Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A Good County Executive Is So Hard To Find

Six weeks ago, I took a preliminary look at the potential field of candidates for Milwaukee County Executive. It was a heady time, when people were looking forward to starting to heal after a decade of abuse and neglect.

But then, a couple of weeks ago, Dan Bice of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that philanthropist Chris Abele was going to get into the race. This bombshell of an announcement changed the entire landscape of the race, but not necessarily for the better. Abele is a multimillionaire who also runs a multimillionaire charity group called the Argosy Foundation. Abele is known not just for his charity work, but is also a contributor to many political campaigns, with the vast majority of his beneficiaries being Democrats. It was reported that Abele was ready and willing to drop at least one million of his own money to fund his campaign, and that he was hoping to raise another half a million in donations.

When his candidacy became known, other candidates, mostly from the left side of the aisle, started dropping out like flies. Sheldon Wasserman said he wasn't going to run. John Weishan said he wasn't going to run. Joe Czarnezki dropped out. Johnny Thomas dropped out. Sue Black never really got in before she got out. Dan Diliberti dropped out. Marina Dimitrijevic, whom I thought to be one of the best candidates, dropped out.

A few notables either chose to stay in or to join in the race despite Abele's presence. These include Republican Jeff Stone, Jim Sullivan and Lee Holloway. There is also a field of a half a dozen or so lesser known names, including the controversial Ieshuh Griffin, who apparently can't make up her mind what she wants to run for.

When one looks at the four better known candidates, one finds that it leaves a lot to be desired.

Chris Abele

Chris Abele, who only made his formal announcement this afternoon, is really starting off on the wrong foot. Outside of being a millionaire by the graces of good inheritance, there is little know about him. He makes only vague statements of "bold and innovative reform," but won't offer anything of substance. Even his website is devoid of any information and is utterly useless unless one is in the habit of donating to or volunteering for a candidate just for the heck of it.

Abele also has some questionable allies, namely Sheldon Lubar, who is a strong advocate for the wholesale destruction of Milwaukee County, even though this would only serve to raise taxes and greatly reduce services. Lubar said that he is supporting Abele because "Chris and I agree that there are some specific changes that are needed, and we have a man who's governor who knows what they are better than anyone else."

Abele did tell the media today that he is open to further privatization (read higher taxes for lesser quality service). He also mentioned that the would consider consolidating services with other municipalities, which is not as bad. He also said that he was opposed to the dedicated sales tax to bolster the parks and the transit systems, but offers no other solutions on how to stop their slow deaths.

I also find it more than a little off-putting that a candidate that won't present any stances on any issues, is personally wealthy, and possibly wants to finish the destruction that Walker had started would send out mass emails begging for money, especially to those he would harm the most.

Until Abele can come up with something - anything - that would let people know where he stands, and if that thing is polar of what the signs indicate about him, he is not really worth consideration for county executive.

Jeff Stone

Stone is currently a Republican in the State Assembly for the Greendale area. He is also Scott Walker's chosen heir apparent. Stone returns the love by saying that he would continue where Walker left off, namely, bankrupting and killing off the county, regardless of how many people it hurts or even kills. But lacking even as much as Walker's vanilla personality, Stone is more like Walker Lite than anything else.

Stone's only claim to fame is the failed attempt at a back door privatization of the airport. Stone, backed up by the conservative paper, makes claim that he never tried to privatize the airport. he only wanted to take control of it away from the county and give it to a private entity. Yeah, that's a big difference. That's like saying he wasn't driving a car, he was driving an automobile.

With the county literally crumbling around us, we don't need a guy who would only try to exasperate the problems we are currently facing.

It will be interesting to see how Stone does in the race though. He has Scott Walker's war machine which is still running from the November elections. However, Walker has become so unpopular on a local level that he lost Milwaukee County in that election by a 62-38 margin. I don't see how a Walker wannabe will fare much better.

Jim Sullivan

Sullivan is the former State Senator for the Wauwatosa area. While in the Senate, he did a few good things, like giving Wisconsin an uniform policy against smoking in work places. But despite his good deeds, he still managed to lose to Leah Vukmir in November's election. That is not an easy task, even with the Republican surge across the state.

However, there is reason to doubt Sullivan's worthiness to run the county, since he was also a player in making a push for the sale and pillaging of the county grounds, endangering one of Milwaukee County's greatest treasures, namely the Monarch Trail. Not only that, but this gift to the private land developers will now cost Tosa residents $12 million in the form of a TIF. That is something that can't be popular in the current political climate.

Sullivan could have be a good candidate, but he doesn't have much time to ensure which candidate he is going to be.

Lee Holloway

It is nearly impossible to living in Milwaukee County and not know who Lee Holloway is. Holloway is the Chair of the Milwaukee County Board, and at the moment, he is also the interim County Executive. Holloway says a lot of the right things, such as how he wants to make the county grow, get a dedicated funding source for the transit system and the restoration of full service at the airport.

However, during the last few years, Holloway has repeatedly let the county down. When he's had the opportunity to stand against Walker and Walker's path of destruction, Holloway had instead chosen to stand side by side with Walker. Not only did he fail to protect the county and its tax payers, but he gave Walker a handy foil to push the blame at when things went sour, as they inevitably would.

Holloway also has the issue of his private property and his failure to maintain them properly. To make things even worse, these properties are the homes of people with chronic mental health problems. He already lacked a lot of support in the suburbs, and this has alienated a lot of the city voters and the black community.


What Milwaukee County really needs is a strong leader with bold, progressive ideas of how to re-establish the county as a leader after a decade of one scandal after another, and one detrimental decision after another. It needs someone who would work hard to restore the transit system, reverse the decline of the parks and strengthen the safety net for its most vulnerable citizens.

It also looks like Milwaukee County will have to wait another year before it might have that person.


  1. Capper--I am with you. I had been thinking Abele as an initial pick however, like you, I am quite annoyed that he has yet to actually tell any of us what his ideas and/or plans are.

    I do think that he or Sulli is the most electable. I will do whatever it takes to make sure that Jeff Stone does not win. It is not so much that he is a Republican--I am far too independent of a thinker for that to matter--it's the fact that he has straight up said he will pick up where Walker left off (yikes!).

    That is about all I can say for certain right now.

  2. Give Abele a little time before you dismiss him. He will no doubt flesh out an agenda.

    Sullivan's district is Republican. It was not hard at all to lose; more a miracle that he could win 4 years ago, but he was aided by the fact that he was running against a loony incumbent, Tom Reynolds.

  3. With the four in the race, the only one that could be knocked-off in a year (and not given a rubber stamp re-election) is Holloway. If you REALLY want a bold, progressive leader to resurrect the County, you might need to hold your nose and keep Lee in office while being vigilant in encouraging good people to get into the 2012 race. As much as I am not a real fan of Holloway, at least he will stem the tide and is also easily removable.

  4. The problem with the field of candidates is inherent in the short election cycle. Money, unfortunately, plays a major role here. The timing gives Abele an advantage. That probably was key to the calculus performed by Wasserman and others.

    Who here works at Internet speed? If xoff has any influence on the Able team, suggest they get their act together and bandwagons in gear, now!

    Nomination papers are due on the 11th?

  5. Bill,

    Abele is really starting off on the wrong foot. Hitching with Lubar, who wants to blow up the county? Privatization? Against fixing the transit system? Are we sure this guy is even a liberal? He sure is talking a helluva lot like Scott Walker.

  6. Saw one of Abele's canvassers downtown this morning pounding for signatures. Asked him about the Lubar connection and the county dismantling. Didn't seem well-informed and thought there were different reasons for it than what Walker attempted to do.

  7. I am hearing more and more stories like that one. The last thing we need is yet another smoke and mirrors candidate, running on nothing but empty rhetoric.