wage, well, friend, it is you with the poor priorities and the worse set of values.

    2. Biddle is clearly still involved, so saying he has no reason to lie is incorrect:

      So you're telling me that no jobs is better than hundreds of construction jobs (that pay union wages, by the way) and many permanent jobs that may or may not be low paying? Please explain this.

      Who am I dividing and who am I conquering here? This development is a win for everyone, including the city (development spurs more development), taxpayers (additional business development leads to more corporate taxes being paid to the city), citizens of Milwaukee (that will be able to work on these projects and eventually work in nice, new office buildings) and, yes, Hammes himself (people should be allowed to make money in the city). Who is being hurt by this proposed development?

      You claim that Lipscomb and Biddle are working to ensure that workers get a fair shake in this city. I'm sure that's their intention, but if this development is canceled now and no one comes in to develop the area, how is that a fair shake for workers?

      You mention that the land can still be developed. I guess that is technically true, but I would like for you to tell me the other developers that are lining up to build in this area. Tell me one. I'm sure you can't because this area has been a relative ghost town since the Park East was torn down a decade ago.

      As for the most egregious part of my comment, I stand by it. Even if it is true, which, again, I do not believe, you really think it is serious enough to block the development?

      I'm sure you saw that Bice followed up on this story in today's JS. If not, here you go:

      So it looks like Biddle led a bunch of protesters in crashing an employee retreat that Hammes was holdling. Don't you see the irony here? You're condemning Hammes for not respecting low income workers, but they clearly showed no respect by barging into his retreat. Also, do we know that none of these protesters hurled similar or even worse insults at Hammes and his associates?