Michael Neitzke admits he doesn’t think of himself as the mayor of the third-largest Milwaukee County suburb and the 20th largest city in Wisconsin.
He has a hard time getting used to people calling him mayor, even though he’s held that title here in Greenfield for the last eight years.
In his own eyes, he’s just a hometown kid who really cares about the community he grew up in.
“There are very few jobs on earth, I think, where you can wake up and drive by something, or see a police officer in a car or go by a park that formerly wasn’t one and say, ‘You know, I make a difference,’” Neitzke said.
Neitzke, 49, will continue to make that difference presumably for four more years. Greenfield’s 10th mayor is running unopposed in this spring’s election and should he complete his third, four-year term, he will become the longest-tenured mayor in city history.
“In order to change things, in order to do things, everything is a marathon,” Neitzke said. “It isn’t a sprint. … it takes forever to get things done. It takes forever to get a consensus. It takes forever to move money here and there to address priorities. It takes forever to convince the naysayers that something is actually a good idea and makes sense.”
Neitzke was a city alderman for seven years before being elected mayor in 2005, when he defeated Timothy Seider. He defeated Seider, who was the mayor for a city record 10 years, again in 2009. Since taking office, Neitzke successfully guided Greenfield in the building of a new police station and library and the city has tackled previously unaddressed road, sewer and flooding problems.
More recently, Greenfield was one of, if not the first city in the state to receive significant pension contributions from the police and fire unions after Act 10, and the city improved the taxable value of some portions of the city with the building of a new Walmart Supercenter at the corner of Layton Avenue and Highway 100 and Pick ‘n Save on 76th Street and Cold Spring Road.
“We continue to be a desirable place for people who are still building,” Neitzke said. “The challenge for us is to continue to redevelop. We need to get some of these projects that basically have stopped in their tracks for the last three or four years, because that’s tax base.”
More redevelopment to come?
Those projects, which Neitzke said will be a primary focus for his next term, are Spring Mall at 76th and Cold Spring, the area near Loomis Road and I-894 and the Chapman School site at 84th Street and Layton.
He said he’d like to reinvigorate the area directly north of Southridge Mall on 76th Street and continue to see the 27th Street corridor become more prosperous. He remains hopeful Milwaukee County will tackle road projects on Layton Avenue, 92nd Street and College Avenue over the next four years and is equally hopeful county-owned Kulwicki Park will someday fall under the city’s control.
Neitzke’s two children, ages 8 and 10, attend Elm Dale Elementary School, the same grade school he and is wife attended years ago, and he’s shown he wants local schools and municipalities to work more closely together by backing a recent initiative to boost community engagement among those public entities.
He also remains dedicated to explore possibilities for consolidation and hyper-cooperation for services that make sense to share with neighboring communities such as Greendale, Hales Corners and Franklin.
“I’d rather have a relationship with our neighbors to the south than be sucked into the high-cost structure and political games associated with our neighbor to the east,” he said.
Neitzke is just the second mayor to run unopposed in city history – Oakley Fisher did so in 1968 – and he’s happy to not have to deal with the stresses a campaign can bring. But that doesn’t mean the former lawyer doesn’t feel pressure to perform.
“There are huge expectations I have for myself,” he said. “Just because no one is running against me doesn’t mean I’m not going to try as hard as I possibly can.
“Either I’m doing a good job or no one wants the job. I’d like to think people think I’m doing a good job, and honestly, I think I am doing a good job. We’ve got a ton of stuff accomplished. We’re making the city a better place.”
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