I know I promised to have something posted this morning, but, you know, life. If you followed my twittums feed last night (@folkbum, people–I only need 7 more followers to 400!), you can probably guess the themes and don’t need this wrap up. But here it is anyway.
The easy wrap is that Milwaukee County Supervisor for the 14th district–my turf!–Jason Haas, who is running unopposed, knows his parks. And he opposed privatizing the airport. And he has no control over US marijuana policy. I approve! Vote Haas!
There was also an hour set aside for the candidates in Milwaukee County’s 4th district, currently (and ably, if I may suggest) represented by Marina Dimitrijevic. Her opponent is businessman Bill Buresh. (NOTE TO BURESH CAMPAIGN: Your website is the 7th google result in a search for your candidate’s name.)
Buresh is clearly an amateur–which is not by itself an issue. I don’t mind a nervous guy who doesn’t do a lot of public speaking and stuff if there’s a good message behind it. But Buresh only has one note: Milwaukee County has too much debt. Every question–how do we fund the parks? how to improve transit?–the answer was, eliminate the debt and then there will be funds for that. Buresh railed–well, spoke nervously about–small-change projects like bus shelters and suggested that Milwaukee County would be better off applying those funds to the debt.
Dimitrijevic spent much of her hour bragging about her two major legislative accomplishments of the last couple of years, the domestic partnership benefit and her “greenprint” initiative. She critiqued Buresh’s attacks as “sound bytes” of the Sykes/Belling variety, and demonstrated a pretty thorough command of the issues, from transit to South Shore Park Beach.
In terms of the policy differences between the two, the single biggest one was on the size of the Milwaukee County Board. Buresh favors a smaller board–he noted the cost of the board itself was over $11 million–while Dimitrijevic feels that diluting the voice of residents any further (each supervisor represents more than 50,000 residents) is unwise. With a billion-dollar budget, she says, you need more accountability.
In all, Buresh was outclassed. My hat’s off to anyone willing to put themselves out and run for office, but he’s not ready for prime time yet. (He’s also up against one of Milwaukee’s most popular incumbents; a competent challenger would have a hard time, too.)
(Buresh supporter–and advisor?–Aaron Rodriguez was there last night too, and he may at some point have a different take.)
But the night’s main event, the one everyone was there to see (almost literally–the crowd list 3/4 of its size after this part was done) was the debate between 14th district Alderman Tony Zielinski and challenger Jan Pierce. (Also my turf!)
I cannot overstate how tense this portion of the program was. There was tension between the candidates almost from the start; and there was WWE-like participation from the crowd.
The first question set the tone. It was written by Pierce for Zielinski (the second question went the other way) and it was about liquor licenses. Zielinski has been criticized in the past for the way he handles liquor licenses (for example), but I think Pierce made a tactical error by aligning himself, at least in terms of this question, with Ald. Bob Donovan, who is the closest thing this city has to a professional rodeo clown.
But the liquor license issue is emblematic of how the whole hour went: Both men were on almost exactly the same page in policy–get neighbor input, slow the traffic on Kinnickinnick Avenue, attract more new and small business, fix Bay View High School somehow. Instead, it’s an issue of attitude.
Zielinski stood proud of running a positive campaign, not, for example, talking badly about his opponent “on Facebook” and the like. In the face of implications (Pierce had to actually backpedal from a more direct accusation) of being influenced by campaign contributions, Zielinski said, repeatedly, that money didn’t matter and that “my district comes first.”
But then repeatedly the Pierce supporters in the crowd called back ,”It’s OUR district.” This is Pierce’s big argument, that people in the community, from business owners to liquor licensees on down, feel they have to–and I’m paraphrasing here–kiss Zielinski’s ring to get things taken care of. Zielinski fired back that in every instance Pierce could name, Zielinski had documented the support of the community for his positions, not simply campaign contributions.
But then the Pierce crowd, many of whom are motivated to oppose Zielinski because the alderman hasn’t satisfactorily listened to their concerns, fired back again, with catcalls for the incumbent and cheers for every Piece barb. Zielinski supporters, meanwhile cheered every time Zielinski noted that Pierce was going negative.
Again, it was hard to see daylight between the two on substantive issues. Instead, the debate was about style and aldermanic privilege, and there is no question that both candidates’ supporters will be claiming victory. Pierce because Zielinski defended “my district” and Zielinski because Pierce looked like a desperate challenger attacking negatively.
Unlike Bill Buresh, Jan Pierce held his own against a well-prepared incumbent and had talking points that weren’t simply sound bites. But can he win against an opponent he claims is running a fiefdom by going negative? Remains to be seen. Me, I’m staying out of this one for a while.