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Who Were Milwaukee’s ‘Sewer Socialist’ Mayors?

The city stands apart for electing three socialist mayors, but their work on infrastructure, parks, and housing looks much like what’s expected of mayors today.
Milwaukee's last socialist mayor Frank Zeidler (left), seen here with Senator Joseph McCarthy, expanded the city's footprint to nearly double its size.
Milwaukee's last socialist mayor Frank Zeidler (left), seen here with Senator Joseph McCarthy, expanded the city's footprint to nearly double its size.AP

To hear Alice Cooper describe it in Wayne’s World, one of the most interesting things about Milwaukee is that it’s the largest American city to ever elect three socialist mayors.

That fact made the rounds again this week when the Democratic Party chose Milwaukee to host the 2020 Democratic National Convention. Many pundits, especially on the right, were quick to say the DNC selection site reflects a more recent embrace of socialism by some of its members. But as Charles Sykes, author of the book How the Right Lost Its Mind, explains in The Atlantic, Milwaukee’s socialist mayors—who served between 1910 and 1960—weren’t cult icons like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Bernie Sanders. In fact, their policies seem downright conventional when compared to what’s expected of mayors today.