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‘Poisoned Sausage’ Scare May Lead to Alderman’s Censure

June 25, 1990

MILWAUKEE (AP) _ A black alderman battling a sausage maker over renaming a street for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. faces a possible censure for issuing a warning that the company’s products were tainted by rat poison.

Alderman Michael McGee’s warning forced Usinger’s Famous Sausage Inc., a century-old family-owned business in Milwaukee, to recall 80,000 pounds of meat from 150 stores. Since then, the company has conducted a preliminary inspection and said it found none of the meats to be tainted.

Mayor John O. Norquist and some city council members are threatening to punish McGee for what they say is an unsubstantiated threat.

At a weekend news conference, Norquist called McGee ″demented,″ and accused him of fabricating the warning to gain attention. The mayor said McGee’s antics were feeding racism and bigotry in the city.

McGee, one of three blacks on the 16-member council, recently started a Black Panther Militia group. He said it would stage violent, terrorist strikes beginning in 1995 if inner-city conditions in Milwaukee don’t improve.

McGee has claimed his militia already has about 500 members, including many young street gang members. He has said that possible targets of violence could be motorists driving along highways or fans at sports events.

The sausage warning prompted Common Council President Thomas Donegan to say that McGee had ″pushed freedom of speech beyond its limit.″ Donegan said he was planning to strip the alderman of his committee assignments.

He also said the council would vote Friday on a censure against McGee. ″I don’t want to look like a racist attacking my colleague, but I think if we’re provoking fear and anxiety, we have to do something,″ Donegan said Monday.

The sausage was recalled after McGee said he received an anonymous phone call that Usinger’s products had been injected with rat poison by the Militant African Underground Squared. He identified it as an underground group.

The group has no telephone listing and has made no statement regarding the alleged tampering.

Norquist and others said they believe McGee’s story was fabricated because the alderman brought the warning to news media instead of reporting it immediately to police.

″It’s a hoax. It’s phony,″ the mayor charged Saturday. ″What he’s really doing is scaring the hell out of people, which feeds racism and bigotry.″

″People in the city ... for the most part know McGee is a fool. They know what he says is not any more than an attempt to feed his own ego.″

McGee has refused interviews with the ″white-owned″ news media in recent months, accusing newspapers of distorting his intentions. He did not return a reporter’s phone call to his office Monday seeking comment.

A group of black politicians called on Norquist and others Monday to apologize to McGee.

The group, which included three state lawmakers and two Milwaukee County Board members, said McGee did nothing wrong and was the target of criticism because he was an ″African-American male.″

Without an apology to McGee, ″I don’t think its fair to say we’ll have much peace in this city,″ Milwaukee County Supervisor Terrance Pitts told reporters.

McGee, flanked by two uniformed members of his militia, attended the news conference and spoke only briefly.

″I’m going to take the pledge of allegiance to Milwaukee. I’m a real Milwaukeean,″ he said curtly, declining other comment.

Police said they had received no reports of food tampering and criminal charges were unlikely. Usinger’s, however, is proceeding to inspect all the meat it recalled before releasing it for sale, said spokesman Evan N. Zeppos.

″We have no alternative but to take it as a serious situation, whether it is a hoax or not,″ Zeppos said Monday. Zeppos said the company has not determined how much the recall has cost it.

Usinger’s and other businesses along North 3rd Street have opposed an effort to rename the street in honor of King.

Part of the street is already named for the slain civil rights leader, but McGee and others are lobbying for the entire street to be renamed. Merchants have complained that a name change would inconvenience them.

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