Franklin Edmonds says his goal is simple: "All I want to do is work." But to find jobs in his chosen field, as a heavy-equipment operator, the 53-year-old Madison resident has had to get out of town.
"I haven't worked in this area for over five years," he says. "Most of the time, I work in the Milwaukee area."
Edmonds, who boasts 29 years' experience operating front end loaders, bulldozers and the like, has a stack of job applications to construction companies involved in local projects. "They let me fill out an application, and that's it."
That's ironic, since Edmonds is black, and companies working on certain federally funded projects have minority employment goals, especially with regard to new hires.
"These companies continue to get contracts from the city and the state, and they do not hire minorities," says Edmonds, citing the reconstruction of East Washington Avenue as an example. "When I drive down East Washington, I don't see any minorities, and I'm qualified."
Edmonds, it should be noted, has clashed with past employers over what he felt was unfair treatment. He also joined a class-action lawsuit against his union, Operating Engineers Local 139, charging that its referral system discriminated against women and minorities; a settlement was reached in 2002. So prospective bosses may be wary.
On the other hand, Edmonds has shown that he can do the job.
"I guess he was a good loader operator," says Larry Ratayczak, president of Mainline Sewer & Water near Milwaukee in Wauwatosa, where Edmonds commuted to work for several months last fall. "I recall him showing up for work every day and running a loader well enough for us."
Among the companies at which Edmonds has recently applied are Henshue Construction in Madison and Edward Kramer & Sons in Plain, both major players in the current $16 million segment of the East Washington Avenue project.
Merle Liefker, regional manager of Kraemer & Sons, says his company is doing about $3 million of work on East Washington Avenue, mainly for a pedestrian overpass, and currently has "eight or nine" people on the job. He doesn't know how many are minorities, deferring to a project manager who ignored a phone message.
Ron Henshue of Henshue Construction, whose firm will get nearly $4 million for the project's underground infrastructure, counts three racial minorities and at times one woman among the project's 30-35 workers. He says finding workers is "a challenge," especially given the job's dangers, but that his company does the best it can.
A representative of Local 139, which has pacts to help contractors meet their minority recruitment goals, declined comment. In March, the state Division of Equal Rights found "probable cause" to believe the union discriminated against Edmonds based on his race and past complaints.
The East Washington project is being overseen by the state Department of Transportation. Its contractors, says DOT civil rights program manager Michele Carter, are subject to federal minority participation goals based on the 1970 Census (go figure). In Dane County, the goal is 6.9% women and 2.2% racial minorities. Those are not typos.
The DOT doesn't uniformly track the performance of contractors on given projects. But it has periodic tallies from individual contractors.
Last July, the project's prime contractor, Hoffman Construction Co., had five women and five minorities (four Native Americans and one Hispanic) among its 100 workers; Kraemer, with 34 workers, had no women and two minorities (one black and one Native American). And Henshue, in May 2006, had nine minorities (six blacks, three Hispanics) and nine women among its 161-member workforce. In all, that's seven blacks and 14 women among 294 total workers.
Edmonds says Kraemer and Henshue have not responded to his recent applications; he intends to file complaints with the state Division of Equal Rights.
Alleged victim is alleged abuser
As is often the case, there's a bit more to the story of a former Madison cop who allegedly attacked her lover's ex-husband than has come out in press accounts.
Laura Walker, 37, is facing two felony and three misdemeanor charges in connection with the March 31 incident. She allegedly broke into the man's home, choked and threatened him, warning him to stay away from his ex.
In fact, the 35-year-old man Walker is accused of attacking was charged in 2004 with three felonies and five misdemeanors for sexual assaults and beatings he allegedly inflicted on his then-wife. (Isthmus is not naming either to protect privacy.)
Police said the woman's physician documented treating her after "forced intercourse." Later, the physician diagnosed a broken rib, purportedly from being "beaten by her husband." And a police detective observed a scar on the woman's head corresponding to another reported injury.
The charges were brought by Assistant District Attorney Judi Munaker, who subsequently left the office. The case was reassigned to another prosecutor, Brian Asmus, who, according to Dane County DA Brian Blanchard, "reviewed all the facts carefully...and decided in the end that it was in the public interest to dismiss. To say more would be unfair to all involved."
The criminal complaint against Walker says the man she is accused of attacking received a text message from his ex-wife shortly before the March 31 incident, expressing an interest in reconciliation. The implication is that Walker acted after her lover made moves to get back with her ex.
But the woman tells Isthmus this message was actually meant for Walker, and accidentally sent to her ex on a new phone she was just learning to use: "I would not get back together with him." (Some communication is required due to joint custody of kids.)
The case is being handled by a Milwaukee prosecutor because Walker, a Madison police officer from 1999 until last December, worked in the Dane County DA's office as a law school intern last summer.
John Birdsall, Walker's attorney, won't say what role the charges against the ex-husband may play in the case - other than that, "from our perspective, his credibility is zero."
More than three decades after the war ended, the fighting is still going on. Vietnam remains an inescapable component of the American experience - especially now, given the nation's déjà vu quagmire in Iraq.
"It's got a power over not just our generation - the baby boomers who were affected by it - but the entire country," says Doug Bradley, who spent a year in Vietnam in the early 1970s. "Just look at the last election, with John Kerry and George Bush. If that wasn't about Vietnam...."
Bradley, a founder of Madison's Vets House, is among a small group of local vets and others who produce The Deadly Writer's Patrol, a publication centered on the Vietnam experience. (The group also includes UW-Madison professor Craig Werner, with whom Bradley is co-writing a book about the music of the war.)
Launched in mid-2006, the glossy magazine grew out of a writing group at the Madison Vet Center. Its third issue, published last month, drew a mention in the Utne Reader, a national magazine devoted to the alternative press. It includes a harrowing short story by Bradley about a Vietnam soldier who tries to kill his commanding officer, and a long article by a Madison veteran of the first Gulf War.
The Deadly Writer's Patrol is available at Frugal Muse and the Wisconsin Veterans Museum; learn more and/or subscribe at deadlywriterspatrol.org.
East-sider's whole world collapses
Bicycle listserv member Chuck Strawser, reacting to news of plans to close Marquette Elementary and shift its students to Lapham, shattering his vision for how his kids will get to school: "I'm more upset over this than anything I can think of, ever."
Just wait till he sees this item.