Pensions and More Pensions, Alderman Zielinski, and Milwaukee Works Inc.

Over the past ten days or so I received a number of unusual campaign style literature pieces. They prominently feature Milwaukee 14th District Alderman Tony Zielinski although they aren’t actually election related pieces. I live in the 14th so it makes sense that I received them. But they obviously were sent to discredit the alderman ahead of the local elections on April 5th. And they were paid for by Milwaukee Works, Inc. We’ll get to that in a bit.

Both pieces bring up Ald. Zielinski’s involvement with the Milwaukee County pension scandal during County Executive Ament’s administration. Ald. Zielinski was a county supervisor at the time and voted in favor of the pension changes. So far they are still in factual territory. Well sort of…they keep calling it the Milwaukee Pension Scandal despite this affected only Milwaukee County elected officials and employees. But they need to do that so they can make the leap across the chasm to demand the end to defined benefit pensions for City of Milwaukee Alderman. But in the lit they don’t call them defined benefit pensions…but fat tax-payer funded golden parachute pensions. Well here’s the lit…take a look…and then I will continue the discussion:

Last week:

This past week:

Both pieces have same address side:

Although this doesn’t oppose Ald. Zielinski in the election the timing just two weeks and one week prior to the election of course makes it suspect. And of course if you look at the addressee tag it is addressed to me “or resident voter”…so it is aimed at the election…if I were doing this as an ‘informational’ or a ‘policy’ piece I would have addressed it to “or current resident”. But that’s just me…shrug.

So these pieces piqued my curiosity. Who is Milwaukee Works, Inc and why do they hate pensions and why are they targeting Ald. Zielinski? Well I visited their website ( and I still don’t know. But first, lets see who they are. From their Who We Are page:

Milwaukee Works, Inc. is committed to educating citizens about the value of good government, risk-taking enterprise, and inclusive communities. These are values inherent to thriving metropolitan cities around the world.

Milwaukee’s commercial and cultural communities are vibrant – but are held back by political dysfunction that rewards cronyism, incumbency, and stakeholders in the status quo (the “political class”). This dysfunction does not value cooperation and accountability.
We’re fed up with politicians captured by special interests who sacrifice the common good to hold their positions of power. Unfortunately, the political class thrives on “asymmetric information,” insider knowledge that allows self-dealing at our expense.

A well-informed citizenry will force elected officials to do the right thing – not the politically convenient thing. Without well-informed constituents, too many elected officials will continue to default to benefiting their political class, not the common good.

Partisan labels aren’t interesting to us – we’re focused on educating on issues to improve Milwaukee as a place to live in real, not political, terms.

Milwaukee Works, Inc. is a 501(c)(4) non-profit, non-partisan issue advocacy organization. We are a completely volunteer organization with no paid staff. Directors are not compensated. We aim to use all raised funds for research and education.

Not quite what I was looking for. But now we know they are a non-profit with a volunteer staff…but no mention of where their funds come from (I know – I know – they don’t have to disclose that) nor a mention of the civic minded directors who are directing the place.

And so far they have weighed in on four local issues. Prior to the Milwaukee Pension Scandal…they are against Chris Larson’s campaign to unseat incumbent County Executive Chris Abele because it might reverse the county board reforms, the are aghast that the Estabrook Dam hasn’t been removed yet, and they don’t like County Board Chair Theo Lipscomb Jr. much. I am starting to sense a theme here. And it seems to lean against the county board past and present.

So I asked around to three local people who might be in the know on who is behind Milwaukee Works, Inc and the unanimous reply was: Dan Adams. Well in case you don’t recognize Dan Adams…and I’ll admit I only remembered him vaguely until I googled him…Dan Adams was backed by Exec. Abele in the 19th State Assembly district back in 2014. (A seat eventually won by Jonathan Brostoff who had worked in the office of Senator Chris Larson.) And he’s garnered quite an odd reputation in local politics since then. Our own editor Zach Wisniewski has posted quite a number of items in the past year or so. But now you can start to understand the positions being taken by Milwaukee Works, Inc…they are the same positions held by the county executive. I wonder how they overlooked the Domes Scandal?!? A faux Democrat, Mr. Adams has taken any number of right turns on his own as Zach’s blogs will attest.

But I still couldn’t actually link Mr. Adams to the site or the organization…after all they weren’t naming names. But something interesting turned up in my Google search. A job listing for Milwaukee Works, Inc: Investigative Reporter. And unlike the website that has a generic gmail account for contact information, the job listing suggests that you apply to So that case is solved and yes, Dan Adams apparently is behind MKEWorks!

So I get their stands on county issues if they are stand ins for Exec. Abele…but what’s with their animosity against Alderman Zielinski? That I haven’t figured out yet…if one of our dear readers knows…I’d appreciate the insight. Even on their site’s position against pensions for Milwaukee alderman, Ald. Zielinski is the only one called out. The only reasons I can surmise on that is they are lazy and UrbanMilwaukee had already done the groundwork. Shrug…

Now to be fair I emailed them this afternoon about the lit pieces and did they only mail to the 14th District…and yes that really isn’t fair because it’s Sunday and yes I should have done it earlier. When they respond I will update this piece accordingly.

Off track a bit but some additional commentary on their attack on pensions. They correctly say that defined pensions fell out of favor because of their cost. That’s correct but that doesn’t mean they should have gone away.

A defined benefit pension plan is one that promises a specific monthly payment to a former employee based on their past earnings, length of employment, and age. The financial health of the employer has no bearing on the its obligation to pay. These plans were in vogue during the middle of the 20th Century, but due to their cost, fell heavily out of favor in the 1980s and 1990s

Pensions have fallen out of favor almost everywhere, except with local governments, including the City of Milwaukee and State of Wisconsin.

But this position is just another lean to the right and into the pockets of big business in opposition to labor. And it’s a typical ploy…let’s take it away from someone who has it instead of making it standard for all!

We can take all of the guessing out of it…courtesy of the internet (I received this two hours after the rest of the post was written – just leaving the rest as is):
dan adams

P.S. I tried to Join them…but the boxes to enter email and name are white on white when you click on them to do the entry. So be a good typist if you try!

UPDATE APRIL 4th: From a comment on my Facebook posting of this article: Jan Pierce works with this group…which makes it clear why this lit piece attacks Ald. Zielinski. Mr. Pierce lost to Ald. Zielinski in 2012.

Chris Abele Is Getting Ripped Off

This will probably only interest the subset of readers who have run for office or got deep into running campaigns…but way at the bottom it does actually bring up an issue we should consider when voting on April 5th for County Executive. But on with the story:

Obviously as a political activist, former candidate for office, and habitual voter my house gets all of the local campaign literature that it’s entitled to in the mail. Makes for some interesting reading some days.

Now campaigns usually have consultants who create and order the literature for the campaign based on a database…pulling a list of addressees depending on the demographics that the candidate wants to reach. And generally the candidate pays per piece of literature.

Now an ethical contractor…or an efficient contractor…will consolidate the mailing list if more than one individual lives in a single household. Just today for instance, I received a mailed lit piece from each of the candidates for alderperson from my district. One piece from each candidate…and it was addressed to my wife and myself…that is what I would expect. The same thing happens when Chris Larson’s campaign for county executive sends lit to my home.

But not when his opponent, incumbent Chris Abele mails things. As many Milwaukee county residents know, County Exec Abele’s campaign has been overwhelming our mail boxes with literature throughout the campaign season. But instead of getting one piece in each mailing, both my wife and I get one. So I am suggesting that someone contracting with the campaign isn’t protecting their client by merging the mailing list or worse are padding their fees by just mailing to everyone individually. Or the campaign staff isn’t supervising the counts against the population and making sure they make sense. One less piece mailed to my house is one more outreach to another potential voter.

So, why should most of us care? Obviously County Executive Abele can afford to run the campaign that he his running and either doesn’t care about the cost or doesn’t care to oversee his campaign sufficiently to efficiently control costs. Does that attitude carry over to his style of governing Milwaukee County?

Another day, another attack on Chris Larson by Chris Abele

In yet another example of how completely negative Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele’s reelection campaign has gotten, I received yet another literature piece from Abele’s campaign attacking challenger Chris Larson. For those of you following along at home, this latest lit piece comes on the heels of two previous lit pieces from Abele attacking Chris Larson.

Abele attack lit piece - side 1

Abele attack lit piece - side 2

As I’ve written before, the fact that Chris Abele’s campaign has gone completely negative against Chris Larson seems like proof that Abele’s campaign knows they’re in real trouble come election day. After all, campaigns who believe they’re winning don’t resort to negative attacks. What’s more, Abele’s strategy of tearing down Chris Larson through negative attacks is both unsurprising yet disappointing, because an incumbent should be able to articulate why voters should vote for him, instead of simply trying to convince voters to vote against the other guy.

Chris Larson addresses Chris Abele’s attack ad (VIDEO)

Three weeks ago I wrote about the attack ad being run by the campaign of incumbent Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele. The ad awkwardly attempted to tie Abele’s challenger, progressive Chris Larson, to Republican Gov. Scott Walker while conveniently neglecting to mention Abele’s strong ties to Gov. Walker and Republicans.

There’s been criticism in a lot of circles of Abele’s attack ad (not to mention the fact that his entire campaign seems to based on negative attacks), but I wanted to take a moment to post Larson’s response to the deceptive (and I would say desperate) attack ad being run by Chris Abele’s campaign.

As I’ve noted before, it’s telling that Chris Abele’s response to having lost the February primary is to have his campaign go completely negative in its tone. After all, voters clearly didn’t like what they were hearing from his campaign when it was trying to be positive.

It’s amateur hour over at Chris Abele headquarters

I”m not sure which genius over at Chris Abele’s campaign headquarters came up with this gem of a lit piece, but whomever it is shouldn’t be allowed to make decisions on any lit pieces in the future.

Abele's amateur lit piece

Here’s a closeup of the lit piece, in which the Abele campaign makes a crude attempt to portray Chris Larson something other than a progressive in the same vein as Bernie Sanders.

Larson as Sanders closeup

Putting aside the crude, amateurish nature of the lit piece, I’m fascinated by Chris Abele’s attempts to portray Chris Larson as something other than the progressive he really is, especially considering Abele himself is far from being a progressive, given his close ties to Republican lawmakers including Gov. Scott Walker.

The fact that Chris Abele has had to sink to the depths we’ve seen shows just how much trouble he must think his campaign is in, because front runners don’t typically need to resort to mudslinging to win elections.

One reason why Chris Abele will lose on April 5

Earlier today, I got a flashy (and probably very expensive) mailer from incumbent Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele. The mailer doubled down on Abele’s claims that challenger Chris Larson took money from “big banks” and then voted their way – a claim Chris Larson himself has thoroughly discredited.

“When Abele’s attack ad accusing me of being a Scott Walker ally and a tool of Wall Street came out we were kind of puzzled at first. I’ve fought Scott Walker every step of the way and I’ve been fighting for working families my entire career in public office, so we thought it was kind of bizarre that he would try to make this connection.

“When we saw the report in the press yesterday that debunked all this and revealed that the supposed Wall Street banker referred to is actually a well-known local activist, and someone who is a friend of mine, that was really upsetting.

“Kevin Flaherty and I know each other through our work promoting LGBTQ equality for many years. We were both very active in a group called Equality Wisconsin, which is a well known advocacy group, and that’s how we know each other.

“It’s fine for Chris Abele to attack me, to attack a community activist like this and turn him into a greedy Wall Street banker who “caused the foreclosure crisis” is really shameful.

“Kevin happens to work for a local bank that is actually based in Green Bay, Wisconsin, he is a pillar of this community, and I’m proud to call him a friend.

“It’s the height of hypocrisy for Abele to accuse Kevin of being some kind of Wall Street banker when he was more than happy to have Kevin standing right over his shoulder when he signed Milwaukee County’s domestic partner benefits law in 2011.

Abele’s flashy and expensive mailer is one reason why he’s going to lose on April 5, because mailers don’t win elections – shoe leather does. As Chris Larson has proven time and time again, he’s willing to outwork his opponent to win an election. Chris Abele is about to find out that money alone can’t win an election.

Cleaning out the inbox: A Comment On The Domes Issues

As most Milwaukeeans know, the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory has been closed for more than a few weeks due to safety issues related to extended deferred maintenance. Also known as the Domes for the iconic geodesic domes that comprise the conservatory, they have stimulated a great deal of debate on their future: repair or replace.

This is just a throwaway blog based on the open letter about the Domes issued by John Dargle, Director of Milwaukee County Parks, Recreation & Culture. Here’s what I saw that struck me as odd:

As you likely know, the three domes are temporarily closed due to a public safety issue. Parks staff recently discovered pieces of concrete on the floor of the Arid Dome that appear to have fallen from the facility’s frame. [emphasis mine]

Appear?? Appear?? I would think we would be quite certain that the pieces fell from the frame if we went to all the trouble of closing the place. You don’t suspect some random visitor lost his pet concrete fragment in the Arid dome?

This is going to be a big deal and is already a talking point in the campaign for county executive…I would appreciate a little more precision in language in official documents.

So wait….Scott Walker ally Chris Abele seriously tried to tie Chris Larson to Walker?!?!?

In a bizarre turn of events, incumbent Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele has started running a new ad attacking challenger Chris Larson for having ties to Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

No more Mr. Nice Guy for Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele.

Abele, who spent about $2 million on an upbeat campaign in the primary election, launched his first TV attack ad against his challenger, state Sen. Chris Larson, on Wednesday. Larson narrowly edged Abele in the primary, and the two square off again in next month’s general election.

In the ad, Abele says that Larson “gobbled up money from big banks that caused the foreclosure crisis, then voted their way.” This is apparently a reference to Larson’s receipt of a $1,300 donation from JP Morgan Chase’s political action committee and $1,300 in contributions from a top Associated Bank official.

Then Abele’s ad tries to tie Larson, a Milwaukee Democrat, to Republican Scott Walker for his votes on some banking issues.

Here’s the ad in question, if you’re interested in watching.

What’s truly laughable about Abele’s attack ad attempting to tie Chris Larson to Scott Walker is the fact that Abele himself – who purports to be a Democrat – has some pretty close ties to Gov. Walker, as the photo below shows. In the photo Abele can be seen smiling ear to ear as Gov. Walker signs AB 85 into law. You might remember AB 85 as the bill that cut the pay and terms of office for Milwaukee County Supervisors, among other things.

Chris Abele attends Scott Walker bill signing

The fact is there’s only one candidate running for Milwaukee County Executive with close ties to Scott Walker and Republicans in the Legislature, and that candidate is Chris Abele.

So about last night’s election results

The 2016 spring election primary is officially in the books, and I wanted to take a few minutes to talk about this:

February 16 2016 primary results

It’s not a small thing that after being outspent 20 to 1 by incumbent Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, challenger Chris Larson was able to eke out a narrow victory over Abele. While Larson’s win last night was by no means a guarantee he’ll win in April, his chances certainly seem to be good, given that it’s likely that at least some of the voters who supported Joseph Klein will put their support behind Chris Larson. What Larson’s victor last night shows me is that he’s at his best when he’s an underdog, and that he absolutely should not be counted out no matter the circumstances, which is a mistake many seem to have made.

If I were Chris Abele, I’d be more than a little nervous right now, because things certainly don’t look great for him right now. He appears to be getting outworked, and there’s no amount of money he can throw at the problem to make it go away.

And in the second race highlighted above, incumbent Walker-appointed Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley beat JoAnne Kloppenburg and Judge Joe Donald, with Bradley and Kloppenburg advancing to April’s election. While the fact that Bradley prevailed may seem encouraging for her conservative base, the fact that she couldn’t muster more than 50% of the vote must be troubling for the conservative shadow groups hoping to buy the election for her. After all, Joe Donald’s far from being a conservative, and I have to believe a good number of the folks for voted for Donald will migrate over to Kloppenburg and perhaps give her enough votes to push her over 50%.