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'It's not good:' Instead of a crowd of 50,000, Milwaukee's streets mostly empty during DNC

'It's not good:' Instead of a crowd of 50,000, Milwaukee's streets mostly empty during DNC

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MILWAUKEE — Mike Atari has run the In & Out Pantry convenience store for two years at the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and James Lovell Drive, a short walk from the Fiserv Forum, where the 2020 Democratic National Convention was supposed to take place this week.

Over the past few weeks, business has been slow, but manageable. On Monday, he had two other people working besides himself. Despite the convention going virtual, he expected Monday to be a little bit busier than normal. There would be sightseers, out-of-towners, protesters, somebody who would stop at his store to pick up a snack or a drink.

Instead, he said Monday was maybe the slowest day he’s had since the pandemic began. He sent his employees home. There was nothing for them to do. Construction workers in the area and other workers weren’t even Downtown, Atari suspects because everyone normally in the city wants to avoid the irregularity and blocked-off streets of a national convention security zone.

“I’m mad,” Atari said, although he admitted he didn’t know who he should be angry at. He just knows that this was supposed to be one of his best weeks ever business-wise, and instead it’s starting out as one of the worst.

“It’s not good,” he said.

Atari chatted with a customer at about 2 p.m. Monday. They both wondered what all of the security — Milwaukee Police Department, Secret Service, Department of Homeland Security officers and private security all seen in the area — was here for. They couldn’t name anyone of international importance who is expected this week at the Wisconsin Center, the site of the scaled-down, now largely virtual convention. Gov. Tony Evers is one of the few who has said he will be speaking from Milwaukee in person.

Joe Biden, the former vice president and presumptive Democratic Party nominee for president, Joe Biden, is expected to speak from afar on Thursday to accept his party’s nomination, sparking continuous criticism from the Trump campaign, which has paid for “Where’s Joe?” billboards around Milwaukee. On Monday afternoon, Trump spoke to an audience at an airport in Oshkosh, with protesters gathering outside.

Forrest Darby, of Las Vegas, flew to Milwaukee this week. He's a delegate for the 2020 Democratic National Convention and feels let down about…

Forrest Darby, 76, flew in to Milwaukee from Las Vegas this week. Despite being an active Democrat for five decades, he never tried to be a national delegate. Now in his later years, the retired union electrician finally got himself picked to represent his county at the national convention.

“It was a bucket-list thing,” he said in the hotel lobby of Hyatt Regency Milwaukee less than a block from the fenced border around the convention center. He expected, as a delegate, that there would be some event going on. Something to watch. That he’d be able to hear some speaker. But there wasn’t. Monday afternoon, there weren’t even political protesters anywhere near the campus. It was quiet, quiet even for Milwaukee during a pandemic. Streets were empty.

“I haven’t seen our international (union) president here. I haven’t seen anyone here. I haven’t seen anyone even in a union T-shirt here,” he said, bemoaning what could have been.

Some Democrats, including Wisconsin Democratic Party Chair Ben Wikler, have blamed President Trump specifically for the convention not being in-person, claiming if the U.S. had more thoroughly shut down and better precautions earlier on then the pandemic would be less widespread. Trump and most Republicans have taken the opposite approach, saying that keeping the country mostly open is the best path forward.

Darby is turning his political trip into a sightseeing tour, planning to rent a car and see Wisconsin, a state he’s never visited.

He’s staying at a bed and breakfast in the Milwaukee neighborhood of Bay View. Months ago, every room at the place was booked. Now, he said, he’s the only guest.

When it was announced more than a year ago that the DNC was coming to Milwaukee, 50,000 people and $200 million worth of consumer spending were expected to descend on Milwaukee. Instead, there’s next to nothing.

Tom Barrett h/s


“This is a far different footprint of what we expected in March of 2019,” Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said while speaking from his home during a virtual press conference Monday. “It’s not a conventional convention by any stretch of the imagination.”

Still, Barrett said that thanks to federal grants, the heavily changed convention shouldn’t directly cost Milwaukee taxpayers.


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