By Srijan Sen
On May 17, the City of Milwaukee announced open nominations for the Zeidler Public Service Award. The Common Council established the awards in 2008 for city residents with the exception of elected officials.
Dedicated to the memory of former Milwaukee Mayor Frank P. Zeidler, the honor is awarded annually recognizing city residents who best exemplify Zeidler’s legacy of social justice and civic accomplishment.
Serving three terms 1948 to 1960, Zeidler is the most recent socialist mayor of any major American city.
A student at University of Chicago and Marquette University, he later became instrumental in the revival of the Socialist Party of USA in 1973.
But Zeidler is better known for his resolute commitment to public service serving longer terms in unpaid capacities as: a civic activist, local historian, churchman and general conscience of the community.
Under the mayoralty of Zeidler, Milwaukee grew industrially and the city repaid all loans without borrowing money.
He spearheaded planning and construction of Milwaukee’s freeway system and maintained that a failure to do so was compromising the city’s competitiveness.
During this time, the city nearly doubled in size due to an aggressive campaign of municipal annexations.
However, plans for the city’s success were only partial success.
The issue of race became vexing as Milwaukee’s African-American population tripled during the 1950s.
Zeidler was a vocal supporter of civil rights, but political opponents attributed the rise in population to the Mayor using billboards in the south to court African-Americans in to the city.
Many workers were threatened for supporting Zeidler, who later cited ill health and issue with race for not seeking re-election at the end of the third term.
After retiring from office, Zeidler became the National Chair for the Socialist Party USA for several years and was also the party’s presidential nominee in 1976.
Besides being a prominent community leader, Zeidler authored books on municipal government, labor law, socialism and Milwaukee history.
He also wrote poetry and children’s stories. Zeidler’s work is archived at the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee.
A panel of five judges will gauge the significance of community involvement and award the candidate that best fits Zeidler’s ideas of social justice, equal opportunity and mutual respect through cooperation.
Some of the past winners of the Zeidler Public Service Awards include: Kenneth Germanson (2012); community activists Reuben and Mildred Harpole (2013); former art director of the Milwaukee Public Museum Edward Anthony Green (2012); social justice advocate Antonio M. Perez (2011) and social activists Joseph and Joyce Ellwanger (2010).
The committee seeks the nomination letter, resume of the nominee and any additional documents that may help judges reach a decision.
Questions should be forwarded to Joanna Polanco at the City Clerk’s Office.