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New documentary looks at Milwaukee's history of socialist mayors

"This was sort of a unique slice of American socialism here in Milwaukee,"
Posted at 9:47 PM, Jun 05, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-05 22:47:38-04

It's hard to imagine another time when Milwaukee was confronted with so many big issues, including a pandemic.

But a new documentary looks back at Milwaukee's history with socialist mayors during challenging times.

The Hoan Bridge and Zeidler Building may be familiar Milwaukee landmarks but the story behind those names may not be widely known

From 1910 to 1960, Emil Seidel, Daniel Hoan and Frank Zeidler ran city hall for 38 of those 50 years as socialists mayors.

Their leadership is still seen today in Milwaukee's parks and lakefront.

"They did this by dredging the lake. They did this by putting tons and tons of fill into the area," said Mike Gousha. "So the bottom line is we have this lakefront that working people, people of modest means can use. And that's something that has been passed down from from this group of socialists who thought everyone should have access."

The story is told by three TMJ4 News alumni: Mike Gousha, Lynn Sprangers, and Steve Boettcher, along with Mike Trinklein.

It's called America's Socialist Experiment.

"I think what we discovered is not only did they govern in some really unique ways, this was sort of a unique slice of American socialism here in Milwaukee," said Sprangers, "But we also were curious as to why it did not continue. Why did it for all intents and purposes, end in 1960?"

The film showcases the city, not just through black and white photographs but in a way that today's viewers can appreciate.

Frank's Zeidler's daughter Jeanne, the former mayor of Williamsburg, Virginia, and Daniel Hoan's grandson, Dan Steininger, former CEO of Catholic Knights Insurance, are among the 11 local people who help tell the story.

"Back in that early era that kind of working out what a community is how to govern and it was kind of an era of like problem solving and innovation," said Boettcher, which was really, really unique to the city and to any city in America."

Milwaukee PBS will air the film on Tuesday, June 9 at 8 p.m.

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