David Crowley: Milwaukee County Executive

From growing up in the 53206 to becoming the youngest elected and first Black elected Milwaukee Country Executive David Crowley has an amazing story.

David Crowley: Milwaukee County Executive

From growing up in the 53206 to becoming the youngest elected and first Black elected Milwaukee Country Executive David Crowley has an amazing story.

From growing up in the 53206 to becoming the youngest elected and first Black elected Milwaukee Country Executive David Crowley has an amazing story. 

In this episode we cover his back story, go behind the scenes of what is going in Milwaukee, the challenges, the progress that is being made and what is to come in 2024. 

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David Crowley: I was also encouraged to leave Milwaukee, and I always felt that that was, that didn’t sit right for me. I felt that the fight was right here in my own backyard. And so I wanted to stay and be a part of the change that I want my kids to be able to benefit from. These are the things that we have to be fighting for.

Richie Burke: Hey everyone. Welcome back to Milwaukee Uncut, sponsored by Central Standard Distillery, produced by Story Mark Studios and in partnership with. On Milwaukee. If you’re wondering what is going on in the city of Milwaukee and what the key initiatives are for 2024, including the RNC, which we dive into, we’ve got a huge year ahead.

This is a great episode for you. I’ve got Milwaukee County executive David Crowley joining me. He has an incredible backstory that we go over at the beginning. Milwaukee born and raised the first elected black Milwaukee County executive and The youngest, he took the position nearly four years ago at age 33 and is up for reelection this spring.

We also go inside the deal that keeps the brewers in Milwaukee through 2050 that got passed late last year, as well as the new sales tax deal for the city and the county that took effect on January one. What is it? What does that mean for you? This is also the first time in 20 years that Milwaukee County is projected to have a budget surplus.

That surplus is projected to be 31. 6 million. Not bad in a country that is 34 trillion in debt and climbing. So props to the County Executive and his team for setting an example. All right, let’s dive in with David Crowley.

David Crowley: You know born and raised here in the city of Milwaukee. I grew up on, on 23rd and Barline that, that, that famous zip code that we’re always talking about the 53206 zip code, which is one of the highest incarcerated zip codes in the state of Wisconsin, possibly in the country, when we think about not just individuals who are, are, who are incarcerated, but returning home from incarceration And during my, my, my younger years, it was a struggle.

both of my parents both struggle with, with drug addiction and mental health. we faced a lot of different housing insecurity, being, being evicted at least three times by the time I was 16 years old moving every year of my life for at least 13 years. So never really had that stability other than my education with two, three public schools, my whole life, our Avenue.

Bayview High School, and when I was a high school junior, I had an organization called Urban Underground that really helped save my life. One, it taught me how to love myself, but it also taught me about my community, but also found ways to bring me outside of my community to visit different neighborhoods and different states and different communities that I never thought I that I could see myself in and it really changed my life and set this path of community organizing for myself.

And so I did some community organizing, got involved with the AmeriCorps program via Public Allies and felt that this was my calling. And when you start doing, you know, community organizing, you start seeing yourself in front of elected officials who are the decision makers in many cases. And that path veered me into getting involved in politics.

So in 2010, I got my first start. working for then United States Senator Russ Feingold as his African American statewide organizer. And then met a lot of different people and then my, my former boss uh, State Senator Nakia Dodd literally just called me out the blue and asked me to come work for her.

So I worked for her for about six years before I got bit by that bug to run for office myself.

Richie Burke: So having, having to move every year, growing up in the most incarcerated zip code in the United States, you’re clearly very successful and do a lot for the community. What, What kept you going or what really motivated you when you had to go through all that?

David Crowley: You know what, what really motivated me was actually, you know, being introduced to those different perspectives as I, as I talked about, as a, as a young person, right? And so when you go to Atlanta for the first time, you go to, you know, Los Angeles for the first time, you go to dc you go to these different places.

And, and you go back home and you wonder why don’t we have these same type of opportunities? Why aren’t African Americans who, who are in the same position of me, as I am, not struggling as much in all these different communities? And so for me, it was really about, but also I would say that. I was also encouraged to leave Milwaukee, and I always felt that that was, that didn’t sit right for me.

Richie Burke: You were encouraged to leave Milwaukee. I was encouraged

David Crowley: to leave Milwaukee. You know, if you leave Milwaukee, you can go get a good education, you can go work, and then you can come back. But I think many of us understand that when you leave your hometown, a lot of folks don’t necessarily come back. And so for me, what really kept me going was I seen many of my friends leaving for college.

I seen many of my family members leaving or my brothers leaving to, to, to join the military service to fight for this country. And for me, I felt that the fight was right here in my own backyard. And so I wanted to stay and be a part of the change that I want my kids to be able to benefit from.

Richie Burke: What, you got evicted several times, obviously not the easiest upbringing, what, what made you loyal?

Well, To this city because a lot, I, I feel like a lot of people could say, I need to get out of this, this place.

David Crowley: Well, well, you know, I mentioned like it was a struggle growing up, but the first place that I really found love, right, like love for this community was the community itself. And so when you, when I, when I think back and, and, and, and reminisce about all of my mentors, all of the individuals who helped me be where I am.

You know, for me, it was about how do I make sure that I’m living on not just my mother and my father’s legacy, but their legacy as well with all the things that they have instilled into me. And so my loyalty really came to with, came with this community saved my life. It is up to me now to give back to this same community to make sure that they can thrive themselves

Richie Burke: You have a pretty high stress job.

You’re you’re raising three children, too And it seems like you’re a big health and mental health advocate as well Are there any things that you make sure you do on a? Daily basis or try and do for yourself? Well, you, you look like you’re in good shape and have your, you know, I’m trying stuck together.

I’m trying,

David Crowley: you know. Well, you know, first I would say when it comes down to my mental health, I have to make sure that my wife’s mental health is taken care of first. Right. . That is good advice for the listeners.

Richie Burke: Yeah.

David Crowley: It’s hard to have your

Richie Burke: own health, so that’s not taken care of. Happy

David Crowley: spouse, happy house, and, and so one.

I make sure to give, you know, like my wife a particular day and there are days where I get to have to myself to have a little bit of downtime because when I come home from work, the one thing that I love about, about, about being a county executive being here is that I have the opportunity to still, you know, not only take my girls to school, but I can read them a book at night and I can still feed, you know, have dinner with them.

I mean, so. But, you know, I do like to work out. I’m an avid basketball fan, so I’m a huge Marquee Bucks fan. And I try to work out as much as possible. I’ve actually gotten to doing a little bit of yoga lately. to try to stay, to try to stay fit. and not just physically, but also mentally. You feel

Richie Burke: good walking out of there?

David Crowley: Oh, all the time. Maybe a little bit of sore, but I will tell you, when I work out in the mornings, my days are much better than they ever are when I don’t. Do you hoop at all? Oh, all the time. Try to get out to the Milwaukee Athletic Club every once in a while to hoop on some Saturdays. Yeah. Oh, yeah. We got a good group that goes out there.

Richie Burke: He’s still out there though. Good’s still out there. Good for you for still being out there at 37. I, I used to be in the Mac League and everything. I loved it. Oh really? Yeah, you know at the the aging hit me a little early with the with my legs and my hairline and I called it at About oh, man, see

David Crowley: we don’t we can’t use that excuse cuz we got it We got we got 50 plus year olds coming out there now So come on has been trying

Richie Burke: to get me to come back for four years and I think he just gave up on me He does have a submitted question in this in this episode.

for those of you who don’t know he is a renowned Millennial consultant, whatever that means, you know what that means is the county executive, you

David Crowley: know, I just thought he was a professional networker or a party or, you know, but he does great work. No one knows.

Richie Burke: Also a former Ted X Fargo, North Dakota speaker.

So we’re just, I didn’t even know that. We’re lucky, lucky to have the guy in the city. Just you know, a big time guy who the city’s managed to retain that kind of talent. I mean, that’s a That’s a good sign and speaks volumes to the work that you’re doing as county executive as well. You almost didn’t run for county executive.

Your very, very pregnant wife kind of pushed you over the edge. You told me that before we got on there. Do you mind sharing that story? I found that, I found that great. Absolutely,

David Crowley: you know, so so when I would say so I was originally what happened was that summer had just Just, just endorsed county, former county executive Chris Abiley, and, you know, I’m gearing up for the re election, everybody’s gearing up for the re election, and then out the blue, he made the decision that he was not going to run again.

And so, I started getting some phone calls, and for about two, three weeks, you know, in and out of town, doing some conferences, I’m talking to my wife. And, you know, at this time, you know, we got a baby on the way. Baby is at this, you know, autumn was actually due November 9th. And so I’m asking my wife, I’m pushing my wife.

And there was a point where my wife basically said to me if you don’t do this, we’re going to have problems. and as I was saying to you, I know she was talking about problems in the community or problems with her. but all the above, it could have been all of the above. but that was, that was the motivation.

That was the push. That was the inspiration that I needed. to, to really go out there and, and really kind of leap before I looked when you think about a seat of this magnitude. Because prior to this, I was a state representative, worked in the state capitol three years as an elected official, four years as a staffer, and also was a staffer for the Milwaukee County board at one point.

So I knew, I knew the ends and now some. And believe I could do a good job, but do we have the resources? Could we build the coalitions needed? And a few months later we won this seat. So I’m proud of the work that we have done. you know, it’s definitely challenging work, but it is, it’s so rewarding and I’m, I’m glad to be here.

Richie Burke: That’s very cool. one big thing that’s come about recently is the, the sales tax. Yes. Right. So. went from 5. 5 percent to 7. 9 percent of the city, 9 in the county. Can you, can you touch on that? How that came about and what it’s, what it’s doing?

David Crowley: Absolutely. So for Milwaukee County, we were facing a huge fiscal crisis.

So Just to backtrack a little bit, 25 years ago, we had a pension scandal and we were still paying for this pension scandal in a sense to where, you know, we have, you know, about a billion dollars in liabilities that we have to pay. We’re spending about 110 million every year just to pay for the pension and to put that in perspective.

We only collect 300 million in local property taxes, right? So a third of our property tax was just going to the pension alone because it wasn’t fixed. Nobody, nobody was fixing it. And so for us Milwaukee County was in a place where we were going to continue to have to cut all of our major services.

Whether we’re thinking about public transit, whether we think of mental health, substance abuse, housing, we will have to put all of the major programs and services that people rely on. Some of our most vulnerable residents rely on. On the chopping block. So it was either we were going to cut these services or we’re going to fight for the additional resources that we need.

And so the 0. 4 percent increase for Milwaukee County has allowed us to do many things. It is one allowed us to have the largest property tax decrease in Milwaukee County’s history. in over 20 years, it has allowed us to invest 16 million into our Milwaukee County transit system, focusing not only improvements but safety aspects for both of our operators and our passengers.

we’ve been able to invest another 4 million on top of the 12 million that we received in ARPA funds, specifically towards housing affordability. And so this has really get put us in a, in a, in a much better financial position. But I will say that this not has this hasn’t solved all of our problems So we have to make sure that we still, you know, be prudent with our taxpayer dollars But Milwaukee County is in the best fiscal position that we have been in almost three decades

Richie Burke: What would you say to people who are pushing back about the sales tax or who are not happy about the sales tax?

David Crowley: Absolutely one we I think one we have to recognize that Not everything is taxed in the state of Wisconsin. So when we think about the gas that you’re putting in your car, that’s not taxed. Our water bills are not taxed. Groceries are not taxed. So the, the, some of our most vulnerable residents will not feel the pain when it comes down to what is being taxed and what is not.

But what I will say is that If we had to shut down buses, cut routes, cut our mental health, cut our services for our courts, cut our correctional staff and our sheriff’s staff, that would have been even more detrimental. And at the end of the day, if we would have had to make these cuts, it will make Milwaukee County a much better place.

A less desirable place not a more desirable place a less desirable place to want to work live and play And so with these dollars, this is literally going to be the first time that we’re collecting tax dollars That’s going to be able to stay in our community And being investing in our community and you’re going to see the fruits of this labor.

Richie Burke: Hey everyone Thank you for tuning into this episode of milwaukee uncut and i’d like to thank our sponsor central Standard distillery. I’ve got a bottle in my hand right now. R and D batch research and development batch. These things are amazing. They’re not available in stores, but they are available at the craft house, cherry bourbon cream and apple pie bourbon cream.

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Highly recommend central standard distillery. All right. Thanks for tuning into this episode of Milwaukee uncut. Let’s get back with David Crowley and it adds 184 million a year. I believe. Is that what I read? So

David Crowley: 80, it’s going to add about 80

Richie Burke: And that helps with the 31 and it’s not that bad. So if If ian abstin’s buying a 14 beer at the pfizer forum It would only jump to 14 and 34 cents,

David Crowley: right?

Well, we’re thinking about yeah in the city of milwaukee Yes, because they got the because the city needed their two percent increase and that was specific specifically for public safety and, and, and, and fire and things of that nature. So when we think about the increase, it is very nominal and, and, and even still, when you go to those, some of those major towns that I talked about, Atlanta, Denver, LA, New York.

We’re still much lower than their sales taxes on many of these places.

Richie Burke: Yeah, I saw that. I saw Chicago’s 10%, Minneapolis’s 9%. We’re only 8%. Going off that, Ian Abstin was wondering, as the county executive, do you think the Pfizer Forum should be allowed to sell beer for 14? Ha ha

David Crowley: ha ha! Well, you’re going to have to ask Peter Fagan that.

But as long as As long as we got Yanis Antetokounmpo, I’m not complaining about anything right now. I just spoke like a true politician right there. I like it. Okay.

Richie Burke: Alright, I think that’s all from the millennial consultant and TEDx speaker, Ian Abstin, today. so, going down to Three million of this goes to the parks.

I believe which need it. You can correct me if I’m wrong I think I got this off some other problem. So three million goes to the parks You’re actually decreasing property tax by a total of 21 million this year. Yeah, 16 million to the transit system 25 million in capital which goes to parks projects as well.

David Crowley: Yes, and these are all investments that we need to make I mean You know, particularly when you think about parks, right? So when we think about deferred maintenance, Milwaukee County has about a billion dollars in deferred maintenance. Now, half of that billion dollars is our public safety building, which has been crumbling.

It’s a hundred plus years old. We know that that’s one of the biggest projects that we have to tackle in the future. But the other half of that deferred maintenance is our parks, you know, making sure that we can continue to, to have our crown jewels. And so to be able to expand One, our, our parks department staff by about 18 different positions, the capital projects that you talked about.

This is going to continue to allow us to be that attractive place, a region of choice when it comes down to you know, recruiting new people to come take some of these jobs, but also making sure that we can retain the great folks that we have in Milwaukee County as well.

Mm hmm.

Richie Burke: I wanted to touch on the Brewers deal, too.

That was a hot topic over the summer. Evers signed the bipartisan ballpark, fundraising from Bill, keep the Brewers here for the next 27 years, 500 million public funding, 130 million, 7 million from the city. What’s the importance of this, and what role did you play? Play as the county executive.

David Crowley: Absolutely. So one when you think about the brewers, I mean, they’re important incredibly important economic as well as a cultural asset And so I am extremely happy that governor evers signed this huge piece of bipartisan legislation into law because it allows us to keep the brewers here but it doesn’t just do that Right.

The other thing is that milwaukee county we were able we were actually able to negotiate You know additional flexible revenue. So over the course of this lease, Milwaukee County will receive over 239 million in additional flexible spending so we can actually take care of the businesses that we want to be able to take care of.

So not only do we keep the brewers here without any additional impact on taxpayers and their dollars aren’t necessarily paying for this, but we are also getting a benefit over the course of the lease. And so for me this is a good thing for Milwaukee, you know, we have the bucks here. We don’t want to lose the brewers And and we have to remember that the brewers also bring many people outside of our community

Richie Burke: Your efforts as County Executive really focused on five main areas, behavioral mental health, public safety, affordable housing, juvenile justice, and transportation.

Can you, I don’t know if you want to give a little bit of the cliff notes on what you’re mainly focused on right now. I’m sure each one of those categories could be their own podcast, but Oh,

David Crowley: absolutely. I think we’re doing a lot. I mean, one, We talk about affordable housing, right? We, we’ve seen the largest push of affordable housing in suburban neighborhoods than we have seen in over 20, 30 years right here within Milwaukee County and really excited to have these partners at the table.

the other thing that we’re focusing on is, is mental health. We know that we have to tackle the mental health issues as well as the substance use issues within Milwaukee County. so we’ve been uh, putting online a harm reduction vending machine, so if folks need to have you know, ways to dispose their medication or be able to have some Narcan because somebody may be in a substance use crisis, those things are available to them.

we have a lot of things happening with our community reintegration center, right, where. We have a partnership with both Marquette and MATC to work with those individuals who are in our care So once they return back home, they’re much better than when they walked into the CRC So we’re doing some occupational training around welding there we have the first ever family center in the state of Wisconsin to make sure that they have the support systems That they need we’ve also increased free phone calls and video time for these individuals to, to be able to communicate with their support systems.

but as we begin to move forward, even with Juvenile Justice we’re gonna continue to invest in our Credible Messengers program, right? When we think about every young person that’s been through that program, two thirds, about 75 percent of the young people who’ve been through there hasn’t re offended and come back through our doors.

So, how do we continue to really build the capacity of all the work that we have been doing with the limited resources that we have? While also creating and building upon the relationships at both the state and federal level to bring resources back to make these incredible investments.

Richie Burke: Let’s move on to some, some quick questions.

The standard five, five ish quick questions sponsored by Central Standard Distillery. this one was not on my notes, but now that I found out you hoop at the MAC. Who is the best defender out of these three? Okay. Alex Lasry. Steven Gruber, any of the 50 year olds that you mentioned that play with you?

David Crowley: so, most of the time, me and those two guys are on the same team.

But, actually, Then you have

Richie Burke: to pick up slack for them. So, I definitely have

David Crowley: to pick up slack for them a lot of the times. But, actually, you know, the one person I would throw out there, Joe Brennan. Joe Brennan has come out there. Joe

Speaker 3: Brennan. Love that guy. Yes. GMC. GMC. Former Discovery World. Oh yeah, former DOA secretary.

He’s got some height and a little bit of girth on him. Oh man, don’t, don’t. I could see him. Don’t let his age fool you either.

David Crowley: Cause he, he, he, he. He’s out there more than me, to be honest, so.

Richie Burke: So we’re going with Joel Brennan. Joel Brennan. Much better defender than Lazzari and Gruber. Alright, I like that answer.

Next question, this one was on my notes. It’s a big year with the RNC coming to town. Likely a, maybe the most divisive and yeah, divisive election and controversial election in the history of our country, potentially. You’re a democrat. What are your views on the RNC coming into Milwaukee? I

David Crowley: think everybody understands that the road to the presidency comes through Milwaukee County in the state of Wisconsin.

So we know that all eyes are going to be on Milwaukee. And when it comes down to the RNC, You know, it is our job to make sure that they have the greatest party that they can have and make sure that they are safe as well. But I truly believe that this is a great opportunity for our entire region. when you think about our businesses and our workers, this is a great opportunity for them to showcase what they can do.

And because we know so many people are going to be watching the Republican National Convention. This is, this is the time for us to be in the spotlight, to really show what we have to offer to help attract more conferences, seminars, whatever you can name right here to the Milwaukee area. And I think it’s going to, it’s going to be great.

And I’m, I’m reminded of, you know, the, the Bucks run, right. And we had the opportunity to do the championship and the parade. And the following year we had the Red Bull flu talk right here at veterans park within the city of Milwaukee. And we was wondering like, how did they find Milwaukee? And they were watching the Bucks parade and seeing the Veterans Park and say, we think we need to go there.

So it really gives us an opportunity to shine. And I truly believe with, you know, everything that happened with the Democratic National Committee convention, because it wasn’t able to go on the way it needed to go on because of the pandemic. This gives us a redo in a sense to really showcase all the great things that we have to offer as a community.

So you

Richie Burke: look at it from more of a bipartisan standpoint. Good for the city. Good publicity. Oh, absolutely. It’s not about red or blue. It’s about the green. Some people are not looking forward to all the Trumpsters coming to town and things like that. Well,

David Crowley: you know, I think there are going to be a lot of folks who are going to have their popcorn ready for all of this.

But, you know, no. It’s not about red or blue. It’s about the green for Milwaukee.

Richie Burke: I like that. I’m going to create a clip of that. What would you say the biggest, if you could narrow it down to one issue, what would you say the biggest issue Milwaukee faces right now is?

David Crowley: The biggest issue. you know, I think that there are a lot of things that we can name, right?

But the one thing that I would throw out there is, is, is unity. and the reason why I say unity is I’ve traveled and had the opportunity to meet people who come from the Milwaukee area. And it’s, and it’s always interesting to me when I am, I’m, I’m somewhere and somebody said, Oh yeah, I grew up in the Milwaukee area.

And I was like, Oh, where you live? It was like, Shorewood. It’s like, that’s Milwaukee, right? That’s Milwaukee County. Like, you know, and so I say unity because a lot of the times we forget that we are one county. And we always want to pin the city of Milwaukee versus our suburbs. But if our suburbs are doing well, that means our city is doing well.

And if our city is doing well, that means our suburbs are doing well. And I believe that for the county as well. And so, So when we can get our businesses, we can get our union members, when we can get the business leaders, Republicans and Democrats to understand who we are and what our goals are as a Milwaukee community, I think that will help us out politically economically as well.

And so I will always say that the unity that we need is, is, is on the horizon. I will say that when you think about all the work that we’ve been able to do, but I will say that is the biggest issue. and not just unity within Milwaukee County and our little municipalities. But even partnerships across the state, right?

We are the economic engine of this state and it’s hard to say that without feeling like i’m beating my chest But we do this in partnership with other communities. We do this in partnership with the walsall with the lacrosse with the green bay because they have things that we don’t have and our people go there like their people come here And so it’s really about, I would say, creating, creating even stronger partnerships is something that we should be focusing on.

Richie Burke: What is your favorite thing to do in Milwaukee? Go to a Bucks game. I enjoy that too. I’ll be there on Saturday. I’ll

David Crowley: be there Saturday as well. That’s going to be a good one. Maybe I’ll see

Richie Burke: you there. Favorite Milwaukee restaurant? Do you have one? Go

David Crowley: to spot. Ah some estate guy. I love carnivore.

Carnivore is probably one of my favorite steak place. but if I’m not at carnivore, my, my wife loves pasta. And so she always wants to go to the Calderon club. Nice. So those, those are my two

Speaker 3: favorites. I guess, you know, Eric Kennedy. Who doesn’t know Eric? Hashtag breaking bread. I guess. I appreciate it, Eric.

Good dude. Really good dude. Milwaukee’s boyfriend, Eric Kennedy. What are you most proud of over the last four years? I mean, personally,

David Crowley: I just have to say my girls. You know My girls are just amazing. The amount of time watching them grow up, seeing them become the young women that they are has been Just absolutely fantastic to watch

Richie Burke: and final question why have you chosen to stay in Milwaukee and then raise your family here?

David Crowley: Well, where else would I go? This is the best place in the state of Wisconsin on earth I mean one just regionally right like when I think about Milwaukee There’s not too many communities like Milwaukee of this size that this great And it’s right next to a lake, one of the largest freshwater fresh bodies of water in the entire world.

I mean, we have so many things to offer. I don’t care where you’re coming from in this entire world. Milwaukee has something for you. Whether you talk about the German heritage, the African heritage, the Italian heritage, our Asian heritage, we have something for everybody. I mean, And we have some of the best summers, and I think when people come to Milwaukee and experience a summer here, they’re like, we didn’t even know this place existed.

We have the most accessible beach in the entire country, possibly the world. We got music festivals, ethnic festivals that are happening all across this city on any given summer, summer day. And so, there’s nothing short to do here. And it, it mind boggles me when people say, well, there’s not nothing to do here.

And I’m like, Are you living under a rock? There’s a lot of things to do in this city and in this County. So

Richie Burke: County Executive, David Crowley, thank you for coming on today.

Speaker 3: Well, I appreciate you. This was fun. And for all you do for the community. Thank you.

Richie Burke: Thank you for tuning in to another episode of Milwaukee Uncut, sponsored by our friends at Central Standard Distillery in partnership with On Milwaukee and produced by Storymark Studios.

If you enjoyed this episode, if you think someone else should know what’s on tap for the city of Milwaukee this year, please share this episode with them. That helps us get more ears on this podcast and make sure to subscribe. Cause we’ve got a great lineup coming up. Thanks again.