New Common Council President José Pérez draws on past experience to meet current challenges – Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Milwaukee, Wisconsin 2022-05-13 07:01:00 –

Jose Perez, 53, the first Latin council chairman in the city’s history, grew up on the South Side. (Photo by Sue Vliet)

As the first Latin American council chairman in Milwaukee’s history, Jose Perez knows that this distinction entails additional pressure.

“I feel and welcome it. It’s a great honor to be the first,” Perez said. “But if I don’t do a good job, it doesn’t make much sense.”

Perez, 53, was unanimously voted on April 19 by fellow members of the Common Council to replace Cavalier Johnson, who was elected mayor earlier that month.

Among the many challenges Perez faces in his new role, he revives and focuses on key issues such as reckless driving, public safety and aging infrastructure in the city. He said it was to realign.

“These are cross-border topics that we need to unify,” Perez said.

He is also tasked with leading the council to deal with the city’s growing financial crisis. Revenues are declining, but costs are rising, Perez said. He added that balancing the federal dollar and budget, such as pandemic aid, is not sustainable. According to him, one solution is to increase the state’s shared tax revenues or create a new sales tax in the city.

“We need to work with the state to understand how it can help,” he said. “I don’t want to reduce core services.”

Local and state leaders have been working with authorities for years to increase the amount of state tax revenues returning to Milwaukee. Milwaukee collects most of these taxes. They also called for changes to state law that would allow local taxes as a means of generating revenue.

Jo Casta Zamarripa, an alderwoman in District 8, said Perez has the ability to help bridge the broken relationship between the city and the state. She saw him doing it at the city level before.

“He’s the member who reaches out and talks to all of us,” she said. “Even when there may be bad blood, Jose is good about putting it aside for the benefit of the council and the interests of his members.”

Perez, who is married and has two teenagers

He said that the ability to build relationships returns to the basics of organization, even when people have philosophical or personal differences.

He first honed his skills as a community organizer of landlords and volunteers working on other issues. Milwaukee city center congregation alliance for hopeOr MICAH, a heathen organization that tackles the issue of justice in Milwaukee.

“You make no assumptions about people. You sit down and learn what’s important to them,” Perez said. “You go the way with someone to build that relationship, and then you’re thinking about asking them to trust you or how you can work with them.”

Perez, who dropped out of Plaskey High School in 1986 and quickly obtained a GED, has built a relationship as an organizer for years before being drawn into politics. The trajectory began in the mid-1990s when he entered Cardinal Stritch University. At that time, the school did not have a political science major, but Perez took those classes anyway.

Between classes, he spent one summer intern at U.S. Congressman Jerry Klekka (D-Milwaukee) in Washington, DC through a Hispanic caucuse, and another summer as an intern for former Mayor of Milwaukee, John Norkisto. ..

After that, Perez returned to his roots as Executive Director of MICAH. Coalition of good work and comfortable area to live in, Among other achievements. He also worked as a national field representative for the US Federation of Labor and the Council of Industrialization Organizations. AFL-CIO,and Milwalky Urban Development Bureau..

José Pérez sits next to JoCasta Zamarripa, a member of the council, at the 2015 undocumented resident driver’s license forum. (File photo: Edgar Mendez)

Around 2012, his political taste returned and he ran for city council member in District 12, on the south side of the city. It was around that time that Jess Saras, one of the most respected activists in the history of the Milwaukee Latin community, first met Perez. When Saras noticed someone else hitting the pavement, he said he was making a door-to-door canvassing on the South Side to remind him of former Governor Scott Walker.

“He was also knocking on the door,” Saras recalled. “I saw him talking to the inhabitants on the street every day.”

Mr. Saras said he was still impressed by Mr. Perez, and it is clear that his colleagues feel the same.

“Well, I think it was proved by the fact that he was given a unanimous vote to become President of the Common Council,” Saras said. “They saw his performance while he was in the city and believed in him.”

His way to the top

Born in Milwaukee and raised on the south side of the city by Puerto Rican-born parents and grandparents, Perez spent his childhood in the 1980s, like many others in the neighborhood. He spent time outside playing baseball in Little League and shooting hoops at various playgrounds in the neighborhood.

Joining Perez in these pickup games was Judge Pedrocolon of the Milwaukee County Circuit Court.

“I want to keep a record of defeating him in 7th grade basketball,” Colon joked.

Both Colon and Perez attended the St. Matthews School (now Prince of Peace School) on South 25th Avenue and West Scott Street. Still, he said Perez was enthusiastic and serious about rules and fair play. He said he knew Perez would succeed.

“He always had that calm, and he was smart and always had something to talk to you,” he said.

Colon said Perez set foot in other areas to play pick-up games while he was the type of kid who had never crossed Greenfield Avenue. As he traveled through different parts of the South Side, Perez became exposed to street gangs and peaked in the city in the 80’s and 90’s.

“It was hard when we grew up. All the gangsters there were in Kegel,” Perez said of the neighborhood around South 12th Avenue and West Mineral Street. “We witnessed something a little wild, and when it became hairy, you went home.”

Ultimately, Perez will use these experiences to help prevent gangsters and develop youth development programs.

But his grandparents were his greatest influence.

“I have to go back to the beginning and acknowledge my grandparents for their achievements. How hard they worked and how humble they were,” said Time between his parents and grandparents on South 10th Avenue and Washington Street. Said Perez, who broke. ‘House on South Fifth Street and West Pierce Street.

His grandmother Celine Arce worked in many local factories, including a leather tanning factory, and grandfather Jose E. Perez had a career at Grede Foundries in the Walkers Point district. Perez said his grandfather worked on the mold in Grede until his body no longer allowed it. He began to work for the company as a Janitorial until his retirement.

“He bowed down to take care of his family,” Perez said.

The pressure to be the first

Perez fills his plate with challenges as his values ​​drive him.

Zamarripa said he recently sat down with Pérez and Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic to discuss issues related to the neighborhood without the use of streetlights.

“We can’t make them live in the dark,” Zamarripa said. “These streetlights are old-fashioned and need to be replaced.”

On Tuesday, the Common Council adopted a resolution to allocate $ 10 million from the second wave of funding from the U.S. Rescue Planning Act, in addition to $ 10 million from the initial allocation to replace street lighting circuits in the city. Did.

This is just another example of many areas where residents struggle and city authorities can get together to find a solution.

“The challenges are huge, but Jose is the type of person who can build consensus to solve them,” said Colon, who called Perez the most influential Latino in the state.

He also believes that in his new role, Perez aspires to influence the next generation of Latino Americans and reach new heights.

“There are a lot of children behind us and the impact will be huge,” he said. “This is the biggest thing that has happened in the Latin community for some time.”

Perez said he hopes to set an example for others.

“If you really want to do it, there’s nothing you can’t do,” he said. “I hope I can inspire people.”

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