- Views & Opinions
Bill Buresh describes himself as a “Chris Abele Democrat” — meaning, he explains, that he’s fiscally conservative and socially progressive.
He may have coined a new phrase.
An openly gay Bay View businessman, Buresh, 38, is challenging LGBT ally Marina Dimitrijevic to represent the Fourth District on the Milwaukee County Board. The race appears on the April 3 ballot in a district that includes the heavily gay Bay View neighborhood as well as the city of Milwaukee’s near South Side, which has a sizable Latino population.
Buresh knows that he’s ruffled some feathers in the LGBT community by taking on a county supervisor who’s acted as a leader in promoting equality on the county board.
“I’m not running on the gay ticket,” he responds. “I’m not asking for gay support. I’m not doing it because I’m gay. I’m doing it because I want to do right by the people in District Four.”
But Buresh, who’s been with partner Erich Krueger for 15 years, attended a recent candidate-training seminar sponsored by the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund in Tampa, Fla. Victory Fund donates to LGBT candidates nationwide and helps them develop the political skills to mount successful campaigns.
Buresh has positioned himself as the conservative in the race. He’s running because he believes the county’s debt level has grown out of control and he wants to downsize the board, he says. Dimitrijevic’s opposition to reducing the board prompted him to enter the race, he says.
The board voted in April 2011 to eliminate only one of its 19 seats, rejecting calls for deeper reductions from conservatives as well as The Greater Milwaukee Committee, a group of business and civic leaders who studied the issue. That group called for cutting the board to as few as seven members.
Progressive board members, including Dimitrijevic, said such a reduction would have diluted minority representation. Instead the board dropped only one seat but adopted a plan that added a second Latino-majority district.
Buresh also criticized Dimitrijevic and other progressives on the board for adding $5.8 million in expenditures to the balanced budget submitted by Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele. The increase adopted by the board is being paid for by a slight increase in the county portion of annual property taxes. For a home assessed at $150,000, the increase amounts to an estimated $3.84.
Buresh and other fiscal conservatives maintain that the county and city duplicate services, resulting in a waste of taxpayer dollars. “We need to find efficiencies,” Buresh says. “That’s what big companies are doing and that’s what governments need to do. … Many people have lost their jobs and have had to live within their budgets, and I think that county government has to do the same.”
He’s also critical of the way that the board prioritizes its spending, saying that more money should be put into addressing deferred maintenance on the park system, for instance.
Buresh says his professional background embodies the kind of experience that’s needed to guide the board toward a more business-like demeanor.
A former agent for Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate, Buresh was No. 1 for new agents in Wisconsin during his first year and No. 4 nationally, he says. He bought his first home at 18 and his first apartment building at 26.
At age 30, Buresh purchased AutoSpa, 160 W. Layton Ave. a full-service car wash, a company he continues to operate. He also owns several apartment buildings. Additionally, he’s supported community groups and events in Bay View.
Buresh has been endorsed by El Conquistador, a Spanish-language newspaper. To learn more about his candidacy, go to www.billburesh.com.
Despite running for re-election against an out gay man, Milwaukee County Board Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic can probably count on big support from Bay View’s large LGBT community. A fervent equality champion, she marshaled a domestic partner benefits resolution through the board just two years after now-Gov. Scott Walker famously vetoed a resolution that sought simply to study the impact of such a policy on the budget.
The policy allows county employees to extend their health benefits to their registered same-sex domestic partners. In recognition of her role in passing it, Dimitrijevic received leadership awards from both Equality Wisconsin and Fair Wisconsin. EW has endorsed Dimitrijevic in her April 3 race against Bay View businessman Bill Buresh.
Dimitrijevic says a fundraiser thrown by her LGBT and allied supporters was her largest ever.
Dimitrijevic might have an edge with another significant demographic in the county’s Fourth District ‚Äì the Latino population of the near South Side. In a district where 52 percent of the voting age population is Hispanic, it helps that Dimitrijevic is fluent in Spanish. She met her husband, a native of Uruguay, while participating in a political exchange program in that country.
But Buresh says his more conservative approach to county government resonates stronger with the local Latin population. He picked up the endorsement of the conservative Spanish-language paper El Conquistador.
The progressive Latino group Voces de la Frontera is backing Dimitrijevic.
Although Dimitrijevic and Buresh fall into different categories on the conservative-liberal continuum, they have one thing in common besides supporting LGBT equality: Both were early achievers.
Buresh purchased his first house at 18, while Dimitrijevic made history eight years ago when, at the age of 22, she became the youngest woman ever to be elected to any office in Milwaukee County. In her first race, Dimitrijevic mounted a grassroots campaign and beat a well-funded candidate recruited by Walker. She won her last election with 73 percent of the vote.
While Buresh has succeeded in the business arena, Dimitrijevic has amassed enough clout on the county board to be a leading contender to serve as its next chair.
Dimitrijevic says that her success is built on a passion for public service and a sincere commitment to her constituents. Easily one of the board’s most active supervisors, she’s involved in more than 30 local organizations. She’s held more than 140 town hall meetings. She takes Buresh to task for not having been more present in the community.
“I’ve never seen him at any of the grassroots neighborhood groups,” she says. “He’s never once in eight years called my office. He calls what I do being a ‘career politician.’ To me, it’s eight years of service.”
At a recent debate, Buresh got Dimitrijevic’s hackles up by saying the position should be part-time.
“The districts now have 55,000 residents,” she responds. “That’s the same as two aldermanic wards. How can you serve that many people on a part-time basis? I answer phone calls from constituents within 24 hours. (Buresh’s) attack is the kind you get from someone with no experience.”
Dimitrijevic was voted the “Best County Supervisor” by the readers of the Shepherd Express three years in a row. She’s received endorsements from state Sen. Chris Larson, Wisconsin Citizen Action, SEIU Wisconsin State Council, Milwaukee Deputy Sheriff’s Association, American Federation of Teachers, and a slew of other groups representing progressives and public employees.
To learn more about Dimitrijevic, go to www.reelectmarina.com.