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Mon, Jul. 10th, 2006, 10:35 am
orangemike: In Memoriam: Frank P. Zeidler, 1912-2006

I am trying not to cry as I type this. Frank was a role model to me, even when we disagreed. He became a Socialist because it was the only practical way of putting Christian ethics into practice.
"I particularly picked socialism because of several things in its philosophy. One was the brotherhood of people all over the world. Another was its struggle for peace. Another was the equal distribution of economic goods. Another was the idea of cooperation. A fifth was the idea of democratic planning in order to achieve your goals. Those were pretty good ideas."
Four years ago, I went to a dinner with 700 other folks, celebrating his 90th birthday. There were bishops (Episcopalian, Lutheran and Catholic, that I spotted), rabbis, anarchists, the mayor of Williamsburg [Virginia], local politicians, janitors, union activists, model railroaders, a Gesangsverein, church ladies with their best hats on, and a lot of others. The local Lutheran Bishop mentioned that when he came to Milwaukee, Frank gave him a tour of the city, and eruditely explained an enormous amount about Milwaukee history. He called his brother in the Seattle mayor's office to talk about this amazing ex-mayor he'd met, and his brother said, "You mean Socialist Mayor Zeidler is a Lutheran?"; the Bishop said, "You mean Lutheran Mayor Zeidler is a Socialist?"

For Frank and for a lot of others in Milwaukee, Socialism meant a lot of the lakefront and riverbank lands were bought by the taxpayers, and made into parks, instead of incredibly expensive condos. It meant housing being built for poor people, and run by an agency responsive to the taxpayers AND the tenants. It meant a pioneering Health Department, and good sewers, when such public improvements were scorned as interference by do-gooding busybodies. It meant a world-class City Museum that was a haven for scholarship, with an extensive publishing program and even its own ethnographic and zoological expeditions to Africa and Central America. It meant schools open to all the children without subjecting them to religious propaganda. It meant the cleanest, least corrupt government this reform-minded state has ever seen in its history. It meant trying to make the city a better place for honest working people, rather than running around posturing about how "revolutionary" you were (and being sneered at by the 'revolutionaries' as mere 'sewer socialists'). It meant, in Frank's own words, "a way of life based on cooperation, rather than competition."

Frank didn't drink, didn't smoke and didn't drive (I've talked to folks who remember driving down Third Street and seeing Frank waiting for the #19 streetcar [and later, bus] to go to work; "work" was being mayor of the city). He read voraciously, enjoyed model railroading and collected fossils. He rewrote Shakespeare in more modern language (his version of the Scottish Play was done while he was mayor). He stayed faithful to his wife Agnes (since 1939), and to this city he loved.

I saw Frank a few weeks back at the Wisconsin Labor History Society conference, where he talked about two things he loved: Socialism and Milwaukee. We chatted briefly, but he clearly wasn't in good shape; I hoped aloud that I'd see him at the annual Milwaukee Socialist Party picnic.

I'm heartbroken to lose him. I'm proud to have been his comrade, and his brother in Christ.