Frank Zeidler, a former Milwaukee mayor who was the last Socialist to run a major American city, has died. He was 93.
Zeidler died late Friday of congestive heart failure and diverticulitis, hospital spokesman Gregg Hartzog said. He led Milwaukee from 1948 through 1960.
Born in Milwaukee on Sept. 10, 1912, 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 Zeidler.
“Historians described him in the tradition of Milwaukee’s sewer socialists,” said Zeidler’s youngest daughter, Jeanne, who followed her father into politics and is mayor of Williamsburg, Va.
“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.”
A civil rights advocate
His 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.
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 he retired from.
Zeidler wrote a 1,022-page manuscript in 1962 called “A Liberal in City Government” that was a memoir and a reflection on municipal government. It was finally published last year.
“I thought I would discharge the contents of my mind,” he said of his work.
Zeidler ran for president unsuccessfully in 1976, receiving about 6,000 votes.