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Milwaukee is America’s most German city, with an ethnic heritage noticeable not just in the names of its beers and its old German restaurants but in the solidness of its houses and the orderliness of its streets. Until World War I made this German character seem un-American, German was spoken on the streets and read in newspapers, German beer was produced in dozens of breweries and German cultural traditions breathed in churches, union halls and parlors. There was a German-type politics, with a Socialist mayor and an efficient, honest city government. The world’s largest four-sided clock faces outward from all sides of the tower on the Allen-Bradley factory, looking out over the industrial city. It is an apt symbol, a piece of precision engineering, in this high-skill manufacturing town, with its skyline of smokestacks and church steeples, the closest thing in America to the factory cities of the Germany whence so many Milwaukeeans’ ancestors came. Milwaukee has led the nation in industrial control equipment, mining gear, cranes and independent foundries. The work force, with German, Polish and Mitteleuropean work habits, is highly skilled and hard-working. Harley-Davidson began manufacturing on the West Side a century ago. Though some neighborhoods here are beset by crime and drug use, most of Milwaukee is solid and upstanding, and some of it—Brewers Hill near the old Schlitz brewery—is gentrifying. There is an Oktoberfest (as well as an Irish Fest, a huge musical Summerfest, etc.), and there are large and efficiently run factories that pay high wages to highly-skilled and well-disciplined workers. Residential development along the Milwaukee River recently has brought more people downtown. Much of Milwaukee County’s Latino population, which reached nearly 100,000 in 2005, has settled in the old immigrant neighborhoods of the city’s south side; the north side is home to the city’s African-American neighborhoods such as Bronzeville, home to America’s Black Holocaust Museum, and Sherman Park.
The 4th Congressional District of Wisconsin covers the entire city of Milwaukee and a few of its working classsuburbs—St. Francis, Cudahy and South Milwaukee on Lake Michigan and West Milwaukee and part of West Allis west of the Allen-Bradley tower. Of Wisconsin’s eight congressional districts, the 4th is the only one to have lost population between 2000 and 2005.
The congresswoman from the 4th District is Gwen Moore, a Democrat elected in 2004. Moore was born in Racine, the eighth of nine children, and raised on the north side of Milwaukee. As an 18-year-old college freshman, she became a single mother who was forced to rely on welfare to help support her daughter. She graduated from Marquette University and worked as a housing and urban development specialist. Moore said she got active in politics when a rent-to-own center repossessed her washer and dryer even though she had paid three times their value in exorbitant interest rates; she responded by leading an effort to establish a community credit union. She was elected to the state House in 1988 and to the state Senate in 1992, where she was the first black woman to serve.
In 2003, when old-style neighborhood 4th District Democrat Gerald Kleczka announced that he was retiring after 20 years in the House, Moore became the early frontrunner. But she had serious competition in the September 2004 Democratic primary. Moore faced two political veterans, state Senator Tim Carpenter and former state party chairman Matt Flynn, both white. The candidates agreed on most issues: all three supported abortion rights, focused on jobs and economic concerns, and called for eliminating the Bush administration's tax cuts for those making more than $200,000 a year. In the absence of significant ideological clashes, the fallout from Milwaukee's mayoral primary earlier in 2004 played a key role. The nonpartisan election in April featured former Congressman Tom Barrett, who is white, and acting Mayor Marvin Pratt, who sought to become the city's first black elected mayor. Barrett narrowly emerged as the winner in a vote that divided along racial lines and caused hard feelings in the black community. In the House race Moore took advantage of the energized black voter base, and she leveraged her financial support from national women’s, teachers and other liberal groups. Flynn had chaired John Kerry’s campaign in Wisconsin, was endorsed by Kleczka and boasted that he had backed Pratt for mayor; but he was damaged by his work as general counsel for the local Roman Catholic archdiocese in the sex abuse scandal. Carpenter was the only openly gay member of the Senate and had the support of national gay-rights groups. Moore won 64% of the vote to 25% for Flynn and 10% for Carpenter. Flynn won the five aldermanic districts and 49% of the vote on the south side, but Moore won about 80% of the vote north of I-94. She was helped by the efforts of America Coming Together, a 527 anti-Bush organization that used the September primary as a rehearsal of its November get-out-the-vote operation in black precincts. Although ACT did not endorse a candidate, Moore was the obvious beneficiary of its efforts.
In the general election Republican Gerald Boyle tried to win over Democrats disaffected with Moore. But he got no national money and Moore won, 70%-28%. In the House, she got seats on the Financial Services and Small Business committees. The luster from Moore's victory was diminished when her 25-year-old son was one of five John Kerry campaign employees charged in January 2005 with slashing the tires of more than 20 vans rented by Republicans to drive voters and monitors to the polls on Election Day; the vehicles were in a parking lot next to the Bush campaign office and the incident took place a few hours before voting started. A jury deadlocked on the verdict, leading to a plea agreement, but a judge threw out the deal and sentenced her son to four months in jail on a charge of misdemeanor property damage.
Moore has a solidly liberal voting record. She sponsored a bill to provide funding to help low-income workers buy cars to increase their access to better jobs. As a member of the “Out of Iraq” caucus, Moore considered voting against the 2007 war funding bill, but with the urging of Appropriations Chairman David Obey, she voted for it and a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. She was arrested along with other members of the Congressional Black Caucus at the Sudanese Embassy in 2006 in a protest of genocide in Darfur. Moore said she has developed an interest in foreign relations and defense but said she wanted to focus on a few issues or “you have little or no credibility, because you’re just all over the place.” Lawmakers in 2005 incorporated provisions of Moore’s SHIELD Act into the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act that would protect the identity of domestic violence victims who receive homeless assistance. Moore, who is learning Spanish to reach out to the Hispanic population on Milwaukee’s south side, appears well established in her district. She drew no primary opposition and won reelection to a second term with 71%. Moore has been mentioned as a potential mayoral challenger to Barrett in 2008, speculation that her aides have dismissed.