Brewers Deal Is All About Milwaukee

There will be twists and turns in the effort to give the Milwaukee Brewers’ billionaire owners what they want to keep them in the city for another decade and a half. But you can be sure that in the end they’ll get a couple hundred million dollars or so of the public’s money whether they need it or not. In fact, nobody will even dare ask if they need it, lest they upset the owners’ gentle dispositions.

Most of us won’t wade into the details. (I will because I’m fascinated by the business side of pro and big time college sports.) But here’s a way to step back and understand what’s going on in the big picture: it’s all about the politics of Milwaukee.

Democrats like Milwaukee as it’s the second biggest share of their votes. That’s why Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, put $290 million in his budget to pay for renovations to American Family Field. That money would come from all taxpayers statewide.

Republicans hate Milwaukee as it’s the second biggest share of Democratic votes. Also, it’s got a lot of Black people. To some extent rural and suburban voters everywhere just naturally dislike the big city in their state, but don’t underestimate the role of race in their disdain. That’s why Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, a Republican, has rejected Evers’ plan and says that he likes the deal worked out in 2015 by Republican Gov. Scott Walker for the Bucks’ arena. He likes it because it places more of the burden on Milwaukee taxpayers.

But enter the third element. Much of the Republicans’ money and a lot of influence comes from legacy interests — mostly big manufacturers or their heirs — that reside in Milwaukee or it’s wealthy suburbs. That’s why Vos asked Mike Grebe, a rich retired lawyer and mover and shaker in the Milwaukee business world, to sit on a committee to negotiate a deal with the Brewers.

Vos has to balance the disdain of the hard-right populist rural Republicans in his caucus against the interests of the heavy breathing party funders and kingmakers around Milwaukee. And so, what will emerge from all of this in the end will be some deal that includes a bunch of state money but which also leans more heavily on Milwaukee taxpayers. You can take that to the bank.

How much is Mark Attanasio worth? How much has his stake in the Brewers appreciated? Why can’t he pay for his own stadium upgrades?

The interest group that will play no role at all in this debate is taxpayers. Nobody will ask Brewers principle owner Mark Attanasio how much money he and his partners are worth. Nobody will ask how much the value of the club has appreciated since he bought it in 2005. Nobody will ask why he can’t pay for his stadium upgrades himself.

That’s not entirely true. Some Milwaukee journalists, like Urban Milwaukee’s Bruce Murphy, and maybe some community activists will try to ask those questions, but they won’t be allowed to get anywhere near Attanasio.

No, the entire debate will take place between the 40 yard lines — to take an analogy from the wrong sport. It will just be a case of which taxpayers will foot which part of the bill for the Brewers’ extortion.


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

6 thoughts on “Brewers Deal Is All About Milwaukee

  1. I appreciate YSDA because its author generally eschews pandering. Republicans may “hate Milwaukee” because it’s a stronghold of Democrat(ic) votes. But “Also, it’s got a lot of Black people.” ??? !!! That’s a cheap partisan insult, easily disproved. You may have heard: Republicans are holding their national convention in Brew City next year.


    1. Now, David. You honestly don’t think race plays a role in the statewide dislike for Milwaukee? And you honestly believe that Republicans don’t use that? Really? You’ve read enough of my stuff to know that I have disdain for identity politics and that I staunchly resist seeing everything in terms of race and gender. But something as obvious as this can’t be ignored. Dave


      1. Right. Your point is that Republican leaders are diverse. That’s great (though personally I’m appalled by the underrepresentation of old white guys) and, in fact, I’ve made the point more than once around here that liberals only seem to want people to “look like them” when they also think like them. But that doesn’t change my point. There is a dislike for Milwaukee in the state and part of that is based on race. And the Republicans use that. I don’t see how you can look at their ads against Mandela Barnes (who lost for more reasons than just race) and conclude otherwise.


  2. Seems fairly obvious that race played a significant role in our state’s US Senate campaign. In an era when ticket splitting is increasingly rare, our bumbling, inarticulate and unlikable (white) Republican incumbent beat a Black guy named Mandela. The ads were shameless. In the same election, our white Democratic governor won. Not sure how else to explain those results.


  3. Why does the 36% requirement get lost in all of this? At the very least the billionaire owner can agree to pony up 36% of what the team’s consultants determined is necessary to improve the relatively young stadium before the taxpayers, especially Milwaukee County taxpayers, are tapped for more money.


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