Saturday, April 20, 2024
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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Milwaukee Press Club 'Excellence in Wisconsin Journalism' 2020 & 2021 Award Winners

Milwaukee Public Museum Admits It’s Abolishing European Village

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Read our stories exploring the new Milwaukee Public Museum here.

The Milwaukee Public Museum has admitted: It is getting rid of the beloved European village exhibit as part of its new $240 million museum.

The revelation came via a Facebook comment the museum made to a concerned person on April 13, 2023. A woman asked the museum, “I love these ideas, but I’m also wondering whether you’ll be representing a larger variety of the immigrants that settled Milwaukee (like the European Village does in the current museum). Will there be something similar to that, where various immigrant cultures can display their Christmas traditions? That’s my favorite part of the current museum.”

The museum responded, “European history and heritage will be explored throughout the museum, but not exclusively in one village-style exhibit. We should note, however: While some of these storylines are established, the exhibit design process is long, and many exhibit plans are still in progress.”

The museum is still $112 million short of the $240 million price tag for the new museum, with groundbreaking expected in December.  The museum has received millions of dollars in taxpayer money. Yet officials are plowing ahead. The Milwaukee media have largely functioned as boosters for the new museum project, failing to ask tough questions or scrutinize the finances.

European village

Two petition drives started by concerned citizens are seeking to save the Streets of Old Milwaukee and its related exhibit at the Milwaukee Public Museum, the European Village.

We previously reported that Milwaukee County Public Museum officials tacked on an additional $80-90 million to renovation cost estimates for updating exhibits in the current facility after saying that racial and equity concerns were not being met, according to internal documents and videos obtained by Wisconsin Right Now.

The museum’s officials have repeatedly told the public that it would cost $240 million to build a new museum and $250 million to renovate the current building instead. Yet the new museum will be much smaller.

The European Village is a nostalgic exhibit for many, especially at Christmas time. Some people confuse it with the Streets of Old Milwaukee; Streets is the portion of the exhibit with businesses and the candy shop. The European Village is next to it; it’s the exhibit where you can peer into the homes of immigrants from various ethnic traditions, from Polish to Irish.

Streets of old milwaukee
The new museum and the streets of old milwaukee.

Alexandra Hahnfeld and her sisters created the petition to save the European Village; their grandfather Dr. Lazar Brkich was a Serbian immigrant to Chicago and then Milwaukee, who became the lead curator and director of the European Village exhibit in 1973.

They said his work included meeting with cultural groups and traveling to Europe to find artifacts to include in the houses. He also included artifacts from their family and his personal trips.

European village
Dr lazar brkich

We asked Alexandra Hahnfeld about the museum’s latest comments. “It’s a cop out answer and the public isn’t stupid. I know a PR comment when I see one,” she said.

“There’s no reason an exhibit that received an award of excellence shouldn’t be included in the new museum. The village means a lot to the European community in Milwaukee, not just myself and my family,” she said.

“The museum is not reaching out to my family and me after our pleadings to save our grandfather’s work. They have no empathy, and that should speak volumes to people. I wish someone from MPM could imagine being in my and my family’s shoes and understand the pain we are enduring from all of this.”

She added, “There are items donated from my family in the Serbian house, including a cloth my grandmother embroidered in her teens when she was in a displaced persons’ camp. There are items in there that are of no real monetary value to them but mean everything to my family.”

The museum has not explained what it will do with the historic exhibits when it moves or the many historic murals and other pieces of artwork. They’ve said before that much of them can’t be moved, though.

For months, the museum has used vague and used obfuscating semantics when asked about both exhibits. The new comments came on posts in which the museum rolled out drawings for its replacement for the Streets of Old Milwaukee. It’s called “Milwaukee Revealed,” and it will contain some aspects of the old exhibit (like the granny on a rocking chair and the candy store,) but also will be different. A New York firm is designing it.

The Milwaukee Revealed exhibit will have a neighborhood portion but does not appear to follow the same tradition as the European Village, although there is at least one house. Rather, the exhibit seems to also focus on the natural landscape, like earthworms and the lake.

“Considered the spiritual successor to the Streets of Old Milwaukee exhibit currently part of MPM, the Milwaukee Revealed gallery will evoke a similar feeling of nostalgia and whimsy, while also offering new, surprising and often overlooked perspectives about the city for visitors to discover,” the museum wrote.

People had mixed views. “Streets of Old Milwaukee is my favorite, this looks promising but small. Not sure how I feel about all the screens and technology aspects,” wrote one woman. Another woman wrote, “It looks great, but it’s a fraction of what we have now in the Streets. And I mean a fraction. It seems so small.”

The museum responded, “You can walk into so many of the buildings in Milwaukee Revealed, the size of the exhibit space visitors will experience is roughly the same as Streets of Old Milwaukee.”

Wrote another, “People hate change, I hate change, but this looks so nice. Looking forward to the future of the new museum.”

Other readers also inquired about the absence of the European Village on the comment thread. One woman wrote, “What about the European village? We love going there at Christmas and seeing all the different cultures’ decorations. That and how beautifully you did the streets of old Milwaukee at Christmas.”

Our Milwaukee Public Museum series was made possible with a project-specific grant from Kevin Nicholson’s No Better Friend non-profit.

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(The Center Square) – One of the biggest critics of Wisconsin’s election administrator says no one should be threatening her and says threats don’t help fix election integrity issues.

State Rep. Janel Brandtjen, R-Menomonee Falls, on Tuesday offered her thoughts after the Wisconsin Elections Commission confirmed elections administrator Meagan Wolfe is receiving extra security protection.

"Threatening Administrator Meagan Wolfe, or any election official, is unacceptable and counterproductive. Venting frustrations on individuals like Wolfe, clerks, or poll workers is not only illegal but also harmful to rebuilding trust in our elections,” Brandtjen said. “Threats only undermine our republic and empower the courts and media. It's essential to address any concerns about election processes through legal channels. Threats have no place in our democracy.”

Brandtjen has been one of Wisconsin’s loudest critics of Wolfe. She led hearings as far back as 2021 into Wolfe’s role in the 2020 election. Brandtjen also led the push to get Wolfe removed from the Elections Commission.

“Wolfe’s term has indeed expired, and according to Wisconsin Statutes 15.61(1)(b)1, she should be removed, but Republicans are too worried about the press or too compromised to follow existing law.” Brandtjen said.

The Wisconsin Elections Commission on Monday clarified that Wolfe is receiving extra security but refused to offer any details.

“The Wisconsin Elections Commission has had productive conversations about safety and security with state leadership, including the governor’s office, which is tasked with approving security measures for state government officials,” WEC spokesperson Riley Vetterkind said in a statement. “Those conversations have resulted in additional security measures being approved for Administrator Wolfe and the WEC when the need arises.”

Brandtjen on Tuesday blamed Wisconsin Republicans, and once again blamed Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, for Wolfe’s continued time on the Elections Commission.

“It's disappointing that Sen. Dan Knodl and Rep. Scott Krug, chairs of the election committees, have not exercised their investigative and subpoena powers. This inaction has allowed the neglect of essential laws, such as providing ballots to individuals declared incompetent, lack of checks in military ballot requests, an insecure online system, and improper guidance on voting for homeless individuals without proper documentation,” she said. “The Legislature, particularly Speaker Vos' control, is responsible for the frustration caused by election irregularities due to their inaction.”

Wisconsin’s local election managers have reported an uptick in threats and angry rhetoric since the 2020 election, and some local election offices have taken extra precautions. But there haven’t been any cases in Wisconsin where someone has acted on an election threat.

Wisconsin’s Largest Business Group Sues Over Evers’ 400-year School Funding Veto

(The Center Square) – There is now a legal challenge to Gov. Tony Evers’ 400-year school funding veto.

The WMC Litigation Center on Monday asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to take up their challenge to the governor’s summer veto that increased per-pupil funding for the next four centuries.

“At issue is Gov. Evers’ use of the so-called ‘Vanna White’ or ‘pick-a-letter’ veto,” the group said in a statement. “The governor creatively eliminated specific numbers in a portion of the budget bill that was meant to increase the property tax levy limit for school districts in the 2023-24 and 2024-25 fiscal years. By striking individual digits, the levy limit would instead be increased from the years 2023 to 2425 – or four centuries into the future.”

The WMC Litigation Center is an affiliate of Wisconsin Manufactures & Commerce (WMC), the combined state chamber and manufacturers’ association.

Litigation Center Executive Director Scott Rosenow said while Wisconsin’s governor has an incredibly powerful veto pen, there are limits.

“No Wisconsin governor has the authority to strike individual letters or digits to form a new word or number, except when reducing appropriations,” Rosenow said. “This action is not only unconstitutional on its face, but it is undemocratic because this specific partial veto allows school districts to raise property taxes for the next 400 years without voter approval.”

Wisconsin lawmakers and voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1990 that put limits on the governor’s veto power.

Rosenow and the WMC Litigation Center say the governor’s veto goes beyond those limits.

The legal challenge also raises the constitutional issue that all state spending has to originate with, and be approved by, the legislature.

“In no uncertain terms, 402 years is not less than or part of the two-year duration approved by the Legislature – it is far more,” concluded Rosenow. “The governor overstepped his authority with this partial veto, at the expense of taxpayers, and we believe oversight by the Court is necessary.”

The WMC Litigation Center is asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to take the case as quickly as possible.

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Jury selection is set to begin Monday in the first-ever criminal trial of a former U.S. president.

Former President Donald Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts related to charges he paid hush money to adult film actress Stormy Daniels through a lawyer and covered it up as a legal expense before being elected president.

Trump has attempted to delay the start of the New York state trial several times, including three longshot tactics judges rejected this week.

What charges does Trump face in the New York hush money case?

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has charged Trump with 34 counts of falsifying business records related to money paid to Daniels and another woman, former Playboy model Karen McDougal. Bragg has alleged Trump broke New York law when he falsified with the intent to commit or conceal another crime.

Prosecutors allege Trump falsified internal records kept by his company, hiding the true nature of payments that involve Daniels ($130,000), McDougal ($150,000), and Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen ($420,000). Prosecutors allege the money was logged as legal expenses, not reimbursements. Both Cohen and Daniels are expected to testify.

Cohen is expected to be a key witness in the trial. Daniels has said she expects to testify.

Former Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., Bragg's predecessor, did not bring the case to trial.

What happens on Monday?

Prosecutors, defense attorneys and Donald Trump are expected to be present when the trial before Judge Juan Merchan gets started Monday. The first step will be picking a jury, a process that could take a week or more depending on how things progress. The trial is expected to last six to eight weeks.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys will select 12 jurors and six alternates from a pool of potentially hundreds of people. Each juror will answer 42 questions designed to determine if they can be impartial in the high-profile trial of a polarizing former president. The jurors will remain anonymous because of security concerns.

Once a jury is seated, it's on to opening statements where prosecutors and defense attorneys will get to address the jury about what they plan to show during the trial.

What is Trump's defense to the charges?

Trump has maintained he did nothing wrong and has accused Bragg of bringing a politically motivated case involving conduct in 2016 during a presidential election year as Trump faces incumbent Joe Biden in a rematch of the 2020 election.

Trump has spoken out against the judge, the district attorney and other involved in the case repeatedly. Trump's comments prompted a gag order from the judge who said Trump can't talk publicly about certain people involved in the case and their families.

"The White House Thugs should not be allowed to have these dangerous and unfair Biden Trials during my campaign for President. All of them, civil and criminal, could have been brought more than three years ago. It is an illegal attack on a Political Opponent. It is Communism at its worst, and Election Interference at its Best. No such thing has ever happened in our Country before," Trump wrote on his social media platform Truth Social this week. "On Monday I will be forced to sit, GAGGED, before a HIGHLY CONFLICTED & CORRUPT JUDGE, whose hatred for me has no bounds. All of these New York and D.C. 'Judges' and Prosecutors have the same MINDSET. Nobody but this Soros Prosecutor, Alvin Bragg, wanted to take this ridiculous case. All legal scholars say it is a sham. BIDEN'S DOJ IS RUNNING THE CASE. Just think of it, these animals want to put the former President of the United States (who got more votes than any sitting President!), & the PARTY'S REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE, IN JAIL, for doing absolutely nothing wrong. It is a RUSH TO THE FINISH. SO UNFAIR!"

Will Trump take the stand?

That's not clear yet. Trump said last month that he'd be willing to testify at trial if needed.

Could Trump go to jail?

It's too earlier to tell what will happen if Trump is convicted. Under New York state law, falsifying business records in the first degree is a Class E felony that carries a maximum sentence of four years in prison.

Trump's age and lack of any prior criminal convictions could work in his favor at sentencing if he's convicted. His attacks on the judge could have the opposite effect at sentencing. Before sentencing, the judge would look at sentencing guidelines, recommendations from prosecutors and any other pre-sentence reports.

In late March, Trump said that he wasn't worried about a conviction when asked if he thought a conviction could hurt his chances of returning to the White House.

"It could also make me more popular because the people know it's a scam," he said. "It's a Biden trial, there is no trial, there's a Biden trial."

Whatever happens during the trial, Trump will be protected by the U.S. Secret Service.

Even if convicted and sentenced to jail, Trump could continue his campaign to re-take the White House.

"The Constitution does not bar felons from serving as President," said Richard Hasen, professor of law and political science at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Trump could not pardon himself from any state charges, Hasen said.

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Liberal Justice Ann Walsh Bradley Not Running for Reelection

(The Center Square) – Wisconsin’s next supreme court race could be even more contentious and even more expensive than the last one.

Liberal Justice Anne Walsh Bradley on Thursday surprised the state when she announced she will not run for re-election next year.

"My decision has not come lightly. It is made after careful consideration and reflection. I know I can do the job and do it well. I know I can win re-election, should I run. But it's just time to pass the torch, bring fresh perspectives to the court," Walsh Bradley said in a statement.

She is one of Wisconsin’s longest serving justices, serving her third 10-year term on the court.

“In the 177-year history of the court, only four justices have served longer than my length of service,” she wrote.

Walsh Bradley’s decision means the next election will be open.

Former Republican attorney general, and current Waukesha County judge, Brad Schimel has already jumped into the race. There aren’t any declared Democrats yet.

Schimel on Thursday said Walsh Bradley’s decision isn’t changing anything for him.

“From the beginning of my campaign, I made it clear that I’m not just running against one person, I’m running against this Court’s leftist majority,” Schimel said. “I wish Justice Ann Walsh Bradley well in retirement after decades of public service. I look forward to continuing the fight to bring integrity and respect for the Constitution back to the Supreme Court of Wisconsin.”

Wisconsin’s last race for the supreme court, in April of 2023, set records for spending. The race between Justice Janet Protasiewicz and former Justice Dan Kelly cost more than $56 million. That makes the 2023 Wisconsin race the most expensive judicial race in American history. Many court observers and politicos in Wisconsin say the 2025 race could be just as expensive, or even more expensive.

Protasiewicz’s victory flipped the Wisconsin Supreme Court to a 4-3 liberal majority for the first time in 15 years.

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