By Rick Romano
Dennis McBride has left the building – in a manner of speaking.
The Wauwatosa native son who for the past decade spent countless hours at city hall as 4th District alderman, ended his current term early.
McBride rendered his resignation in a January letter to Mayor Kathy Ehley. He wrote, “It has been an honor to serve my home town as an alderman but after 10 years it is time for me to devote myself to my family and other interests.” He thanked her and others for their support. In true community-minded spirit he offered an encore to serve as needed on committees and commissions.
Eye on state post
His most immediate encore is running for state office. In mid-April, McBride announced that he is challenging Rep. Rob Hutton (R-Brookfield) for Wisconsin State Assembly District 13. The District includes Elm Grove and part of Wauwatosa, Milwaukee, West Allis and Brookfield.
In an exit interview of sorts related to his aldermanic service, McBride offered his thoughts about growing up on Rogers Street his time away from and why he returned to Milwaukee as well as his current snapshot of what the city has accomplished and faces.
He fondly remembers the pickup baseball and football games with neighborhood friends as well as attending local elementary and middle schools and graduating from Tosa East.
McBride credits his interest in civic engagement – starting with being named to the city’s first recycling committee when he was in high school – to his parents who were Milwaukee journalists.
“They always emphasized the importance of education,” he said. Apparently the message resonated. McBride earned an undergraduate degree in journalism from UW-Milwaukee. He earned a combination law degree from New York University and a master of public administration degree with a concentration in urban affairs from Princeton University.
He spent several post-graduation years serving Milwaukee law firms then a six-year stint in at firm in Boston before returning to Milwaukee.
He said the decision to return as a Wauwatosa resident came only after considering whether the city had become more diverse than during his youth. His primary career here was serving as a trial attorney and associated other duties in the local office of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) before retiring in 2015.
His aldermanic career has included serving on numerous committees as well as Common Council President.
“Dennis has been a well-respected leader and he will be missed,” said Mayor Ehley. “He has been a dedicated public servant.”
That dedication extended to supporting historic preservation, the revitalization of Hoyt Park and the development of the UWM Research facilities on County grounds. He also has volunteered at local schools while finding time to participate in the St. Matthews Lutheran Church choir.
As for his decision to leave the Common Council – prior to his decision to run for state office — McBride pointed to the rigorous schedule of meetings and other obligations and his desire to connect more with his family like his parents connected with their kids.
Along life’s journey, McBride married Karen Barry. In addition to his daughter, Meredith, a second-year law student at Northwestern University from his previous marriage, they have raised a daughter and a son. Gillian graduated from UW-Madison and currently is serving a one-year stint with the AmeriCorps City Year Program at MPS’s Rogers Street Academy. Donovan is completing his second year at UW Madison, majoring in anthropology and geography while also earning a certificate in digital studies.
McBride may not be completely done with public life, noting that people have approached him regarding so-far undisclosed possibilities.
What has Tosa done well over the years?
“Working together our Mayor’s Common Council members and city staff have done a terrific job in holding down the growth of taxes while continuing to provide a level of municipal services” McBride said. He credits the city’s location as a “university suburb” with the UWM Innovation Campus several other colleges, one of the state’s two medical schools and the development of retail.
“That development means that businesses are paying a higher overall share of property taxes and residents proportionately less than they did 10 years ago,” he said.
McBride also pointed out the growth of the city population, saying “For the first time since I was a child, Wauwatosa’s population is growing.”
What has Tosa not done so well?
“We’ve all struggled with the fallout from years and years of road construction related to the zoo interchange,” he said.” We didn’t find a way to push back against the overreach of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. Which grossly overbuilt the streets connecting to the interchange. And the city hasn’t done a good job of explaining to its citizens why redevelopment of old industrial properties and outdated auto dealerships has been a good thing in terms of our tax base which supports our excellent school district as well as municipal services.”
What are Tosa’s top future challenges?
McBride pointed to the reduction in property tax levy cap that was established after 2011 in Gov. Walker’s administration. That cap gives municipalities only two options of lifting the cap – by referendum or through redevelopment. He recognizes that residents are “fatigued” by redevelopment projects and that “it will be harder and harder for the city budget to keep up with inflation” and municipal budgets over time may need to be reduced.
“Before I left the Common Council, I urged my colleagues to send a resolution to the governor and legislator requesting a change in the law so that municipalities can again raise their property tax levies at the rate of inflation to services won’t have to be cut and we don’t have to rely so much on redevelopment,” McBride said.
He also urged resident to lobby legislators for change and to understand tax incremental financing (TIF) and how that does not put further burden on residential property owners.
Should the County grounds be further redeveloped?
McBride favors further development on the UWM Innovation Campus site while preserving the “Sanctuary Woods” area north of Watertown Plank Road. He said the land south of Watertown Plank road is zoned for medical purposes and sees the medical campus growing thus providing family sustaining jobs.
“The roads around there (County grounds) have been widened as much as they can be and the only solution to the (traffic) problem will be improvements to mass transit,” he said. “If residents don’t support mass transit improvements we will see the roads get wider and wider and ruin our way of life.”
How about development throughout the city?
While recognizing the disruption of road and retail construction to residents, McBride said: “As we move forward, our goal must be the same as it has always been to protect and enhance our beautiful residential neighborhoods while building our property tax base to pay for services to our homes and businesses.”
He noted while some are “completely against” building apartments, he said the city should be welcoming to those who can’t afford or don’t want to maintain a single family home.
“If we don’t provide housing alternative we will exclude young people just starting out and older residents who want to downsize but stay in Wauwatosa,” he said. “We will also defeat the goals of the city’s affordable housing plan and turn back the clock to the time when we weren’t a community that welcomed all who wanted to live here.”
Give us your Tosa “elevator speech.”
“Wauwatosa is a place like no other in Wisconsin,” he said. “We are a city of beautiful old residential neighborhoods, great public schools, beautiful parks, a university suburb with world-class research being conducted and plentiful jobs. We have a charming old business district – the Village – and we have the advantage of being next door to Wisconsin’s largest city with all its cultural assets.”
“Like most Americans I am dismayed by the trends in our political life,” McBride said noting the polarization of issues that lead to personal attacks.
Despite such acrimony, McBride said, “Most people are thoughtful and polite and every week when I was an alderman at least one person thanked me for my service. When I resigned from the Council in January I was flooded with notes and e-mails from people thanking me. One woman even brought me a note and a box of chocolates. How could I not love servicing a community like this?”
Family is an important part of Dennis McBride’s life, shaped by his youth. While leading a productive life serving his hometown, he pointed with pride to parental and sibling accomplishments.
Parents Raymond and Marian met in the Milwaukee Journal newsroom and eventually were inducted into the Milwaukee Press Club Hall of Fame.
Joseph in is a San Francisco-based internationally known film critic and film professor with 20 movie books to his credit. Genevieve retired last year as a UWM history professor and then was accorded emeritus status. Michael is a Washington, D.C.-based attorney specializing in environmental and transportation law. Patrick, Dennis’s twin, was a UW-Madison dean of students at the School of Medicine & Public Health. Like his sister, he was accorded emeritus status upon retirement last year. Mark is an elementary school art teacher in the Waukesha School District. The youngest McBride sibling, Timothy, is an economics professor in the Brown School of Public Health at Washington University in St. Louis.
“As you can see,” Dennis said, “I’m far less accomplished of my sibling group. I’m proud of all of them.”