Don't read too much into this, but there's a fascinating backstory connected to the 160-year-old gavel given to John Dickert last night, immediately after he was sworn in as Racine's mayor. What we were told, and reported, is that it originally belonged to "historic Milwaukee Mayor Byron Kilbourn."
But who was Byron Kilbourn, and why is he "historic"?
A reader tipped us off: "Wow. I hope the gavel gift is not symbolic. Kilbourn was one of the most crooked politicians that ever served in Wisconsin. He was disgraced when it was revealed that he gave almost $1 million in bribes to secure land for railroads."
And he gave us a link to a video of Mike McCabe, director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, presenting a few details. Speaking at the Sixth Annual Fighting Bob Fest on Sept. 8, 2007, McCabe outlined the bribes Kilbourn paid to get free land for railroads, the $300,000 in graft -- another website says it was $631,000 -- he gave to crooked legislators (remember, this was 160 years ago, when a dollar really was a dollar!), and the governor who was thrown out of office as a result.
But wait, there's more... Let's not forget Kilbourn’s involvement in the “Bridge War of 1845," when the rivalry between the east side (Juneautown) of what is now Milwaukee and the west side (Kilbourntown) led Kilbourn, who later became Milwaukee's third mayor, to drop a bridge in the river to keep the two towns separate, and his own on top. You can read all about that glorious chapter in our history here.
The reader who tipped us off to all this notes, "Okay, I know that this probably means nothing, but I thought I would share it anyway…..It just peeves me that people like Kilbourn continue to get glorified. I fear that in 100 years will we have Chuck Chvala parkway."
And now you know the rest of the story...
More information on Kilbourn is HERE and HERE.