Sunday, March 25, 2018


By Dominique Paul Noth

Trickery has become the staple of politics on the local, state and national level – deception the public needs to know about. 

A new website attacks Abele's money campaign.
Let’s focus on the local level – Milwaukee.

There is a slippery attempt to muddy the waters from a group funded by Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, who throws his wealth behind responsible and irresponsible causes, leaving the hapless public to figure out which is which.

It would be nice if as county exec he valued money nearly as much as he lavishes money on his own pet peeves, but since he doesn’t -- let the taxpayer beware.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel estimates he is sinking close to a million dollars into his campaign to reshape the county board into a pliant partner via the April 3 election – backing candidates sometimes but not always friendly to his own camp mainly to demonstrate the power of his money.  

Other reliable sources have itemized about half a million so far in his expenditures against the board, much of it to out of state business that produce printed material and hire canvassers.  It took awhile but now establishment media has caught up to the trickery.

The Abele group is named LeadershipMKE, which would disappear – and probably will shortly – without being propped up by his money. As an independent expenditure committee, it must report its spending, at its own pace.

League board  member Patty Yunk attempted to talk with
Abele during a meeting he left early, protesting
his pay to park in parks idea.
The game has so angered a notable local group of citizens and activists that they are holding a noon rally March 28 under the banner The League of Progressive Seniors – and they have even produced a website to further their protest.  Their stated aim is to protect Milwaukee democracy from Abele’s money. The group’s board boasts a roster of familiar activist, union and former county worker names, including SEIU’s Bruce Colburn, Anita Johnson, Karen Royster, Stephanie Sue Stein (retired director of the county’s Department on Aging), Jan Wilberg, retired AFSCME legislative leader Patty Yunk and lawyer Jackie Boynton.

Abele’s LeadershipMKE is trying to sidestep its own noose with deceptive come-ons and misstatements about county board votes. While it dispenses Abele’s money to attack county leaders, it lists responsible and irresponsible candidates indiscriminately on its own website, from school board races to village trustees to the county board.

Some were recruited by Abele, some were not.  Some are supportive of his efforts to take more control of county government away from the county board, others are not.  

They are all mixed together in such as a way as to make the site’s recommendations unreliable. For instance I am a longtime acquaintance of Oak Creek mayoral candidate, Dan Bukiewicz, also president of the building trades council, and he is a good candidate. Yet he may be shocked as I am to find his campaign supported  – and I know Robert Hansen, running for Greenfield school board, was shocked. Supervisor Peggy West is a big supporter of Hansen who is a target of Abele’s money through the same group.  You see how screwy the connections can get.

Abele’s group has put all these candidates in a bind about whether to support or disown his campaign literature that attacks their opponents but may not reflect their own viewpoints. It’s hard to reject help from any source in the heat of a campaign – and Abele is successfully counting on that.

It’s pretty clear where Abele is putting most of his money, actually in the Oak Creek area giving a leg up to supervisor candidate James Davies over more progressive Steven Shea.  Abele has dumped more than $115,000 into that race alone.  Other big expenditures are attacking sitting supervisors West and even conservative incumbent Steve Taylor (who dared vote against an Abele appointment). 

Most interestingly he is supporting Casey Shorts against current board chair Theodore Lipscomb though Shorts entered this race on his own, as I have discussed.

Now where I disagree with Abele is on an issue that Shorts has come to believe in – that the relationship between the county exec and the county board has toxic elements that stem from Lipscomb’s hostility. 

Except every board chair has been in disputes with Abele, a relationship I once explained as approaching Abele with an olive branch and getting it flung back as a stick in the eye.

I’ve interviewed many current and past supervisors who all had similar problems with Abele’s method of running the government.  The shame is that they are sometimes supportive of his policies but it is his methods and inability to listen that raise hackles.

One of the misleading centerpieces of the LeadershipMKE website was a petition urging citizens to oppose the county board on paying to park in the parks – which ironically is the idea Abele wanted and the board helped stop. 

The board had agreed to seek revenue from park operations, thinking that meant things like beer gardens, only to have Abele promote parking meters. The board then insisted the public should be heard and the public response was negative in the extreme.

But it wasn’t just the county board that screamed. So did every leader of every municipality in the county – in other words, the people closest to the citizenry, who all had a park in their backyard as it were.  They had met with Abele a day before he announced he was withdrawing the idea.

But only sort of withdrawing.  While a Madison bill that would give Abele more powers over the board, including imposing a wheel tax and parking meters at will, was shelved earlier this year, it still lies there dormant and can be revived at any time.  It’s Abele’s bill, not the board’s, yet LeadershipMKE is trying to stir up anger at the county board for an Abele idea.

That’s one Milwaukee example of what I mean by slippery. Future columns will explore state and national games.

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 Urban Milwaukee. 

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