This Just In ...

Kevin Fischer is a veteran broadcaster, the recipient of over 150 major journalism awards from the Milwaukee Press Club, the Wisconsin Associated Press, the Northwest Broadcast News Association, the Wisconsin Bar Association, and others. He has been seen and heard on Milwaukee TV and radio stations for over three decades. A longtime aide to state Senate Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature, Kevin can be seen offering his views on the news on the public affairs program, "InterCHANGE," on Milwaukee Public Television Channel 10, and heard filling in on Newstalk 1130 WISN. He lives with his wife, Jennifer, and their lovely young daughter, Kyla Audrey, in Franklin.

Summerfest is back, thank you Henry Maier!

The world’s biggest, best music festival opens for yet another run Wednesday.

Stage after stage after stage of musical talent for eleven days, all for the price on some days at certain times, an ice cream lid or canned goods.

Close to a million if not more patrons will rush through the lakefront gates to drink beer, dance on tables, ride the Sky-Glider. Naturally, there will be some who get out of hand, but the skirmishes and unruly behavior will be minimal, proving the huge smile is the perfect logo for what Milwaukee can boast like no one else.

Sadly, only a few, an overwhelming minority at best will remember the man the Summerfest grounds are named after.

At the time he served, Milwaukee Mayor Henry Maier was, because of his longevity, called the dean of America’s mayors.  Milwaukee voters kept returning him to office. The Milwaukee Journal kept feuding with him. Their disdain for one another was evident

Working at WUWM, I covered many, many, many stories/news conferences involving Maier. The mayor favored us, sending me a kind note calling WUWM, “Radio Free Milwaukee.”

The same could not be said for the afternoon daily. The feisty Maier never held back his distaste for the Journal.

My favorite example came during one of Maier’s many tirades in the 1980’s against the Metropolitan Milwaukee Sewerage District (MMSD) and their pursuit of the deep tunnel project, one that today we know had major flaws. I don’t remember his question, but Charlie Sykes, then working for the Journal, asked one that was quite direct and tough.

Maier didn’t flinch, and in his typical grumble and grouch spouted that he wasn’t about to answer any question from any representative from that news organization located at 4th and State.

Maier then looked around at the news conference for the next question. Without hesitation, my good friend Mark Siegrist, working at the time for Channel 12, asked word for word the exact same question posed earlier by Charlie Sykes.

It was classic.

One could sense a collective if not audible gasp in the room, punctuated seconds later by Maier.

Calmly, deliberately, as if to say touché, Maier answered Siegrist’s, or should I say Sykes’ question in great detail.

I smiled and quickly looked down at my tape recorder to catch the tape counter to make sure I knew where to find this exchange later.

During one of the many (and I might say, entertaining) Maier news conferences I covered, not to mention Summerfest opening ceremonies, the mayor discussed our annual music festival on the lakefront. And he couldn’t resist a jab at the afternoon paper.

Maier oozed with enthusiasm about Summerfest. Even though not so blessed with a horrible singing voice, it didn’t stop Maier from assembling an ensemble designated, if not his then the city’s official band. Naturally it accompanied him to big civic events where Maier would sing where, if there was any luck, the instrumentation drowned him out.

Maier became the city’s singing mayor. But before he sang, he made sure he’d comment and set the record straight about the origin of Summerfest.

Summerfest was Maier’s dream. In later years he’d proudly boast that the wealthy had their country clubs, but city residents could always head as far east as they could to enjoy a part of the summer.

There was nothing precocious about Maier. At one opening ceremony, in full throttle braggadocio, Maier told the crowd how he led a tour of the grounds to mayors from places like Philadelphia and Baltimore. Maier’s counterparts from larger cities gasped when they saw our lakefront musical territory.

Maier said they told him point blank that there was no way their cities could host such an annual event. My memory is backed up by what I captured on cassette tape with Maier telling the crowd his mayoral counterparts saying their citizens would “tear apart” any such festival.

Of course, Maier’s vociferous pride wasn’t just politics and civics. Part of Maier’s in your face speechifying was leveled directly at the Journal.

You see, the Journal early on was steadfast against Maier’s Summerfest vision. The newspaper, in its infinite wisdom, said it would never work. Fueled by their open dislike for the mayor, the paper ripped any and all talk about a Summerfest.

Worse yet, after Summerfest opened, and flourished, the paper was reluctant to acknowledge it was wrong.

Today, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has vast archives at its disposal. It would be quite interesting to see the same paper that touts Summerfest to report those early and erroneous misgivings by re-printing its negative reporting and editorials, all for the sake of posterity and accurate local history.

Don’t hold your breath. It’ll never happen.

When you visit Summerfest this year, toast one Henry Maier, and then thank God he had the vision that our daily newspaper failed to possess.

Go to Milwaukee!
How humming a city you’ll see.
Sing in Milwaukee!
Trah, lah, lah, lah, lee.
Prosit Milwaukee!
Toast Gaily and so Free.
Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Milwaukee!
A happy place to be!
-The Summerfest Polka
Mayor Henry Maier, 1969


This site uses Facebook comments to make it easier for you to contribute. If you see a comment you would like to flag for spam or abuse, click the "x" in the upper right of it. By posting, you agree to our Terms of Use.

Page Tools