Cyburbia is a friendly big tent, where we share our experiences and thoughts about urban planning practice, the built environment, planning adjacent topics, and anything else that comes to mind. No ads, no spam, and it's free. It's easy to join!
The accolades that will be heaped upon him now that he leaves us are hardly enough. Peter Park, far more than John Norquist, was the visionary behind Milwaukee's great achievements, and the person with the right talents and personality to pull them off. To make matters still worse, an overwhelming majority of the Department of Community Development's excellent management staff are leaving at the end of this year as a result of a change in retirement benefits taking place on the 1st. The organization is going to need some real talent to regain its footing over the next couple of years.
MILWAUKEE - In a tenure spanning nearly 16 years, John Norquist saw glory and disgrace as Milwaukee's mayor.
Widely credited for sparking an urban renaissance in a blue-collar town blighted by flight to the suburbs, Norquist also was humiliated by a sex scandal involving an aide that curtailed his political career.
Last week, the nation's longest-serving mayor of a city of more than 500,000 left office four months shy of finishing his fourth term — saying he has no regrets about quitting.
"I don't think I was likely to run for another term anyway," said Norquist, who was first elected to a political office in 1974 at age 25. "I will have been in political office for 29 years. ... I think it's probably enough."
Norquist, 54, leaves behind a new convention center, a building boom of condos and apartments, demolition of an unsightly freeway spur and a tourism-attracting promenade along the Milwaukee River.
The married father of two will also be remembered for an extramarital affair with a former aide who later accused him of sexual harassment. The headlines left his reputation in tatters.
Norquist is taking a job as president and chief executive officer at the Congress for the New Urbanism in Chicago.
Common Council President Marvin Pratt was formally sworn in Friday as acting mayor. An election is set for April, and Pratt, the city's first black mayor, is among at least 17 candidates.
"I see wonderful things ahead for Milwaukee," Pratt said. "I have faith in the people of this city."
The former Norquist aide, Marilyn Figueroa, accused him of harassment in a December 2000 equal rights claim against the city. She said the mayor relentlessly pursued her; Norquist said they had a consensual sexual relationship and denies he harassed her.
The two settled in April 2002 for $375,000, which he agreed to pay using campaign funds and his own money.
Norquist made great strides in the way this city looks and thinks about architecture, promoting his ideas of new urbanism, selecting people who care about design for planning committees and streamlining the process for developers to get permits.
At 6-foot-7, with wavy blond hair and a goatee, the soft-spoken Norquist said he is proud of making quality design a serious issue, citing a new bridge connecting the north and south sides and the removal of a dam to help revitalize the Milwaukee River.
There's also been the $122 million addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum by world-renowned architect Santiago Calatrava.
"He brought a degree of understanding and enthusiasm for good physical development in the city that is unusual in a politician," said Bob Greenstreet, chairman of the City of Milwaukee Plan Commission and dean of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's School of Architecture and Urban Planning.
Norquist lists his biggest mayoral accomplishment as igniting the city's real estate boom. He said it's grown faster than the state average for the last four years. The city added more than 4,600 residential units, many in the downtown area, since he took office.
Greenstreet said during in the 1960s and 70s the number of people moving to the suburbs increased, as did freeways, eroding the city's identity.
"The fabric started to wear away and we have seen a reweaving of the fabric to fill in the gaps," he said.
Gerard Toliver, 25, said he liked Norquist's work to redevelop downtown but wished he had done more for the inner city and neighborhoods.
The affair affected his personal opinion of Norquist, but he said he didn't think it affected the mayor's job performance or will stick in people's minds.
"He's human just like everyone else," Toliver said.
Janet Boles, a political science professor at Milwaukee's Marquette University, said Norquist's scandal effectively ended his mayoral career.
"But his passion is urban affairs, and he had probably gone as far as he could in reshaping the city of Milwaukee," she said.
On the Net:
City of Milwaukee: http://www.ci.mil.wi.us
I fear what will happen to Milwaukee with this next Mayoral election. The candidates that I think would be the best people for the job stand virtually no chance of winning and the front runners seem to have this attitude that "it is their turn" to be Mayor. None of the top candidates seem to stand for anything, nor do they have the vision that Norquist did.
Add the departure of Peter Park and the todays firing of the head of the Department of Community Development (by a guy who may only be there 3 months), plus the retirement of others as mentioned by Cardianal don't help matters.
But as I don't know any of these people or what they have done. I just saw the name Peter Park and saw that Chet had written something and it is Friday late and I just won't even finish where my thoughts went after that!!!!!!!!!
Seriously, this transition shouldnt be tied to the Norquist sex scandal, although I acknowledge there is reason to. Norquist is going to be heading up the Congress for New Urbanism as they relocate from San Fran to Chicago. Why wouldnt that be a dream job you would leave office early for?
Milwaukee's interim administration has big shoes to fill, and a popular minority (but comparatively uneducated) background to fill them with. He demonstarted his ineptness by cleaning house at City Hall on his first day in office.
Im glad I moved out of the City-proper. Hopefully someday there will be a vision that will bring me back.