Wednesday, March 30, 2016


By Dominique Paul Noth

Two-thirds of  Milwaukee County live in the city of Milwaukee, including me. So while everyone has heard of the presidential primary April 5 and  there are interesting contests unfolding in many suburbs,  let’s focus here on the Milwaukee Common Council and then the suburban-inclusive Milwaukee County Board final races. (The statewide supreme court race and the contest for county exec have already been dealt with.)

Normally even just the Common Council would require a ton of coverage from a one-man band.  But fortunately it’s not quite that daunting. There are 14 out of 15 seats being “contested” (Ald. Jim Bohl of District 5 is, surprisingly to me,  unopposed) but  I can pass on several sure things for the incumbents, including Ashanti Hamilton (District 1); Milele Coggs who still capably represents District 6 and is outspoken on issues important to the African American community;  Michael Murphy of District 10 who is also Common Council president and its longest serving member; even newer Ald. Jose Perez of District 12, who must feel like he’s running against zombies from the district’s past life  since his opponent is one-term alderman (2000-2004) Angel Sanchez, and assuredly a well connected incumbent, Russell Stamper II of District 15.

Bob Bauman should shake off
District 4 flies.
Even Downtown alderman Bob Bauman of District 4 has not been damaged a bit by the anti-streetcar forces that have put their money on an interloper  (she doesn’t even live in the district and is known by several names), since Bauman’s concerns and efforts  reach way past what citizens tend to think of as “downtown.” He’s spread the   bustle  of new developments toward the 34th  St. border.

I could readily add to my “no worries list”  Ald. Nik Kovac,  because I live within his District 3, which includes the UWM campus where I taught, Lake Park where my family played, North Avenue area where I still see movies and many Oakland Ave. rooming houses where I thankfully never lived. It is arguably the whitest district in the city yet I hope one of the most welcoming to minorities. It has a reputation for leading the parade of Milwaukee liberals.

However true those generalities are, I am mighty familiar with the 3rd  where at the county board  a good friend, longtime supervisor Gerry Broderick, announced his retirement more than a year ago and will be replaced, without opposition on the April 5 ballot, by former state representative Sheldon Wasserman, actually an obstetrician who has worked with many families I know.

Ald. Nik Kovac
Kovac,  whom I haven’t always supported, has become  a powerhouse in  progressive motion on the Common Council, touted by many as a future mayor.  He is best known as  a bike trail and Packers enthusiast, but he’s actually ahead of the curve on how important the Common Council is to business development. Yet he hasn’t abandoned empathy for educational needs, for those less fortunate and with neighborhoods’ desire for individuality. He is argumentative but has earned his opinions.

Describing him, warts and all,  gives me a chance to emphasize the broader role in economic and community development that aldermen now engage in and should be held responsible for,  quite different than the old-fashioned  view that they were only good if your street wasn’t plowed, your trash wasn’t picked up or you wanted police to investigate a rash of burglaries.  The good ones do far more, and that has trapped some antiquated officials into not leaning forward as far as they could in offering legislation or reaching deeper than licensing taverns. Those are the traits I looked at in this story.

This also makes  Kovac an easy choice against Shannan Hayden who wound up being the sacrificial goat for the angry anti-streetcar and anti-Barrett financial forces that have beaten their heads bloody trying to get the public to pay attention to their ranting. Indeed the anti-streetcar folks are a pattern of largely empty attacks  in this election.  

Over at District 13, the only reason Chris Wiken is challenging Terry Witkowski is the anti-streetcar crusade, which is what Wiken admits led him to run while managing the Packing House restaurant near the airport. Apparently he is anti his own business, since Witkowski not only supports the streetcar but is working to extend it to the airport.

Looking good for re-election -- Mayor Tom Barrett
This is good place to insert my presumption that the incumbent mayor -- and main force in using  federal dollars to move the streetcar  forward --  Tom Barrett will easily sweep the floor with his opponent. Not that Barrett can’t be criticized for slowness on  the trigger of his beliefs – as one friend put it, you throw him a pitch down the middle and he tends to foul it off.

But Milwaukee is not the Wild West nor a baseball game. Barrett’s undeniably friendly and open manner is one of the few candor  realities left in politics and his caution (perhaps not my style nor those of many troubled by Milwaukee’s poverty rate)  reflects his measured approach to changing things step by step.

Look at the downtown landscape and some developments spreading into diverse communities. He is making progress on police community relations and sensible pressure on crime, so overall he has  served  the city well, especially given the lousy hands being dealt him by the Madison legislature.  How often does he attack problems like foreclosures and aid for economically distressed districts and have Madison politicians shoot him down?

I expect him to easily win the mayor’s race against violently conservative Ald. Bob Donovan of District 8, who has spent the debates denying his own words that paint him as either a racist or a racist dupe -- hardly a healthy leader for a community that is nearly 40% African American. And I have not even touched on his simplistic insecurities about the police and community violence, which is rather an insult to  the true conservative community. There are several politicians who claim to be conservative but really expect  a big mouth to camouflage a tiny brain.

But the most interesting aspect of Donovan on April 5 is that he is trying to retain his seat as alderman even as he runs for mayor.  Now I didn’t pay much attention to this race last February and was rightly called out on my shoddy  thinking that Rep. Josh Zepnick’s better name recognition and inroads in the growing Latino community would carry him through, despite a drunken driving arrest. What I’ve since learned is he didn’t work the trenches very hard and was easily beaten by someone whose energy and desires are completely focused on District 8, which extends south of Menomonee Valley to much of the near  south side.

Justin Bielinski -- far better choice
than Ald. Donovan
I knew little about Justin Bielinski, beyond his background as a teacher and energetic supporter of progressive issues. But  I applied myself to find out more.  I listened to his friends and foes and his campaign promises – and to the growing Latino community. Now I’m convinced he is the aldermanic fit for the community, which lags other near downtown districts  in economic advances.

It is rather astonishing that Donovan has held on so long with his tired vision of service and his role as a gadfly without a stinger. That  community should be screaming for an alderman who actually makes a difference, not just noise on Donovan’s favorite issue of crime.

I was also struck by how Bielinski’s platform of economic development and service fits both his   personality and the needs of District 8 to return to the 21st century.  

Chantia Lewis merits  win over Puentes.
The need to move forward should also be the key motivation in ousting Robert Puentes from District 9.  This could be a thriving northwest community of the city with more attention and cultivation than Puentes has been offering for too many years.  His challenger helped lead 9to5 but she is also a business operator, mother and veteran, Chantia Lewis, who came out of nowhere with a strong campaign to modernize and fix District 9.  Puentes is entrenched and probably better known, but change is in the air and Lewis is riding the breeze.

Time seems ripe for Chevy Johnson
Some other council races are totally open or problematical. One such is District 2, which Joe Davis abandoned to run for mayor, finishing third.  The choices left are an aide to Davis, Sheldon Morton, and a former aide to Barrett whose time for public office has arrived in my opinion, Cavalier (Chevy) Johnson. He made a good impression in previous races and reflects a devotion to youth-related services and workplace development. 

For near west side District 7, veteran Willie Wade abandoned this seat and is trying to pass the mantle along to a former Gwen Moore aide and departing county board member, Khalif Rainey. Rainey, given his background and lifelong public service interests,  would normally be a shoo-in, but he is being opposed by someone with name recognition --  the chair of the Milwaukee School Board, Michael Bonds, also a UWM professor and in past life  a senior fiscal review analyst for the city. Bonds has also promised to quit the MPS board if he wins.

Khalif Rainey seems more natural for District 7.
Still he is  a mystifying candidate since it sounds like he’s giving up on MPS, though he himself says there’s a lot more to be done.  He once promised to be a mediating presence on the board while several now on the board find him a difficult chairman. I would have to know more about his motives before I abandon Rainey. 

There are two other aldermanic races that merit close attention. One involves the newest alderman, Mark Borkowski, and why he squeaked by liberal state Sen. Tim Carpenter in last year’s special election. Borkowski has some name recognition as longtime supervisor in an overlapping county district but I also feel he sold himself to District 11 by wrapping himself in the fond memories of Joe Dudzik, the popular alderman who died while inebriated in a motorcycle accident.

Dudzik was quite a character. He was known to support family values and needy children.  He was a  member of AFSCME as manager for city workers when I visited his neighborhood to do a profile during his first run – a story for the union’s newsletter. I took a photo of him sitting on a swing in Euclid Park and he grabbed it for his campaign literature. Afterwards he told me that photo won him the election. “I looked like a young Alan Ladd,” he joked.

Within a few years I told him to stop embarrassing me with that story, since I found many of his attitudes and votes on the Common Council disturbing – and unexpected.  Dudzik remained  strong in supporting public unions, his AFSCME region boss reminded me,  even taking the floor whenever Donovan went on a diatribe about how dangerous crime was for the police. Dudzik would point out that more public road workers were dying or injured than police offices, a true statistic. 

Yet he also joined Donovan in a particularly broad attack on blacks after the youth misbehavior at State Fair and in more recent actions, and he resisted many modernizing ideas for a district that really hasn’t grown with its own demographic changes. I thought many of his views  close-minded.

So Dudzik was a mixed bag well liked in his neighborhood. It disturbed me how Borkowski wrapped himself in mourner weeds, using Dudzik’s family and friends to win election.

This is a newer era, and this time Borkowski is opposed by Tim Kenney, a longtime Jackson Park resident and Little League coach who has served some 17 years for the Department of Defense, what neighbors regard as a solid citizen.

Kenney has been endorsed by Carpenter, lives and breathes the district but has to overcome lack of name recognition and getting attention for the ideas more than the ideology he offers the community. He also fits more neatly than Borkowski into the forward-looking wing of the Common Council, which Borkowski keeps managing to offend.

Common Council seems ready
to listen to Meagan Holmon.
In the Bay View area former school board member Meagan Holmon is tackling incumbent Tony Zielinski, District 14. Zielinski served as county supervisor before switching in 2004 and has been a big spokesman about Fair Trade, public education and other hot-button liberal issues. But he has  something of a different reputation when you talk to people in Bay View about licensing and small business favoritism. 

I do know Holmon as personable, progressive and somewhat unfairly tarred by public education forces for steering a middle ground at MPS on respectable charters and MTEA policies. She fits the upwardly mobile “soccer mom” image of Bay View, though her platform is really built around her reputation to get things done – short on details, long on personality.  

Zielinksi’s is built around years of public statements though mixed reputation on the council itself.  I keep sensing a hidden persona behind the public one. I actually think she would be smarter on issues of city charter schools and gain more support for her proposals than Zielinski has. 

The county board also features compelling races, though not as many as you would think given publicity about how the office reduces to  part-time pay April 5 -- while still demanding full time commitment. Yet again, there is not as much motion as advertised.  In competitive races I expect Michael Mayo to retain his incumbency, Stephen Taylor in District 9, Jason Haas in District 14, John Weishan Jr. in District 16 and Tony Stakunas in District 17.  Sequanna Taylor is running unopposed (which means she’s in) for the District 2  seat Rainey has abandoned to run for Common Council.

She would be new to the board, but amazing how many incumbents are going unchallenged: Theodore Lipscomb Sr. of northern District 1 and  the current board chair; Marina Dimitrijevic of Bay View neighborhood District 4,   James (Luigi) Schmitt of western District 6, Supreme Moore Omokunde of District 10,  Peggy Romo West of District 12, Willie Johnson Jr. of District 13 and Eddie Cullen of District 15. 

Marcelia Nicholson, touted
as rising progressive star.
A move to citywide full time pay was attempted by the newest supervisor, Martin Weddle – and that was way too fast.  He came in third. Competing to replace Weddle in District 5 are two public school teachers – Michael Glabere, a veteran of such contests, and Marcelia Nicholson whose reputation as a progressive star of the future  surpasses his. So do her endorsements and examples of community leadership.

While I deeply regret the decision of Pat Jursik to retire from District 8 (she has been a smart legislator on the board), I simply don’t know enough about the two candidates to replace her in this far south terrain, Tony Bloom and David Sartori, though on resume I would lean to Sartori.

But I have strong opinions, and worries, involving District 11, a deep south district from Oklahoma Ave. to Ryan Rd. (between 27th and 76th). It has a conservative reputation, which helped Borkowski win, but I am not sure the residents are ready for one of the candidates if they know anything about him – Dan Sebrig who is in bankruptcy and running an auto repair shop. He is best publicized as a county board pest whose heyday as leader  for Citizens for Responsible Government disappeared as CRG flailed  around for issues after the recall scandal. 

Patricia Najera the intelligent choice.
If the district wants to go extremely right, Sebrig is their kind of inciter.  If they want to go for real community development, which she has done for years at UWM and on the city planning commission, the intelligent choice is obviously Patricia Najera.

Along similar lines, District 18 on the far northwest side of the county may have thought electing a nasty  conservative maverick was what they wanted, but how about now?  Deanna Alexander goes around making fun of Black  Lives Matter and addressing a presidential candidate as Ovary  Clinton.  But frankly she hasn’t done much for the economic development and social magnanimity of her district,  which I am familiar with. It is disjointed on planning and growth. It deserves far better – and has the chance since Martha Collins-De La Rosa is challenging. She  is executive director of Wisconsin Jobs Now and former leader of 9to5. A longtime resident of the district she is disturbed by the tone Alexander presents while ignoring key issues.

“The current county supervisor does not reflect or represent this district, or me, or my children or the next generation of children,” Collins-De La Rosa told the Shepherd Express. “She has made racially derogatory comments and statements. This next generation doesn’t have time for that kind of divisive, fear-mongering racism. This supervisor has said a lot of hurtful things and hateful things and that’s not right. It’s not acceptable at all.”

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 original 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 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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