Monday, August 4, 2014


By Dominique Paul Noth

The biggest oddity for the August 12 primary landed August 2 on doorsteps in a major Democratic stronghold, District 19, which ranges from UWM south through Bay View.  The oddball flyer attacked the two leading progressive candidates for that Assembly seat without mentioning the candidate the flyer was actually supporting nor the deep connections of the flyer group to the county executive. 

Chris Abele has spent a lot of time assuring reporters he is not playing politics, acting surprised or distressed when questioned. It’s become like a Martin Short routine --the sketchy Nathan Thurm always denying any involvement.

But in finances and organizational links, County Executive Abele is closely connected to the flyer group and he is playing heavily in politics – in District 19 with Dan Adams and in District 10 with his campaign director and former legislative director at the county, Tia Torhorst.

The oddity flyer came from a secretive heftily financed organization called Forward Milwaukee County Inc. Many thought (or hoped) it was dead and gone after it spent big last April to carve into the wages of Milwaukee county board members, just as Abele was pushing for. Goal accomplished – as supervisors expected, the voters erroneously saw money savings and agreed, and so the Forward group went quiet.  It seemed.

Only now like the ghosts in “Poltergeist” creeping in through the TV set – “They’re back!”

Last March it raised $50,000 quickly (and probably a lot more since) for radio ads and other promotions to turn the board into a part-time pay status in 2016 while still requiring caring supervisors to work full time.  Its treasurer is Joseph Rice, who blamed the board more than the US Census for squeezing him out of a board seat and has been on the attack ever since.

The funding we know of (we only know a smidgen -- remember the secrecy rules allowed in forming a   non-stock Wisconsin corporation) comes from the octogenarian financier who is now Chris Abele’s favorite adviser,  Sheldon Lubar, who sees the county board as “sand in the gearbox” (while many others now recognize Abele as the “fly in the ointment”).  Lubar has been reportedly joined by Bradley Foundation’s   Michael Grebe and other business names connected to the county executive. 

By not naming Adams in the flyer and pretending to be just about the county board in portraying Marina Dimitrijevic and Jonathan Brostoff as card deck jokers, Abele hopes to retain deniability. But the public has long known he has been upset that the board has been united behind Dimitrijevic in vetoing some of his policies and hires (while clearly supporting others). Though nominally a Democrat, and a rich one,  he turned to conservative Republicans to push through his power-seeking bill known as Act 14 and other pet pieces of legislation that don’t really address the county’s problems but give him a freer hand to do what he wants without judicious interference.

The current Assembly Democrats had tough questions about some of his ideas, so he threw money at Republicans in the legislature and is now pushing for an Abele breed of pliant Democrats in Madison.  The flyer is seen as part and parcel of that game.

This Rice-Lubar Inc. is now a PAC for Abele’s candidates, pretending to still be upset about the county board.  Sure,  the board like the exec is hardly flawless. Such is the nature of legislative arms. But it exercises an important and legally required check and balance on the executive, from whose office most county scandals have come.

BLATANTLY MISLEADING and forced, down to the misleading newspaper blurbs,
 this is one side of the Joker flyer that hit District 19 homes and had voters crying foul!
If nothing else the flyer has made crystal clear to the average citizens the ugly holes in campaign laws. Attacking two candidates without naming who you are for?  Asking voters to phone  the two candidates --  to cease and desist what? Their questioning the exec? Clearly there is not an understandable issue in calling them, it’s all about politics and shifting votes in a district election.

Yet by never naming Adams, the Forward Abele group  can claim to be engaged in issue advocacy not candidate advocacy.  Everyone living in the district knows the purpose of the flyer – and from all camps they expressed dismay about the deception.  How the flyer has been distributed is also interesting, since it landed next door to journalists and union leaders but not in their mailboxes.

Yet the flyer clumsily arrived at “The Geenen Household.” That is  another progressive candidate in the race, Sara Geenen, a union lawyer who cannot be tied to the county board and has maintained decorum with most sides in this race. Given her amicable style and especially her close connections to the well organized and politically astute Steelworkers, she is not an enemy Abele wants to add. Yet her supporters were clearly miffed that she was excluded from the flyer attack – they felt he was slighting her at a time when she needed the help of his opposition.

When discussing the flyer, Brostoff laughed aloud. He has been attacked by Dimitrijevic supporters for criticizing her refusal to go along with Abele’s attempt to wrest parks patrol from the sheriff’s office – which hardly sounds like a county board devotee, does it? And he hasn’t worked there for years (once a staffer for Supervisor Jason Haas and on leave from working for state Sen. Chris Larson).  So the flyer is clearly more connected to the assembly contest than the county board.  Brostoff  advisers speculate that the Abele camp must really be ticked  at him or the internal polls they have reportedly been taking show that he is doing quite well.

Dimitrijevic is also amused, particularly since the board accuses them both of failure in  the one district where the efforts of the county board are highly admired (on one end is Dimitrijevic, on the other is Gerry Broderick, an avid champion of the parks system and financial frugality who already has several distinguished Democrats maneuvering for his seat when he retires in 2016,  whatever the ultimate pay scale). 

The Abele theory must be that making mischief by splitting the progressive voters among three could leave the field to Adams. It might work in some districts but it strikes me as a misreading of how many progressives there are in District 19 and how Adams with these maneuvers has  quickly diminished the image he started with. In forums and appearances he has come over as petty and combative.

Many expect the second shoe after the flyer  to drop right before the election in a flood of ads for Adams, who is raising money mainly from outside the state  from names familiar to watchers of Abele.  Abele’s father was co-founder of Boston Scientific and the son runs the Argosy Foundation the family wealth has spun off. Now, taxpayers suspect that  under the fabrication of an inefficient board (translation: they don’t always agree with him) he is trying to gain the sort of unfettered authority that would create outrage if his name were Scott Walker.

The voters shouldn’t be the maddest people about this bizarre  flyer. That should be the flagship newspaper of the Scripps organization (still known after the recent buyout as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel).
The flyer claims its views of Dimitrijevic and Brostoff are supported by JS,  using bubbles of text ostensibly from  the editorials. But these are mainly columnists and reports on various issues quoted out of context. 

The most vicious quote in the flyer is  against Dimitrijevic and pretends to be normal JS opinion. But it is actually from conservative blogger Aaron Rodriguez whose work appears in Purple Wisconsin, which the newspaper deliberately distances itself from with the warning: “a collection of community bloggers with views from across the political spectrum.”  Rodriguez writes for El Conquistador and Charlie Sykes’ Right Wisconsin and inadvertently,  in the column cited,  revealed not dysfunction but the care, study and diligence the board goes through to vet their proposals through legal experts -- in contrast to what courthouse insiders describe as the Abele-Lubar righteously close-minded certainty. 

It is all the sort of violation of journalism ethics for which once upon a time  the newspaper would threaten legal action. But this is not the first time the Forward Milwaukee group has been accused of violating campaign law behavior.

In a knowledgeable community unaccustomed to backstabbing nonsense and big spending in such a race,  this flyer is backfiring hard by portraying the county board as a failed vessel rather than the balancing legislative wheel voters expect and respect from anyone they send to Madison. The jokers are becoming the people who spread this around.


A more amusing oddity is the shock! shock! that progressives have a lot of money to put behind their beliefs.

For conservative Republicans, committed extreme libertarians (think Kochs) and tea party devotees, money has always been their hole card – easy to raise,  pick up a phone and tap a conduit, demoralizing to opponents and a guarantee of victory.

Imagine their dismay when progressives and common sense moderates combine either to match them dollar for dollar or display enough donations and database smarts to gain the edge.  That was the palpable outrage on the extreme right (our money is good, even holy) when the other side (their money must be dirty and underhanded) announced more than $400,000 in the last weeks before Aug. 12 to show a hard-hitting TV ad against David Clarke and for Christopher Moews for sheriff. 

It was probably a deliberate spit in the face to the NRA for sticking its email nose into this local race and seeking to raise last-minute money for Clarke to do similar advertising, which so far he has not been able to muster though he threatens to match the ad amount.

Doubling the shock was that this was being organized by the Madison based liberal group,  the Greater Wisconsin Committee, a statewide 527 independent PAC that had  been active in attacking Scott Walker.  Where it gets its money is protected under the law,  though  it cannot coordinate directly with a candidate (sort of the left brainy version of the ill-considered Forward Milwaukee County Inc. oddball flyer in District 19). But  it has union support and funding from Wisconsin citizens and businesses in the state who want to change from failing economic and education policies and the sort of extremist gun-nut strutting Clarke represents.

Judging from the instant reaction to this news of the dollars raised against Clarke, the right simply cannot believe there is this kind of money on the left for a Milwaukee County primary contest (though this anti-Clarke fever is hardly left, though the funding group may well be), so they immediately started a rumor that George Soros must be involved. That has a lot of people laughing.

Soros in the frequent bogeyman for  the right-wing, trotted out every time anyone complains about the Koch brothers or the Wal-Mart heirs or other active conduits for  conservative causes.

Soros is politically active internationally more than in America, which only has made him  the right’s global Dracula. Soros has gotten involved in US presidential politics and in Wisconsin is supporting the efforts by American Bridge 21st Century to examine Walker’s emails for wrongdoing. On a philanthropic front he has supported nonprofit investigative journalism. His causes are many even if he has publicly indicated his money for US politics is limited.   But he is constantly  accused in almost hysterical fashion for all the evils descending on the Republicans. 

There are plenty of Wisconsinites willing to give big to such causes as ousting Clarke. Blaming Soros as the monster funder  from hell without any evidence brings  chuckles from many connected with the Greater Wisconsin Committee, who frankly like the fear being engendered.

But again, the 527 rules for  a non-stock Wisconsin corporation are such that anyone can claim anything and no journalist can prove differently. Voters are forced to use their common sense. 

So ask yourself,: Who  wants Clarke gone? (That list is endless. Soros not needed.)

And who wants to demean accomplished political progressives in District 19 using the county board’s questioning of the exec as an excuse?  A much shorter list – it comes down to Abele, Adams and their camp followers.

About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its famous entertainment Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He also created its Friday Weekend section and ran Sunday TV Screen magazine and Lively Arts as he became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with its still operative archives at  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for

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