The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ran dueling “community” opinion columns about having Wal-Mart Supercenter in Cudahy. While the dualistic approach to considering issues severely limits the range of consideration, these sorts of columns are often revealing when one uses them to look for how much weight each side gives its arguments.
Writing in favor of having the huge Wal-Mart in Cudahy is Gary Kraeger, a real estate appraiser from Wind Lake. Mr. Kraeger’s column is entitled “Cudahy mayor’s miscue.” This title deliberately distracts from the fact that Cudahy Mayor Ryan McCue ran against having Wal-Mart in his city, and won. Second, Mr. Kraeger suggests that was responsible for the failed development of the Ice port space. A plan to develop this land into a major ice training facility apparently was aired and failed in 2003, while Mayor McCue was elected some four years later in April 2007. In addition to using vagaries which bear a passing resemblance to facts to cast aspersions upon the mayor, Mr. Kraeger dresses them up with weak analogies such as “Wal-Mart and Cudahy go together like peanut butter and jelly.” The only hard facts he offers to back up his argument are the property taxes paid by Wal-Mart at its Southgate, Germantown, and Midtown Center locations. Unfortunately, he fails to cite the Journal Sentinel’s previous reporting that the huge store would bring an estimated $800,000 in property tax. Worse, these numbers are dropped into the column completely without context. His whole argument seems to be based on a Colbert-esque appeal to the gut. It reaches for the truthiness of the matter. That sort of approach is best used to satirize an ideological stance, not to support it.
Kraeger also shares his opinion that “if Wal-Mart is turned away” from Cudahy again, for a third time, “it will find a location in Bay View and will never be interested in Cudahy again.” Mr. Kraeger is apparently unaware that the chances of that happening here in Bay View are slim to none. I live in Bay View, and know that virtually all of our elected representatives, including Alderman Tony Zielinski, and County Supervisors Dimitrijevic and Larson are firmly opposed to having a Wal-Mart here. We have worked very hard as a community to bring independent shops and good bigger businesses to our little village in the city, quite the opposite of what Wal-Mart represents.
The opposing opinion is offered by Elise Schmitz, an account executive from Milwaukee, uses hard numbers to make her case, not to mention a bit of civic pride. She specifies that taxpayers would be forced to pay over 6 million dollars, according to cudahynow.com, just to bring the Wal-Mart to Cudahy. Add to this high cost to taxpayers the cost that Wal-Mart has had on our local economy, and the deal looks even worse. The appeal of “low cost all the time” has an instinctive appeal. But this apparent savings, argues Schmitz, has come at the cost of jobs in our economy. Schmitz cites how to meet Wal-Mart’s demands for MasterLock, Inc. to provide its good at ever-lower prices, MasterLock had to move its manufacturing from Milwaukee to Mexico. That means jobs were lost here, worsening the whole state and regional economy. (Would MasterLock have moved its production to Mexico without pressure from Wal-Mart? (And which came first, the chicken or the egg?))
The rational and concrete arguments Ms. Schmitz made carry more weight than Mr. Kraeger’s vague appeals to the gut. If there was one thing that I learned from my recent county board race, it was that south side residents are much more attuned to rationality than truthiness. The case for the use of large amounts of land, public resources, and taxpayer dollars such as this should be made with facts, not emotional needling.