Petak celebrates Miller Park with charity tailgate party
With a new era of baseball in Milwaukee just a week away, the man who is quite literally responsible for making Miller Park a reality is throwing his support to another good cause with a March 30 pre-game tailgate party.
Former State Sen. George Petak of Racine is the reluctant hero who changed his vote to support funding of Miller Park back in 1995, then found himself removed from office a year later in the state's first successful recall election.
Though his path has taken some unexpected turns, Petak is nonetheless celebrating its outcome with the party, proceeds from which benefit the Evangelical Child and Family Agency, a New Berlin-based charity that provides support services for children in need for foster care, families interested in adoption and pregnancy counseling.
"Anyone with a ticket to the game is encouraged to come on out and visit," says Petak. "Anyone who has an interest in supporting a good cause like ECFA will have a good time."
Petak's relationship with the Brewers began more than five years ago, when his vote became the deciding one that cleared the way for construction of Miller Park. All along, Petak says he supported using tax dollars to help the team, but it was only at the very end of the process that he agreed to pledge his county's money to make it happen.
"There were actually three votes," says Petak. "Two votes I voted against while I was working behind the scenes to get Racine County out of the mix. I failed to accomplish that. (I changed my vote) when it was understood that the Brewers were being courted by other communities around the country that had built stadiums without assurances that they would even have a team."
The reaction to Petak's vote changed his career, which is now government affairs at downtown firm Zigman Joseph Stephenson.
Petak says a number of his constituents agreed that it was important to Wisconsin to have a Major League Baseball team, and they agreed with his decision.
"Unfortunately, a number of them didn't, and eventually the recall election took its toll, and I lost the election the following June," he says.
Says Petak, "The whole election dealt with so much more than the one vote. The one vote was the springboard that my political opponents used to drum up the emotions of voters and non-voters in the community. It eventually ended up mustering the forces it took to drive me out of office."
Petak's removal from office also changed the polarity of the State Senate.
Petak still lives in Racine, and after he recovered from the shock of sudden unemployment, he took a job with the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority.
Neither bitter nor jaded by politics, Petak says he considered a run for U.S. Congress in 1998. However, he found his politics to be closely aligned with Paul Ryan, and instead of mounting a campaign, he threw his support Ryan's way. Shortly thereafter, Petak joined the private sector, but he still works closely with government in public relations and in lobbying.
Throughout these unexpected developments, Petak says his family stood close by him. He says his wife of 31 years, Nancy, and his three grown children have supported him every step of the way. Petak also has chosen to remain in Mount Pleasant, where he is still active in his church and his community.
"There is life after politics," he says. "There's a private life that one can regain and enjoy, and my wife and I are doing just that."
Miller Park is clearly visible from his office window, and Petak is proud of Wisconsin's commitment to keep the Brewers in Milwaukee.
"I was convinced in 1995 that my vote was the right one for the greater good of the State of Wisconsin and I'm still convinced of that. I've never had a sense of bitterness because I knew politics can be very nasty and very personal," says Petak.
While Petak says he hopes his political legacy is remembered for more than just one vote -- he championed for education reform, welfare reform and property tax relief -- he was still honored when Brewers fans gave him a standing ovation at a Miller Park rally and later when he threw out the first pitch at County Stadium.
"It was tremendous," says Petak. "Out in the parking lot at the rally, it was outstanding. In the stadium, I had a standing ovation of 35,000 people, and that was pretty exciting."
Corporate sponsorships to the George Petak Tailgate Party are still available. For more information call (414) 273-4680.
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