By Thomas E. Mitchell, Jr.
He’s no longer “Milwaukee Common Council President, Ald. Willie L. Hines, Jr.” or “Alderman Willie Hines.” “Just call me Willie,” said a relaxed sounding Hines just hours after he shocked City Hall, his Common Council colleagues, his 15th Aldermanic constituents, political observers and Milwaukee’s Black community with the announcement last week Friday he was officially stepping down the next day, February 1, from the second most powerful position in city government.
Hines stepped down to become associate director of the Milwaukee Housing Authority, where he will be responsiblefor its day to day operation. He will report to the Authority’s Executive Director Tony Perez. Hines assumed his new post on Monday. In public office for 18 years, Hines has been 15th district alderman since 1996.He’s been Council president since 2004. This past fall, Hines oversaw the passage of his 10th budget as Common Council President. The budget passed unanimously, and was signed into law by Mayor Tom Barrett with no vetoes.
Hines assured an MCJ reporter he is not stepping down because of health problems, or to get ahead of the proverbial “other shoe dropping” scenario that often spells “scandal.” “I’m in perfect shape, mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally,” Hines said in a Friday interview, adding he has no knowledge of any shoes dropping. “At least I don’t expect any.” Hines said he is stepping down to take advantage of the opportunity with the Housing Authority to be its new associate director. He was offered the job by the Housing Authority after it conducted an exhaustive national search that did not yield the right candidate for the post, according to Housing Authority spokesperson Paul Williams in a post on the Business Journal website.
A new president of the Council will be elected by that body on February 11. A still to be announced special election will be held to fill the vacant seat. What made Hines the logical choice for his new post is the fact he’sbeen a member of the Authority’s Board of Commissioners since 1996. He became its chair in 1997. “I think somewhere along the way it appeared to folks we had the right candidate in our midst,” Williams said of Hines selection. With his new associate director position, Hines will step down as chair of the Board. During his tenure as BoardChair, the Housing Authority has led a revitalization of its housing developments, including all five of its large family neighborhoods.
The Housing Authority also received the World Leadership Award in 2005 for its model of affordable housing that transforms neighborhoods. Hines said the move to the Housing Authority associate director post allows him to satisfy a personal desire to do more and have a greater impact on the community, particularly in the area of affordable housing. Asked if he might be taking a step down professionally from being one of the most powerful political figures in city government, Hines said he sees the opportunity with the agency as a return to his roots. “I was born in public housing and spent my formative years in public housing. I find the opportunity to be part of the day-to-day operations of the agency intriguing,” said Hines, who will be in charge of the Authority’s affordable housing portfolio.
Hines also said it was a golden opportunity to work with Perez who is respected in an industry for its aforementioned unique approach to public housing. “I’ll learn (from Perez) and bring my own talents and skills to the position,” Hines said. “At the end of the day, we’ll be able to preserve quality, safe housing.” Though he didn’t say it, Hines abrupt departure from City Hall may be a signal that he’s hit the political glassceiling. Hines noted that he’s learned Mayor Tom Barrett has expressed a desire to run for another term as the city’s chief executive. Hines, who was once thought of as a serious contender for the mayoral post had Barrett decided not to run for reelection, might have interpreted the news of Barrett running for another term as a bad omen for his own aspirations for the office. When asked if he is shelving those aspirations to be mayor or hold another political office, Hines said his only focus now is the Housing Authority.
He said his decision to step down was the culmination of a two year process toward the move. “I have nothing buta desire to get started with the Housing Authority and continue what’s been done there. My moving on (from the Council) is part of the growth process. You live, learn, give, grow and move on. “If there is one guarantee in life, it’s change. I believe now—for myself and community—it’s a change for the good.” Hines said there is no perfect way to make such an abrupt transition. “Whether I took a month, one year, or one day (to decide to step down as Council president and alderman), there’s no real plan to do this (sort of thing). You can only respond to the circumstances at hand. “This works out for the Housing Authority, the mayor, myself and the Common Council, but mainly for the agency and myself.”
It could also work out for the Black community. With Hines at the Housing Authority and the presumed election ofan African American to replace him on the Council, the community would have two more African American leaders inkey leadership positions to affect positive change. Asked if he has a choice as to who will be his replacement as Council president, Hines said he has “no pony in the race. There are a number of outstanding leaders on the Council. The Council will make the best decision for the body. The next president will represent the city excellently.
“The Council will sustain itself,” Hines said. “It’s resilient.” Hines thanked his 15th district constituents and the city for allowing him to represent them, adding it was an honor. He also thanked his board colleagues and others in city government, other levels of government and the business community for their partnership in helping him move Milwaukee forward.
“It’s been a great run!”