Tag Archives: Marina Dimitrijevic

Shameless anti-Abele partisans try to obstruct Colón reappointment

Earlier this year, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele decisively won a bitter re-election battle against state Sen. Chris Larson and his coalition of backers with animus toward Abele. With that divisive experience in the rearview mirror, we had hoped that county supervisors would move the interests of their constituents to the top of their agenda, where they belong. Instead, many supervisors seem mired in scorched-earth political mode. They appear far more interested in outmaneuvering Abele than serving the county’s residents.

Their latest shenanigan is an effort to obstruct Abele’s reappointment of Héctor Colón as director of the Department of Health and Human Services.

By a vote of 3–2, the Milwaukee County Board Health and Human Needs Committee rejected Colón. A definitive vote by the entire board is scheduled for Sept. 22.

Whatever the outcome, the three committee members who rejected Colón show how destructive they’re willing to go just to thwart Abele at the county’s expense.

By any reasonable measure, Colón’s six-year tenure in the position has been exceptional. Among the many community organizations calling for his reappointment are the Milwaukee Urban League, Disability Rights Wisconsin, the American Public Human Services Association, the United Community Center, and the Combined Community Services Board.

Colón’s supporters cite a number of achievements on his part, including:

• Success in securing a $2.4 million grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to help end chronic homelessness.

• A 70 percent decrease in chronic homelessness. (Colón’s foes dispute this figure, using twisted reasoning to justify their aim of discrediting it.)

• Ending a 12-year waiting list for Section 8 housing.

• The transition of hundreds of mentally challenged people into community-living arrangements.

• Implementation of more than $20 million dollars of new or enhanced community-based services that have led to a 34 percent decrease in emergency detentions and a 20 percent decrease in emergency room visits.

• Numerous awards from national, state and community groups.

The list goes on, towering over the objections — most of them dubious — to Colón’s performance in office. Looked at side by side, it’s obvious that the real motive for opposing Colón is politics. Just consider the three supervisors who voted against his reappointment.

Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic seems to oppose Abele with every breath she takes. She heads the Working Families Party of Wisconsin, a left-wing tea party-style group that was Larson’s leading donor.

Also rejecting Colón was Sequanna Taylor, who was endorsed and backed by Dimitrijevic’s group. The third vote against Colón came from Supreme Moore Omokunde, who was also a Larson backer. He cited Colón’s lack of transparency as a reason for opposing him, which was hypocritical to say the least: Omokunde was one of seven supervisors who defeated a transparency measure that would have allowed the public to see budget amendments prior to final committee votes.

Colón has earned reappointment. And the residents of Milwaukee County deserve representatives who make decisions based on merit rather than personal grudges.

We’d like to remind Colón’s  detractors that the AbeleLarson race is over and their horse lost. Get over it.

Analysis: County board out for revenge against Abele 

Three times in 40 years — in the 1950s, in the ’70s and in the ’90s — the Township and the Borough of Princeton, New Jersey, tried unsuccessfully to merge. The two finally combined into the new Municipality of Princeton a few years ago, allowing them to cut out redundant services and save millions on policing, snow removal and trash pickup.

But the Municipality of Princeton, formed in 2013, is an exception. Consolidations have often been discussed and studied, but the mergers rarely take place. And, based on the politics of the Milwaukee County Executive race, they’re very unlikely to occur in Wisconsin any time soon.

There are 3,069 counties in the country, and many of them provide redundant services in areas such as policing, snow removal and trash pickup. Across the country, advocates of consolidation, including governors like New Jersey’s Chris Christie and Illinois’ Bruce Rauner, both Republicans, say combining county and municipal governments will streamline services and save taxpayers money. But according to the National Association of Counties, cities and counties have only combined 42 times since the 19th century, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts.

An Illinois report released in December sparked a conversation in that state and in others. It found that living in an area with too many layers of government increases property taxes on residents (the report didn’t break out business taxes) and makes it all but impossible to remember which governmental entity governs what.

The issue is of particular signficance in Wisconsin, which has the most bloated county governments of any state in the nation. In fact 10 percent of all county-level legislators in the United States reside in the state.

While Los Angeles County has five supervisors, Dane County has 37. Milwaukee County has 17 supervisors, compared to 18 in Cook County. And, unlike Cook County, every resident of Milwaukee County also lives within the jurisdiction of a city, town or village government. No part of the county is unincorporated.

But realigning county government is a political hot potato that few leaders in the state appear willing to address. Just consider the backlash against Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele over Act 14, even though it was passed by the Legislature and the voters.  That law placed a binding referendum on the county ballot asking voters if Milwaukee County supervisors should be made part-time as opposed to full-time employees.

More than 70 percent of county voters chose part-time status. Voters also approved eliminating supervisors’ pension and health benefits. The changes brought the county’s pay more in line with others in the state and made money available for services rather than bureaucrats.

Even though Act 14 didn’t merge city and county functions, it still incurred the wrath of county supervisors against Abele. They’ve piled on him in every way possible, waging what’s seemed like a permanent campaign against him in the media.

Former Milwaukee County Supervisor and now state Sen. Chris Larson is running a no-holds-barred campaign to unseat Abele on April 5, and at least some of the board’s supervisors are playing roles in Larson’s effort.

County board chair Theo Lipscomb is part of Larson’s campaign, but the challenger’s top board ally is former county board chair Marina Dimitrijevic, who stepped down from that position last year after realizing that her new part-time status would reduce her salary from $71,412 to $36,076, when it takes effect on April 18.

Dimitrijevic is now executive director of Wisconsin Working Families Party, which is not a party at all. Its emphasis is on an affiliated dark-money PAC that funds challenges against Democrats who are not considered liberal enough. It’s the left-wing version of the tea party: It works to knock out candidates who don’t pass an ideological litmus test or who negotiate compromises with members of the other party, as Abele has done in his efforts to improve Milwaukee’s relationship with the state’s majority Republican leadership.

Working Families has spewed hundreds of thousands of mostly anonymous dollars into Larson’s effort to defeat Abele. What they say about paybacks is true.

On its website, Working Families lists a slate of candidates and vows, “We’re going to work hard to elect these champions for working families into office.”

But only a small handful of those named candidates has received any cash, and one of the group’s recipients, who’s running for school board in Racine, isn’t even listed on the slate. Since January the group has leveled nearly all of its considerable resources against Abele, while all but ignoring everyone else — and completely overlooking right-wing Republicans who face challenges in races where the outcome would make siginicant differences for progressives.

It’s no wonder that insiders see Larson’s race as a grudge match by disgruntled county board members, whose pay dropped from $50,679 to $24,051.

Larson says he’ll restore the county board to its former status and undo what he calls other Abele “power grabs.” But as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel pointed out in an editorial this morning, he simply doesn’t have the power to do that.

“It would require changing the minds of Republican legislators who control the Assembly and the Senate,” the Journal Sentinel opined. “Larson was in the Legislature when those changes were approved and he could not affect them. How would he change things as county executive?”

Next in Working Families’ sites is state Sen. Lena Taylor, the only Democrat in the Legislature to vote for Act 14. Working Families is said to be lining up support for state Rep. Mandela Barnes in his likely bid to unseat Taylor.

Faced with this sort of political fallout, counties and cities in Wisconsin will likely continue to operate separately, no matter how much combining them would streamline services or benefit taxpayers.

Information included in this story came from Stateline, a news service of The Pew Charitable Trusts.




Milwaukee County board adds gender identity to nondiscrimination ordinance

The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors voted on April 24 to amend its nondiscrimination ordinance to ban bias based on gender identity and gender expression.

The ordinance protects those who work for the county and also those who work for companies that do business with the county.

Milwaukee has similar protections in its nondiscrimination ordinance, as do Madison and Dane County.

The state of Wisconsin, though it was the first state to ban bias based on sexual orientation, does not protect transgender citizens in its nondiscrimination law.

In a statement, Marina Dimitrijevic, chair of the county board, said, “Thank you to my colleagues on the county board for voting today to end discrimination and to update our non-discrimination ordinances. Milwaukee County will join 17 states and more than 100 communities across America … who have all passed similar fully inclusive non-discrimination protections and implemented them successfully.

“County Executive Chris Abele has been an excellent partner in moving our county towards equality and fairness. I thank him for his support of my legislation. This inclusive resolution will modernize Milwaukee County’s existing policies and help protect against discrimination. The implementation of this type of change will enhance our competitiveness as Milwaukee County seeks to build a talented workforce.”

She continued, “I am proud of the Milwaukee County Board for taking a stand against discrimination and ensuring that all residents have the same access to our resources, services, and employment opportunities. Milwaukee County is the economic engine of our state. A fair and inclusive Milwaukee County strengthens our state.”

The county’s website said the update expands the nondiscrimination policy “to ensure equal opportunity to all persons from all segments of Milwaukee County in contracting, employment and promotional opportunity and equal access to public services.”

Primary races to watch in Wisconsin

This year, Wisconsin Democrats aren’t only facing the possibility of a primary in the race for governor between business executive Mary Burke, who’s announced her candidacy, and state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, who’s reported to be leaning toward running. The state also will see races for key seats in progressive strongholds such as Milwaukee and Madison, as well as for statewide office and for Congress.

Milwaukee’s tea party, cowboy sheriff rides again

One of the major Democratic primaries in 2014 isn’t even among Democrats — it’s in Milwaukee County, where Milwaukee Police Lt. Chris Moews (rhymes with “haze”) is making a second attempt to unseat Sheriff David Clarke, who runs as a Democrat even though he’s a great favorite of tea party Republicans. Clarke’s held the office since 2002.

Clarke, who’s as famous for his erratic and imperious behavior as for his cowboy drag, is closely associated with Gov. Scott Walker and Milwaukee’s Republican hate-talk radio. His tenure has been characterized by repeated embarrassments, controversies and scandals that have cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars in lawsuits and settlements.

In the wake of the Newtown school shootings, Clarke used public money to produce a radio ad calling for vigilantes to arm themselves and help his deputies to protect children. The commercial aired to worldwide ridicule.

Earlier, Clarke’s office came under fire in the wake of the Oak Creek Sikh Temple shooting in August 2012, when six people were fatally shot by a white supremacist, who also died in the incident. Clarke’s whereabouts that day have not been made public, but it’s believed that he was in California as part of a 13-week training class. Law enforcement sources told WiG that the confused response by the sheriff’s department delayed an entry team, while victims lay wounded. A swifter response may have saved their lives, sources said.

Clarke also has publicly sparred with Democratic Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, accusing him of “penis envy.” And he’s mocked the serious injuries that Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett suffered defending a woman at State Fair Park against domestic abuse. 

Clarke did not respond to several efforts made to contact him.

Moews says it’s time to put away the “theatrics and grandstanding” and focus on public safety.

“I understand that as sheriff my first duty is competent management of public resources to ensure the public’s safety,” Moews said.

Top cop spot

With current Attorney General and equality opponent J.B. Van Hollen retiring, and with the gubernatorial race sure to drive turnout, Democrats are hopeful about their chances to pick up the job as Wisconsin’s top law enforcement officer.

So far, two Democrats have thrown their hats into the ring — longtime Milwaukee Rep. Jon Richards and Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne. Both oppose Republican efforts to limit voting rights and a woman’s right to choose.

Richards is a lawyer who has represented the 19th Assembly District since 1998. He’s been an outspoken proponent for firearms background checks, as well as for the federal Affordable Care Act and marriage equality.

Richards said he would oppose Walker’s efforts to dismantle the state’s domestic partnership registry law, established under Democrat Jim Doyle. Van Hollen has refused to defend the law, saying he believes it’s unconstitutional.

“I have a long track record standing up for the values that make Wisconsin great,” Richards said.

Ozanne is well known statewide for the lawsuit he brought against Walker’s union-busting Act 10 — a lawsuit that he ultimately lost in the bitterly divided and right-leaning Wisconsin Supreme Court.

He was an official with the Wisconsin Department of Corrections under Doyle and tried hundreds of cases as an assistant district attorney in Dane County.

“As a prosecutor for 13 years as the district attorney in the state’s second largest county, and during my tenure helping lead Wisconsin’s prison system, I’ve spent my career fighting to keep families and communities safe,” said Ozanne, who also supports marriage equality.

19th Assembly District

Four candidates have announced campaigns to replace Richards in Milwaukee’s heavily Democratic 19th Assembly District.

Announced candidates include Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors Chair Marina Dimitrijevic, labor lawyer Sarah Geenen, activist Jonathan Brostoff and defense lawyer Dan Adams.

Dimitrijevic is likely the frontrunner. The bulk of the district’s progressive leaders and groups have lined up behind her candidacy, including Barrett and U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore.

The South Side native has been a Milwaukee County supervisor for almost 10 years and says it’s her experience and record of results that separates her from the field.

“Our Milwaukee neighborhoods need a proven champion to be a vocal fighter against the divisive, extreme agenda in Madison put forth by the party currently in control,” she said.

Dimitrijevic said she’d work to reverse the anti-equality amendment to the Wisconsin constitution and would make education her priority.

Brostoff, a native of Milwaukee’s East Side, is courting some of the same progressive leaders sought by Dimitrijevic. A former staffer for Senate Minority Leader Chris LarsoN, Brostoff has helped to train, organize and recruit a new generation of progressives in Milwaukee County.

Brostoff said his organizing experience is his greatest strength, along with his commitment to “work tirelessly to win majorities back in the state Senate and Assembly.”

His legislative priorities include full funding of education, returning women’s choice to Wisconsin and establishing a non-partisan redistricting process.

Geenen is a newcomer to Milwaukee politics, and she sees that as an asset.

“I have real-world practical experience that I can offer,” she said. “I’m not a career politician — I’m a working mom.”

Adams, a former Milwaukee County assistant district attorney, is another newcomer to Milwaukee politics. He said he’d advocate a new approach to politics that includes “changing the political discourse toward building a knowledge-based economy, where we encourage scalable startup and small businesses to build the economy and investments in education.”

Horseplay with boys

In Madison’s heavily Democratic 78th Assembly District, incumbent Brett Hulsey faces a strong challenge after an embarrassing 2012 incident when he took photographs of and flipped a 9-year-old boy off an inner tube on a lake.

After pleading no contest to the ensuing disorderly conduct charge, which was referred to as “horseplay” in the police report, Hulsey claimed the charges were engineered as a conspiracy against him by Madison Mayor Paul Soglin.

Hulsey, who often challenges party leadership and has threatened to leave the Democratic caucus, has faced other controversies since he was first elected in 2010. He’s admitted to using campaign funds to buy a 1987 Volkswagen Cabriolet. He freaked out his Capitol staff during an incident in which he brought in a box cutter to work for self-defense.

Responding to questions about his behavior, Hulsey pointed to his strong liberal advocacy. “Who else offered a $2.1 billion amendment to get Wisconsin working again, restore Walker cuts to UW, public schools, tech colleges and Act 10?” he asked. “I fought for what was right and needed when others cut and ran.”

Seeking to replace him are two Madison Common Council members, including Lisa Subeck, a longtime women’s health advocate, and businessman Mark Clear.

Before her election to the council, Subeck was executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin. She’s served as executive director of United Wisconsin since 2012.

Subeck sought to differentiate herself by hinting at Hulsey’s weirdness.

“I think we are in a district that is very progressive and is looking for somebody who can provide leadership that is not only progressive, but is effective,” she said.

Clear, meanwhile, sounded a pro-growth message and touted his business record. He demurred when asked about Hulsey’s horseplay.

Graeme Zielinski is a journalist and former communications director of the Wisconsin Democratic Party.

NOTE: WiG corrected an earlier mistake that said Brett Hulsey represents the 77th Assembly. The error was made by the editor not by writer Graeme Zielinski. 

Politically queer | Chris Abele defies labels and stereotypes

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele – millionaire, philanthropist and proud LGBT ally – is that oddest of ducks on Wisconsin’s current political scene. He’s a progressive Democrat who’s willing to deal with Republican leaders on behalf of his constituents. In fact, he actually talks to Gov. Scott Walker. 

“In my current job as county executive, it’s kind of my job to have as good a relationship as I can with whoever’s in the majority, so I can get things done for the county,” he says.  

Once upon a time, in an America that seems far away, Abele’s bipartisan, pragmatic approach to governance was expected and even praised. But in the most harshly divided state in a nation that’s more partisan than perhaps at any time since the Civil War, “the most corrosive thing … is the punishment that comes with deviating from the orthodoxy,” Abele says.

The Shepherd Express has been dogging him ever since he and publisher Louis Fortis became embroiled in a three-year lawsuit over the Milwaukee Film Festival (the case was dismissed last year). In frequently un-bylined stories or articles bylined by “Shepherd Express Staff,” the county executive is characterized as a wealthy heir who serves at the beck and call of his rich friends and donors. In reality, Abele is his only rich donor, and he laughs at the depiction of him as some sort of Gatsby, saying he’s never owned a yacht, doesn’t have a driver and doesn’t belong to a country club.

Ironically, the Shepherd named Abele Milwaukeean of the Year in 2002, prior to his row with Fortis. 

Leftist bloggers also have been critical of Abele. Progressives were scandalized when he supported Act 14, a law passed by Republicans in Madison to slash the board’s budget while giving the county executive more power.

Opponents characterized the move as a power grab, but Abele says all the grabbing has been from the other side. The board’s size and budget have expanded over the years to the point they’re out of proportion with the county’s population and needs, he contends.

His support for Act 14 and Abele’s firing last year of popular County Parks Director Sue Black have helped fuel a level of tension between supervisors and the county executive that rivals the animus between the board and Abele’s predecessor Scott Walker. Supervisors apparently evened the score by exercising the power they have to oust County Corporation Counsel Kimberly Walker – a move that Abele blasted as petty and destructive, especially since they gave no reason for the firing. 

County Board Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic did not return two messages seeking comment, but she denied to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the firing of Walker was retributive.

When Abele announced that he’d hired John Dargle, the award-winning director of the Fairfax, Va., County Park Authority, to take over Black’s position, Dimitrijevic responded with sarcasm.

“It’s nice that the county executive is finally focusing on the management of Milwaukee County by working toward filling the many vacancies in his administration,” she said in a statement. “The people of this county value their parks. Mr. Dargle will have big shoes to fill in the eyes of this community.”

Inherited debt

Abele says most of the controversial moves he’s made have been necessary to eliminate the long-term debt left behind by Walker. Just as he’s doing as governor, Walker “balanced” the county’s budget by postponing debt repayment into the future, when he wouldn’t have to deal with it.  Abele got stuck with a budget of $1.4 billion and $1 billion in long-term debt. The debt service totaled $107 million his first year in office, he says.

Abele opted to address the debt sooner rather than later “so that the $107 million doesn’t go to debt but back into services, which is where it should go,” he says.

Abele says he’s been able to increase the parks budget and capital budget with the savings in loan payments.

No Donald Trump

Sitting at the large round conference table in the county executive’s office, Abele looks like anything but a power-hungry, backroom politico.  At 46, he has a short, trim stature and boyish face that project youthfulness. In interviews with most politicians, you can see the wheels spinning in their eyes as they calculate a response. Abele responds spontaneously, smilingly and seemingly without guile.

Though he lives in a historic mega-mansion, you’d never know it from the way he dresses, which is decidedly down. He doesn’t flaunt his wealth with designer suits and $100 haircuts. His wardrobe is more Kohl’s than Kenneth Cole.

In short, the county executive is more like an Eagle Scout than a Donald Trump. His staff doesn’t even have a selection of high-res pictures of Abele for the press.

“Yes, I have wealth,” Abele acknowledges. “My father (John Abele, who founded the medical device company Boston Scientific in 1979) worked his ass off and was really successful – and I’m proud of him for that.”

Although his father is a multibillionaire now, Abele grew up in what he describes as a “small, lower-middle-class house.” He says that his family has not lost sight of their humble beginnings or the social responsibility that comes with great success.

“My dad always said, ‘This isn’t an entitlement, it’s a privilege and a responsibility,’” Abele says.

Abele also has created successful businesses on his own and headed his family’s Argosy Foundation, which has given away many millions of dollars to nonprofit groups, particularly environmental causes.

“You can’t control the circumstances in which you are born, but you can control what you do with it,” Abele says. “Some of the most satisfying experiences I’ve had have been volunteer board memberships and being in a position where I can give money away.”

But, he adds, “I still spend a lot of time asking myself, ‘Am I doing enough?’ 

“For what it’s worth, I understand people can be resentful of wealth,” Abele says. No doubt there are some awful behaviors (among the rich) – Wall Street bankers and predatory lenders, for example. There’s no socioeconomic class that has a monopoly on either great people or assholes.”

Proud LGBT ally

One of the most consistent recipients of Abele’s largesse has been Wisconsin’s LGBT community. He contributed heavily to the fight against the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions enacted by voters in 2006, and he’s continued to give generously. In the past year, he’s given $100,000 to Fair Wisconsin and Equality Wisconsin.

Abele also has served on the board of Planned Parenthood at both the state and national levels. He chaired Women for Women International, which provides assistance to female survivors of war. It’s one of the fastest growing women’s groups in the world.

“County Executive Abele’s commitment to advancing marriage equality in Wisconsin is inspiring, and he is truly a visionary leader in the movement to achieve full equality for LGBT Wisconsinites,” says Fair Wisconsin executive director Katie Belanger. “We at Fair Wisconsin are grateful to have his support, and I am proud to call him my friend.

“Abele’s the kind of leader who’s unafraid to ask the tough questions and envision a new way to solve old problems. It has been extremely refreshing to work with an elected leader and movement investor who is so willing to think creatively about how to advance issues we all care so much about.”

It’s not just Abele’s financial support that has inspired Belanger and other LGBT leaders in Wisconsin. He shows up at LGBT community events more frequently than any other elected official in Milwaukee – perhaps in the state. It’s quite possible that he knows by name most staff members of the city’s LGBT nonprofits and greets many of them with hugs.

While the LGBT people of Wisconsin have many straight allies, not one is better versed in the community’s issues or more genuinely committed to its equality than Abele. 

The fact that he’s given so much attention to a group of constituents who are small in number and have fervent opponents on the religious right underscores Abele’s sincerity. Ultimately, the one political pigeonhole where he can be placed is that of a leader whose wealth has empowered independent thought and action, as well as the freedom to pursue an agenda that emphasizes social justice and fiscal sustainability.

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Endorsements for Milwaukee races on April 3 ballot

Zielinski has earned another term as 14th Ward alderman

Ald. Tony Zielinski has earned a third term representing the 14th District, which includes the heavily gay neighborhood of Bay View. His record of achievement in the district is one that other aldermen in Milwaukee can only hope to emulate.

Zielinski’s district is one of the most thriving in the city, with two multi-million dollar developments currently underway within a block of each other. He has an impressive list of developments that he’s either coordinated or facilitated in the district, as well as a long list of endorsements from a range of local businesses, organizations and civic leaders.

Challenger Jan Pierce, an attorney, says the district is thriving despite and not because of Zielinski. But he can offer no evidence to support that claim. He also accuses Zielinski of an authoritarian style of leadership that fails to take public input into account.

But whatever Zielinski’s style might be, it’s working for the overall benefit of his district’s residents. In fact, we believe that he’s demonstrated creative vision and bold leadership in his job, along with an undisputable commitment to his constituents.

It’s not surprising that the alderman has ruffled some feathers, including Pierce’s, in the course of performing his duties. It’s impossible to please all of the people all of the time, particularly when handing out liquor licenses and zoning variances.

Pierce also challenges Zielinski’s authenticity as a true progressive, pointing to statements the alderman made decades ago. But Zielinski has certainly acted as a progressive in recent years. He spearheaded resolutions to make Milwaukee the first major U.S. city to become a “Fair Trade” city and to prohibit the city from purchasing items manufactured in sweatshops. He’s embraced urban agricultural projects and promoted green energy projects.

Zielinski has also been a dependable equality supporter who’s earned the endorsements of gay leaders and groups.

Pierce has waged an aggressive but unnecessarily negative campaign. He’s a bright and earnest man with an obvious passion for his neighborhood and for public service. He has some an impressive depth of knowledge about the machinations of local government and a commitment to fair play. When focused on the positive, his rhetoric is impressive.

But when aimed at his opponent, Pierce’s rhetoric dissolves into an obsessive, personal rant that undermines the qualities he has going for him.

Dimitrijevic for County Board, Fourth District

Since becoming the youngest woman ever elected to public office in Milwaukee County eight years ago, Marina Dimitrijevic has developed a reputation for hard work and effective leadership that extends well beyond the Fourth District’s boundaries. Readers of the Shepherd Express have named Dimitrijevic “best county supervisor” three years in a row, and she has emerged as a leading contender to serve as the board’s next chair.

In fact, Dimitrijevic has been a model of responsible civic leadership. She’s held 140 listening sessions with her constituents, energetically supported the major neighborhood groups in her district and authored legislation to make the county more energy efficient. By creating the County Legislative Information Center or CLIC, which provides online access to board meetings, she’s made county government more transparent.

Dimitrijevic is an enthusiastic equality supporter. She led the successful effort to extend employment benefits to the same-sex partners of county workers, and she’s a frequent and welcome guest at LGBT community events. Equality Wisconsin and Fair Wisconsin have both recognized Dimitrijevic for her outstanding leadership.

So it’s ironic that Bill Buresh, an out gay man, is challenging Dimitrijevic. The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund has endorsed Buresh in this race.

A political newcomer, Buresh presents a conservative alternative to the incumbent, espousing the “smaller government” line of thinking. Like Dimitrijevic, Buresh was an early achiever. He bought his first apartment building at age 26 and now owns a successful car wash business in Bay View. He’s genuine, hard-working and likable.

But Buresh’s campaign has failed to catch fire. He should have done more homework on the issues before taking on Dimitrijevic.

At a Feb. 7 debate held at Humboldt Park School, her command of the facts and her compelling and detailed defense of her record left no doubt as to which candidate can best serve the residents of the county’s Fourth District. (Video of the debate is available on YouTube.) In addition, her political philosophy, her bi-cultural family and her fluency in Spanish are a fit for the district’s demographics.

The belief that well-intentioned citizens can parlay their success in the private sector into achievement in the public realm is questionable at best. For all the current prattle to the contrary, government is about much more than budgets. Local officials are required to work within a very intricate bureaucracy and an often-hobbling framework of laws in order to serve the varied needs of their constituents.

Dimitrijevic possesses an impressive depth of knowledge in this area as well as the requisite skills to navigate the system effectively. Rather than branding committed government workers like her as “career politicians,” we should be grateful for their expertise.

Tim Carpenter for Milwaukee Treasurer

The treasurer’s office oversees primarily administrative functions, such as collecting property taxes and revenue from parking tickets. Many advocates for better government want to eliminate elected treasurers, because they believe comptrollers and other government offices could handle the related duties more efficiently – at both the local and state levels.

Eliminating the Milwaukee Treasurer would save taxpayers more than $140,000 in salary plus many additional thousands in benefits.

In an unusual move, openly gay state Sen. Tim Carpenter says he’s running for Milwaukee Treasurer with the ultimate goal of getting rid of the office by delegating its functions to other entities. He contends that with the current stalemate in Madison and the shift of political focus in the state to upcoming recall races, he can coordinate the dismantling of the office without having to resign his Senate seat.

Carpenter has also promised to reduce the treasurer’s salary by 20 percent and to work to complete the elimination of the office before the next four-year term expires.

With more than two decades of distinguished service in both the Assembly and the Senate, Carpenter, says he has the experience to undertake such an enterprise. In addition to his government experience, Carpenter has a master’s in public policy and administration from the University of Wisconsin Madison’s La Follette School.

If elected treasurer, Carpenter would become the first out gay person to win citywide office in Milwaukee. The time is long overdue to break that glass ceiling.

We agree with him that the office is an unnecessary relic from an era preceding electronic financial transactions and other technological improvements. In endorsing him, we take Carpenter at his word that he will work on an accelerated timetable to shut down the costly treasurer’s office, which will help to streamline city government and make it more cost-efficient.

We also take Carpenter at his word that he can accomplish this goal without any loss of service to his senate constituents. But his bid to hold two offices presents a challenge for him.

Carpenter’s opponent, state Sen. Spencer Coggs, is also a respected veteran legislator with a track record of leadership in supporting LGBT civil rights. Our endorsement of Carpenter and his plan for the treasurer’s office should in no way be seen as a slight to Coggs’ record or a lack of gratitude for his considerable efforts to further equality in Wisconsin.

Candidates square off in 4th District

Bill Buresh wants to reduce county board

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.

Marina Dimitrijevic wins LGBT support

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.


Equality Wisconsin honors Milwaukee County leaders

Progressive leaders from state and local government attended Equality Wisconsin’s annual meeting on Sept. 21 to honor the Milwaukee County officials who led efforts earlier this year to extend domestic partner benefits to county workers.

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele signed the benefits into law on Aug. 3 after the county board approved them on July 28 by a supermajority vote of 13-5. The board had previously passed a resolution to study the costs of the benefits in 2009, but former County Executive Scott Walker vetoed it.

The partnership benefits take effect on Jan. 1, 2012.

Milwaukee County Supervisors Marina Dimitrijevic and Eyon Biddle Sr. spearheaded the successful effort to obtain county board approval. But Dimitrijevic told meeting attendees that Equality Wisconsin was a “central part” of their successful effort.

“They were with us from the beginning to the end,” Dimitrijevic said. “Supervisors received hundreds of e-mails through their efforts. They had people calling their representatives. … This was a true grassroots effort.”

Biddle agreed. “Your phone calls were so effective,” he said. “I wish everyone could be as organized and passionate as you guys were. When you have advocates on the outside doing their work, the system works.”

Abele told listeners he was thrilled to have played a role in their efforts and reiterated his support for LGBT equality.

“This isn’t the position that needs to be defended,” he said. “It’s the other position that needs to be defended, and I haven’t heard a good defense yet.”

Thanks to Gov. Scott Walker, EW had a great year overall, said Ray Vahey, co-president of the group’s board of directors. “Walker was probably our best organizer,” he said, referring to the progressive backlash over the new governor’s far-right agenda.

EW outlined an ambitious agenda for its next fiscal year, including efforts to repeal the state’s same-sex marriage ban and pass a law banning discrimination based on gender identity. “Those are not going to be six-month projects,” Vahey said.

The organization is currently finalizing plans to hire an executive director to coordinate thsse efforts and others.

Other leaders who attended the Sept. 21 event included state Reps. Mark Pocan and Jon Richards and Milwaukee School Board member Larry Miller.