Frank Zeidler, 93; Socialist Was Mayor of Milwaukee

Frank Zeidler was the last Socialist to run a major American city.
Frank Zeidler was the last Socialist to run a major American city. (David Joles - AP)
Associated Press
Thursday, July 13, 2006

Frank Zeidler, 93, a former Milwaukee mayor who was the last socialist to run a major U.S. city, died July 7 of congestive heart failure and diverticulitis at a Milwaukee hospital. He led the Wisconsin city from 1948 through 1960.

Born in Milwaukee on Sept. 10, 1912, Mr. Zeidler was part of the Socialist Party's city stronghold, which was fueled by German immigrants who flocked there. The party had thousands of members, a congressional seat and control of the mayor's office for nearly a half-century, ending with Mr. Zeidler.

"Historians described him in the tradition of Milwaukee's sewer socialists," said his youngest daughter, Jeanne, who followed her father into politics and is mayor of Williamsburg.

"They were community leaders, mayors of Milwaukee who thought everyone should have access to plumbing in their homes," she said. "But he also had a bigger vision than that. He really was an activist of world peace, of tolerance, of people working together."

Mr. Zeidler's three terms as mayor were marked by large-scale construction of public housing, creation of the first educational television station in Wisconsin and city beautification programs. He also made strong statements on behalf of civil rights as Milwaukee became the 11th-largest city in the United States by the end of his term, Jeanne Zeidler said.

Mr. Zeidler said the word "socialism" was discredited when Stalin and Hitler used it in their rhetoric. Still, he remained an ardent socialist until his death, serving as chairman of the national Socialist Party, even as numbers dwindled.

He never moved from the house he owned before being elected mayor, an office from which he retired.

Mr. Zeidler wrote a 1,022-page manuscript in 1962, "A Liberal in City Government," which was a memoir and a reflection on municipal government. It was published last year.

"I thought I would discharge the contents of my mind," he said of his work.

Mr. Zeidler ran for president in 1976, receiving about 6,000 votes.

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