Common Ground, the Milwaukee coalition that previously said it would support public funding for a Bucks arena if it would also provide $150 million for school athletic facilities and playgrounds, now says it is opposing public funding for the arena altogether. The reason, apparently: The Bucks’ owners refused to meet with coalition leaders to discuss their plan.
Common Ground leaders had sought a meeting with the new Bucks owners to discuss their plan but have been rebuffed so far. Bob Cook, the Bucks’ vice president of business affairs, had offered to meet, but Common Ground said it wanted Edens and Lasry to fulfill a commitment to meet with the group.
Common Ground has also targeted Bucks co-owner Wes Edens for holding mortgages on several abandoned foreclosed properties in Milwaukee, which … has nothing to do with anything, I can tell, except maybe that they’re trying to argue that Edens is a guy who doesn’t really care about the city, so doesn’t deserve public money.
All its new talk of moral outrage over arena subsidies aside — “They do not need our money,” declared Jennifer O’Hear, co-chair of the group’s Fair Play campaign for public recreational facility funding — this still seems to be less a matter of principle and more a matter of wanting to use holding back support for any arena subsidies as leverage to get funding for programs they want, too. Common Ground is affiliated with the Industrial Areas Foundation, the community activist umbrella group founded by Saul Alinsky, whose guiding premise was to focus on winnable battles over concrete local issues, not big-picture ideology. That certainly has strengths, but it also has weaknesses, one of which is that it can become easy to buy off Alinsky-style groups by throwing some money at their pet projects, as Brooklyn Nets developer Bruce Ratner did by offering the IAF-inspired ACORN control of affordable housing on the site in exchange for its support of arena subsidies. (And as the same ACORN group earlier attempted to do around a minor-league baseball stadium in Brooklyn.)
So, this is all presumably tactical for Common Ground, in order to get a seat at the negotiating table. Which may end up being good for Milwaukee playgrounds, but that’s not necessarily the same thing as being good for Milwaukee.