Editor’s Note: Continuing our retrospective on the American “sewer socialism” movement.

By Jason Sibert

Former Milwaukee Mayor Daniel Hoan carved out a special place in sewer socialist and Socialist Party of America history. As the 32nd mayor of Milwaukee, he led the longest serving socialist administration in an American municipality in our history, as he led the midwestern city as mayor from 1916 to 1940.

Hoan began his political career with his election to city attorney for Milwaukee in 1910. This was the same year Emil Seidel was elected mayor of Milwaukee as the first socialist leader of a major city in the United States. Over the next six years, Hoan clamped down on the corruption of public officials. The sewer socialist broke with his party in World War I. While Socialist Party of America opposed the war, Hoan organized the Milwaukee County Council of Defense.

As mayor, Hoan developed a reputation for efficient government. He implemented progressive reforms, including what some call the country’s first public housing project. It would be more accurate to call it a government-supported housing co-op because today’s public housing is owned by the government. The project occurred at a time when Milwaukee’s population was increasing faster than its housing stock. As soon as he started his mayoral term, one of Hoan‘s major policies was city beautification and planning which he saw as a means to “maximize the use of the city‘s authority to reduce the high cost of living.”

In 1918, he renewed the idea for a city planned public housing project by organizing his Housing Commission.The Housing Commission was a ten-man collective of city employees and Milwaukee businessmen that had two goals. The first was to look at how to alleviate the housing problem in the short term, while the second was to look for long-term solutions for Milwaukee’s affordable housing shortage. After two years of research, the Commission believed they found their answer in a municipally funded and planned cooperative housing development.  In 1920 the Garden Homes Company was organized under Wisconsin law by Mayor Hoan to “promote the economic erection, cooperative ownership and administration of healthy homes.” The company was capitalized at $500,000 with the City of Milwaukee buying 500 shares for $50,000. Shares would also be purchased by the owners of the homes. After twenty years, all the stock would be retired, and the property of Garden Homes would then be fully owned by the residents. The Garden Homes Company bought twenty-nine acres of farmland north of the city limits in 1921 and Mayor Hoan presided over the groundbreaking in September of that year.

Architect William Schuchardt, a Milwaukee native and Chairman of the Garden Homes Company, planned the neighborhood. Schuchardt had traveled to Europe several times, both after graduation from Cornell University in 1895 and again in 1911. It was during these trips that he encountered the planned, cooperative Garden Cities of Ebenezer Howard, which were also being used in the United States during the City Beautiful movement at this time. Both put an importance on large areas of green space that would be open for anyone in the community to use.

There were problems with Garden Cities, and it is considered a mix of success and failure by many. Annexation of the area into the City of Milwaukee was controversial. The addition of street and sewer improvements that the occupants of Garden Homes were forced to pay for, though they were not included within the price of the house. Residents became disenchanted with the situation after realizing that any money they spent on improvements to their homes would be lost unless they stayed for twenty-five years to fulfill ownership. In June 1925, the state legislature enacted the Garden Homes Law Amendment which permitted the sale of the homes for private profit. The Garden Homes Company finally closed in 1933, only after functioning to sell the remaining housing stock and pay off their loans.

However, there was more to the Hoan Administration than housing. He also led the successful drive towards municipal ownership of the stone quarry, street lighting, sewage disposal, and water purification. During Hoan’s administration, Milwaukee implemented the first public bus system in the United States. This was prompted by dangerous accidents: pedestrians were run over by street trolleys that ran down the middle of the road. Among the victims of such streetcar accidents was Hoan’s fellow Socialist, Victor L. Berger, who was killed in 1929. The mayor also experimented with the municipal marketing of food and providing public markets.  

Hoan was defeated for mayor in 1940, and one year later he joined the Democratic Party. He ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1944 and 1946. In 1948 he ran for mayor another time and was defeated by socialist Frank Zeidler. Hoan lived until 1961 and will always be remembered for his prodigious list of accomplishments.

Jason Sibert is the Executive Director of the Peace Economy Project in St. Louis.


By Michael Mottern

Performed not too far outside of Buffalo, New York in the suburb of Williamsville,“Future Wars” is an anti-war two-acter presented by First Look Buffalo Theater Company, giving its first East Coast premiere right outside of the Queen City. It is a sci-fi drama, and the actors are all professional even though it is staged at a local high school theater. In Act I , called “Reset”, one of the main characters is a combination of Jean Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren from “Universal Soldier”, itself a science fiction drama about future warfare, and the play “Waiting for Godot,” primarily because there are only two main characters, both of them robotic soldiers about to die in what seems a makeshift desert.

“Reset” has a tremendous amount of foul language, with soldiers dropping the f-bombs every 2 minutes. But it’s a good drama indeed, with its robotic soldiers sporting wires coming out of their feet and arms, waiting to “reset” Actor Jacob Applegate hits a grand slam for being the most out-there robot in a universal soldier type of world, as he is haunted by the spirit of the child he killed in the Middle East, (played by Madeline Allard Dugan. Bob Rusch is a seasoned actor who co-stars, reading from his cell phone,  informing his comrade (Applegate) that he  must “reset” in order to keep from overheating.

Written by Samantha Macher, “Reset” is directed by Mike Doben, who does an excellent job at the dramatization of modern-day warfare “robotically” and is truly going to reset your mind. But it is “Overlay” which makes you rethink the inequities of US immigration policy. The same way we got to rethink “reality” in the science fashion movie “They Live” starring Rowdy Piper.

Ms Dugan also appears in Act II, “Overlay,” as Kayla in a weird spooky dark story about two British citizens and the policy of US immigration. Steven Maiseke is Mo, a defense worker temporarily working as a war technician. Haunted by the Cold War, this isn’t a drama you’re going to want to miss. 

“Overlay” is directed by Drew McCabe and performed brilliantly by Madeline and Steven the two main characters desperately trying to get American citizenship to escape their war-torn countriesd before they realize the meaning of the word “home”. As Stacy in the play “Overlay”, Becky Globus does a fantastic job in playing the psychologist, in another way strange scenario of finding disembodies body parts like fingers and toes, to cope with the everyday stresses of war on a person’s mind. Also featured is actor Bruce Rusch from “Reset” as the disgruntled veteran Brock, who was told he and his fellow soldiers were killing stuffed animals (teddy bears), when they were really reaping havoc on people.

This brings to mind that for over 70 years “social democracy has kept us out of wars for the longest period of time pre-911, changing with the war in Afghanistan,” according to Sheri Berman, professor at Barnard college who explained it to our group (the SD), at our convention in 2014. War is not the answer!

Because of the amount of swearing and foul language I would recommend “Future Wars” for an audience of 16 years and up. This is a good Sci-Fi double feature you won’t want to miss!

Michael Mottern is the first vice chair of Social Democrats USA. 


Editor’s Note: Continuing our retrospective on the American “sewer socialism” movement.


By Jason Sibert

The early 20th century sewer socialist movement used socialist-oriented municipal politics to improve the lives of metropolitan residents. Sewer socialists fought for publicly owned sewers and electrical grids (so residents didn’t have to pay for the profit margins of a private systems), quality parks, quality education, quality public safety, quality infrastructure, a vibrant labor movement (sometimes achieved), and financially sound government.

A must issue for an updated sewer socialist movement is housing. Homelessness is present in our cities; rents are going up and putting pressure on the budgets of working people in metropolitan areas (in the rural areas as well); and buying seems out of reach for many.  Housing cooperatives are the answer to our housing affordability crises and should be a cause embraced by modern sewer socialists.

Back in 2013, I penned a story on coops during the great recession (Addressing Housing Affordability Using Cooperatives |  I detailed the efforts of Presidents Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt to expand homeownership and suggested federal involvement in housing cooperatives. According to the National Association of Housing Cooperatives, cooperative housing is defined as when “people join together on a democratic basis to own and control the housing or community facilities where they live.” According to the NAHC, 1.2 million families live in cooperative housing in the United States.

In my 2013 story, I suggested the creation of a Cooperative Housing Authority to promote coop housing. While I still think this is a good idea, creative sewer socialists could work to bring something similar about on the local level. Sewer socialist mayors and aldermen could allocate city funds to housing coop projects. Perhaps the coops could pay back the city funds within time. Housing coops usually charge so much to purchase a share in the cooperative and then a carrying charge (something like rent or mortgage in terms of monthly costs). Of course, each coop member is allowed a vote on the governing of the coop. By cutting an actual landlord out of the picture, housing coops offer working people cheaper housing. Keep in mind, housing coops could take the form of apartment complexes or single-family houses.

Low-wage workers in the restaurant, hotel and motel, healthcare, and retail sectors are currently attempting to organize unions, and these efforts have received attention in the media. In addition, Fight for Fifteen is a movement concentrated in low-wage sectors that fights for a higher minimum wage ($15 an hour). The movement has been successful, with California, Massachusetts, New York (downstate), Maryland, New Jersey, Illinois, Connecticut, Florida, and Delaware passing $15 minimum wage laws. Cities like San Francisco, Seattle, and New York City have raised their minimum wages to $15. These movements should work hand in hand with a movement for housing coops, as the low-wage sectors of our economy have many workers in need of affordable housing.

Perhaps the unions in these sectors could allocate some money for coops.  Remember, the Amalgamated Housing Cooperative in New York City came about with the efforts of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union under the leadership of social democrat Sidney Hillman. It is the first co-op created by Founding President and Manager Abraham E. Kazan, known as “The father of cooperative housing in the United States.” New York Governor Franklin Roosevelt spoke of the coop in a positive manner: “Amalgamated Cooperative Apartment House is a significant development in this comparatively new sphere. It signifies the economic soundness of the cooperative conception as well as the assured success of both these housing undertakings which were inspired by the splendid ideal of mutual good and reciprocal benefit.

Let’s not forget the possibility of tenants’ unions playing a role as well. Tenants’ unions have made a different in California’s metros, known for high rents. Tenants in cities in California are organizing tenants’ unions in their buildings and communities and have been influential in passing new rent control ordinances for the first time in over 30 years. Organization has made a difference in the fight against landlord lobbyists, corporate developers, and realtors. Perhaps an alliance amongst sewer socialists, labor unions, tenants’ unions, non-profits that represent low wage workers could make a dent in the problem of affordable housing.

The original sewer socialists brought certain economic activities into municipal ownership that were natural monopolies or at least very capital intensive. We can use some municipal funds to tame the power of the real estate industry. It’s unrealistic to think that workers in low-wage sectors would have enough money to start apartment complexes and housing developments on their own, but several entities acting cooperatively could make a big difference.

Jason Sibert is the Executive Director of the Peace Economy Project in St. Louis.


Editor’s Note: Continuing our retrospective on the American “sewer socialism” movement.

By Jason Sibert

The state of Wisconsin has long been called a progressive state due to the prominence of socialist and progressive politicians in the state. However, contemporary politics’ emphasis on social issues has turned the state into a swing state in presidential elections. Since the presidential election of 1988, it went for the Democrat except for Donald Trump in 2016 due to third party candidates (Green Party Candidate Jill Stein and Libertarian Gary Johnson) and low turnout from Democrats. The closeness of presidential elections in Wisconsin, at least going back to the 1980s, means the Democrats must work hard to keep the state in their hands.

However, let’s take a trip down memory lane and look at a time when Wisconsin’s largest city – Milwaukee – was a hotbed of sewer socialists, people who were elected to office in major and mini-metropolitan areas and tried to make life better for the urban working class by the municipalization of natural monopolies (parks, sewers, utility companies, etc.), the quality delivery of public services, and quality management of taxpayers’ money. Milwaukee elected its first socialist mayor, Emil Seidel, in 1910. Mayor Seidel went to work to correct years of corruption in the Democratic and Republican parties, as he advocated strongly for the municipalization of utilities, but his most significant achievement was the reorganization of the city government. Seidel streamlined city administration by eliminating several departments and creating the Bureau of Economy and Efficiency, arguing that there would be fewer opportunities for politicians to skim the city budget. He also established the first municipal public works department and police and fire commissions in an American city and worked with the common council to raise the minimum wage for city laborers from $1.75 to $2.50 per day. In addition, the Milwaukee mayor made the 8-hour day standard for municipal crews, strengthened local Health Department inspections, and created the city’s park system. Although his two years as mayor had been quite productive and transformative, it made Democrats and Republicans more determined to unseat him. Another interesting fact: Seidel employed noted American poet Carl Sandberg as his personal secretary.

In his 1912 bid for reelecton, Seidel went up against a fusion Democratic-Republican ticket and was defeated by doctor, public health commissioner, and medical school professor named Gerhard Bading. However, Seidel would remain active in politics for the next several years. Socialist Party of America Presidential Candidate Eugene Debs chose him as a running mate in 1912. The Debs/Seidel ticket won six percent of the vote, the best for a socialist party presidential candidate in US history. Seidel was soundly defeated in another run for mayor in 1914. He won reelection as alderman in 1916 and continued in the job until 1920. He ran for Senate in 1932 and won six percent of the vote there as well. The sewer socialist once again returned to the office of Milwaukee alderman from 1932 to 1936.

Seidel died in Milwaukee on June 24, 1947, following an illness of several months’ duration related to complications from a heart condition. He was 82 years old. The legacy of sewer socialism would continue in Milwaukee after Seidel’s tenure as mayor, with Daniel Hoan and Frank Zeidler being elected to serve on as mayor after him.

Jason Sibert is the Executive Director of the Peace Economy Project in St. Louis.


By Sheldon Ranz

As the political chaos of redistricting finally, mercifully, comes to an end in New York State with the Democratic primaries for Congress and the State Senate on August 23, a new order of progressive leadership could emerge. There’s State Senator Alessandra Biaggi running for House District 17 (against Sean Maloney), Brittany Ramos DeBarros taking on Max Rose and possibly incumbent Nicole Malliotakis in House District 11; and Melanie D’arrigo running for House District 3 (Nassau County). There’s a rush of new enthusiasm for re-electing Rep. Jamaal Bowman because, with the albatross of his old Riverdale constituency no longer hanging around his neck, he was freed up to endorse the Palestinian Right of Return (BDS Demand #3) at the behest of Rep. Rashida Tlaib several months ago.

The most important August 23rd contest is the Democratic primary for U.S. House District 10. In a solidly blue new (no incumbent) district, the winner of the primary is all but certain to represent the District in Congress. The District reflects the 2020 Census results, consisting of Manhattan’s Chinatown, Greenwich Village, Wall Street and the Financial District, and the Lower East Side; as well as Brooklyn’s Park Slope, Sunset Park (Brooklyn’s Chinatown) and Borough Park. The latter two areas have large Latino and Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods. There are over 12 candidates vying for this seat, and Social Democrats USA endorses the only consistent progressive in the race, Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou.

She has been advocating for New Yorkers in government for over a decade, first as Chief of Staff to Assemblymember Ron Kim. In 2016, she was elected in a historic landslide victory to represent New York’s 65th Assembly District, becoming the first AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) woman in the NYS Assembly and the first Asian-American to represent Manhattan’s Chinatown in the State Legislature. Yuh-Line helped form New York State’s first-ever Asian Pacific- American Legislative Task Force.

As SDUSA noted in our prior endorsement of Assemblymember Niou in Nine for New York, she secured a record $550 million in funding for the NYC Housing Authority for capital repairs to its crippling infrastructure and voted for the successful repeal of Bill 50-A, which shielded police misconduct and police brutality from public scrutiny. As an Elizabeth Warren endorser in 2020, she helped maintain the working alliance between Warren supporters and Berniecrats within the sex work decriminalization movement. Niou was one of the first public figures to speak out against then-NY Governor Andrew Cuomo when news of his abusive conduct was revealed. In the past six years, she has been the prime sponsor of 15 bills that became law, including one establishing a toll-free hotline for complaints of workplace sexual harassment.

Niou advocates single-payer health care, the Green New Deal, investment in public housing and eliminating the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. If elected to Congress, she intends to make predatory lending a target, based on feedback from her constituents. Unlike her fellow Democratic candidates Carlina Rivera or Dan Goldman, she doesn’t take huge gobs of real estate contributions; unlike Liz Holtzman, she wants to cancel student loan debt. If she wins, Niou — whose parents emigrated to the U.S. from Taiwan when she was a child — would become only the second Asian-American elected to Congress from New York, after Grace Meng.

Of all the major candidates running for this Congressional seat, Niou is the only one who has brought up foreign policy in a serious manner – she didn’t have to, but she did anyway – by announcing her support for BDS. She did this not just in terms of supporting someone having a civil right to engage in a boycott per se, but stated her agreement with the overall stance of the movement in support of Palestinian human rights. Unsurprisingly, she has been deluged with attacks from the other candidates and the print media on this matter, but has stood firm. Both in her policies and in her outlook, Yuh-Line Niou is very much the social democrat. She has used government to direct resources toward the needy and the marginalized in order to achieve a more egalitarian society, and is willing to take risks on the diplomatic front to achieve the same goal on a more global scale.

Sheldon Ranz is Director of Special Projects for Social Democrats USA and the editor of Socialist Currents.