Bay View Candidates’ Forum: The Rumble In Humboldt (Park School)

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 (left) and Dimitrijevic

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.)

Zielinski (left) and Pierce

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.


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13 thoughts on “Bay View Candidates’ Forum: The Rumble In Humboldt (Park School)

  1. Nice analysis.

    I think your ‘backpedal’ characterization is a bit out of focus. Mr. Pierce claimed that Mr. Zielinski permits campaign donations to influence his aldermanic privilege as regards liquor permits. Mr. Zielinski took this to be an accusation of bribery. In what you describe as ‘backpedaling’, Mr. Pierce excluded specifically a charge of bribe taking, but reinforced the influence-of-donations charge.

    It’s interesting to see the power of incumbency at work in your analysis. It is exactly their style and vision differences that matter. Of course their specifics on the issues will be similar, and I agree that “cops in classrooms” (which Mr. Zielinski has supported) and “more seats at the table” (which Mr. Pierce favors) in reference to BVHS are both tepid as matters of policy.

    But as fundamental *approaches to governance* the two candidates could not be more different. Mr. Pierce listed a variety of necessary changes to make government more transparent, Mr. Zielinski didn’t see the problem. Mr. Pierce will reject future campaign donations from donors who might come before a committee on which he sits, Mr. Zielinski solicits them. Mr. Pierce decries a four-year-long secret process to buy and wreck the Lone Feather properties, Mr. Zielinski is satisfied with the ‘now that we’ve decided, let’s have a public meeting’ approach to Dwell.

    While, the incumbent always defines the race, the voters decide the definition.

  2. That’s quite a leap to make, to take Jan quoting a statement made by Bob Donovan during a Council meeting, to provide historical context of the proceedings of the issue at question, and then jump to accusing Jan of therefore somehow “aligning himself” with Donovan. It simply doesn’t follow. And it’s untrue, regardless. A close friend of Jan, Jennifer Morales, is running against Donovan and Jan lists her as an endorser!

  3. Bill has very little understanding of the issues facing this community. It appears that he is an attempt by the conservatives in Milwaukee to start dividing constituents with petty issues. Bill’s talking points are indeed very similar to Jeff Stone’s and Scott Walker’s. There is no doubt that they are trying to extend their radical agenda at the neighborhood politics level as well. It’s sad to see this kind of negative propaganda against every public worker so close to home now. It is not enough for republicans to divide the state, but they also want to divide tight communities like Bay View and the South Side. As Far as JP and Zelinski. I don’t dislike JP, but I was deeply dissapointed by his style of campaign. Again, devisive and negative in tone. We will endure a massive amount of money on propaganda to disturbed our lives in the local and presidential elections. There is enough attacks against public workers, the LGBT community, women’s health, and minorities. Why do we need this cut throat politics in our neighborhoods? Having strong and innovative ideas, intellectual analysis of challenges and action that are well presented, and specific plans of approach to public policy is healthier. And if I may add, I was appalled by JP suggestion of closing fire stations. That has not worked for any city that tried. It’s more expensive in the long run for safety than the little it may save in a small period of time. We can have a civilized debate at least at this level. Please, demand that from people running for office, if they truly mean change, it will come from informing rather than misinforming constituents. One more thing. Marina is an accomplished elected official. To pass the kind of legislation she talked about in this nasty political environment, takes great skill and effort. She should make it known, specially because her opponent has so little respect for government transparency and diversity.

  4. Pierce did not propose closing fire stations. He mentioned the current situation we’ve got where they’ve quietly been browning them out on a rotating basis because none of the incumbent aldermen want to take the political heat for allowing any single individual fire station to be closed in their district, although the browning out amounts to essentially the same thing–the equivalent of a fire station being closed, you just don’t know if yours is the one closed at a given moment. If the reality is that cuts are going to be made (police and fire being the overwhelming majority of the City budget), he said that open, honest discussion about how that should occur, taking into account the input of the personnel who know those issues best is what we need. I think he meant solutions that are practical and not unnecessarily political.

  5. JFG, I too think you have misinterpreted Mr. Pierce’s response. The question, as I recall it, was something like “You have just learned that you need to cut $10million from the City budget. What do you cut?” Mr. Zielinski didn’t give a clear answer. Mr. Pierce noted that police and fire make up the lion’s share of the City’s budget and that we need to start looking at ways now to discuss this question, because although it is hypothetical now, it is looming as a near-future fiscal reality. At no point did either candidate say that they *would* make cuts to the safety forces.

    I’m not sure I understand the claims that Mr. Pierce has ‘gone negative.’ He has consistently challenged the ‘aldermanic privilege’ practice, and has, correctly I think, suggested that it places too much power for new businesses in the hands of the alderman.

    It isn’t negative to point out that Mr. Zielinski is absent from Common Council and committee meetings about 33% of the time.

    And it isn’t negative to note that while Mr. Zielinski not only accepts campaign donations from the people who apply to him for liquor licenses (or who appear before him on the committee) but he actively solicits these donations (in the case of Paresh Patel i would add in the same conversation as the license discussion) that Mr. Pierce will not accept campaign donations from any person who may appear before a committee he sits on.

    Finally, it is not ‘going negative’ to note that the Lonefeather/Dwell project property acquisition went on in secret for 4 years, that the developers neglected those properties so that they *would* become blighted, that Mr. Zielinski was involved in this project far, far earlier than the single, and abbreviated, public meeting at which it was presented as a done deal.

    Frankly, I think our neighborhood should be asking Mr. Zielinski why he has supported the all-but-insolvent Sweet Water Organics project with tax dollars and without oversight (SWO is a GREAT idea, but right now a poor investment, private or public). And we should ask him why the KK/Lincoln bus stop project committee has denied press access to any of their meetings. These issues aren’t “going negative” on Mr. Zielinski–these too are insisting on the rudimentary accountability that every citizen is responsible to demand.

    Negative campaigning is based on falsehoods. The truth is neither positive nor negative–it’s just the truth. But if Mr. Zielinsk needs to set the record straight, he can do so by agreeing to two or three more debates.

  6. Here‘s what I tweeted in the moment about JP’s answer to the budget-cutting question: “@Pierce4Alderman Big decisions coming on public safety budgets; even if you don’t look at police & fire 1st, have to cut, but w their input.”

    Make of it what you will; I’ve pretty well blacked it all out by now.

  7. I want to point out that I did not say I dislike JP. It wasn’t an attack on him, it was my perception of what he said. I am not crazy about Zelinski either. But I really don’t know JP and this was for me a great opportunity to learn more about him. Since JP supporters took issue on the perception that a constituent had of him on a debate, I’ll explain why. My neighbor sitting next to me and the lady sitting behind me heard the same thing. We walked away thinking, fire department was the first major response for cutting services for JP, and it indeed came out as he closing some fire stations. You can argue it didn’t but this is what was perceived. And even a schedule of closings is bad for the city still. I moved from Los Angeles, the city decided to do that exact thing and it is not working. We need to learn from other cities failures, please? . We can argue about this forever, but I don’t know the guy very well and I am not familiar with his stands on issues. This was an opportunity to get to know him better and he left some people with the impression I had. You may not agree with me on that and that’s okay. I am not going to prolong the argument on this or dwell on that you think I’m wrong. I am just explaining perceptions and words said in debates matter to people. I also heard him saying that he disliked unreasonable city ordinances. Well, I thought that his complains about people putting bedsheets on their windows and how he would push for government to make them change that in their own house. I’m sorry, but that was really out of place. That he didn’t mean that? It doesn’t matter, that’s what we heard and it got a negative reaction from people around me. Bay View is not Tosa, Brookfield or other snooty neighborhoods. This is a city, welcoming, and accepting neighborhood and we don’t look down on people that way. Did JP mean to come out this way, I don’t know but this is what he sounded like. The “my district” statements from Zelinski did the same to him. So if we can notice that from one candidate, we can notice the same for the other. For JP, a candidate that dislikes the city putting such obstacles on businesses through ordinances, I thought it was contradictory to say that people should be forced to do something about their house interior decor. I personally don’t like seen some of the houses on kk, I know it’s not pleasing and it annoys me. Yet, really? is that an actual way to go about neighborhood revitalization? And this is the problem. You may say that I focused on petty issues. This was the first time for me to hear about these candidates. Whether it was poor choice of questions from the debate, JP’s attacks on Zelinski, Zelinski’s defensiveness, or you name it, the way the conversation was lead by both candidates drove a big chunk of time on issues that were not vital for our community. You can disagree with me and that’s okay. But I wanted to learn more about JP because I’m very curious about his stands and this is what I left with. I love community involvement but I really did not hear specific strategies about it. There was a great part of the time wasted (in my opinion) on attacking the opponent over giving a real refreshing view of why is JP a person to be curious about. Again, I’m sorry if you disagree but I was expecting more. If you know him closely you can let him know about the perceptions people left with about some of his very inappropriate statements, or you can just tell him that everything he said was fantastic. Your choice. And thank you for helping me make my points more clear. I’m more than glad to explain my reasoning. Again, I am not trying to be picky, I just really have problems with some of the statements that were brought up. On Zelinski, I was very disappointed of him proposing alternative schools for “misbehaved children.” I’m a special education teacher and I very worried about his plan. This is just not right. We are targeting the people with bedsheets on their windows, and fire stations, and misbehaved children while we should be thinking about how to put pressure on State level government to stop screwing city neighborhoods over. So much of that was lost in targeting each other.

  8. Jan’s bedsheets in windows comment was a reference to vacant commercial properties, not private residences. There are a number of commercially zoned properties along business districts like KK which have been allowed to sit with high weeds growing and bedsheets hanging in the windows for years and years. Absentee owners seem to have been allowed to neglect their responsibility to keep the properties maintained, which makes it more difficult for neighboring small businesspeople who are trying to fill storefronts, attract customers, make the area successful, etc.

  9. Thank you AK for clarifying his points. He needs to focuse on extending his ideas. People that don’t know him like myself may have walked away with a different version of what he tried to present. Please pass it on to him. On the ordinances, it’d be helpful if he explained exactly which ones are not beneficial so people can decide if they agree. Not all city ordinances are random you know? Thank you again for taking time to respond to my concerns.

  10. I was offended by Jan Pierces statement about “bedsheets in peoples windows needing to be removed”. Does he mean he will fine them if they don’t remove them? Seriously? This shows he doesn’t understand the people that make up Bay View and what I like about it. That there is lower, middle and upper class all living together. Also, roundabouts and speed bumps on KK? What parent would allow their child to cross at one of those things…they are to keep traffic moving not slow it down! I’m sorry but this guy has no clue! After watching the debate on youtube, it actually is a scary thought that he’s even running. This debate has solidified my vote for Tony.

  11. JFG–I’m a former Union professional Firefighter (Fire Lieutenant and paramedic). I know too about cutting fire stations; I’ve been in the situations of trying to play ‘catch-up’ because fire companies were too far away/out of service.

    We have to recognize that we’re already doing this across Milwaukee–we just call them ‘brown outs’ so NO alderman has to take the blame for closing stations or responsibility for the unnecessary damage and injuries due to ‘temporary station closings/brown-outs’. But functionally, it’s the very same thing, just with the dishonesty of not telling people about it.

    Down the line, if MKE doesn’t grow its tax base, we are either going to have to raise our own taxes (the pols aren’t going to do it for us) or watch things burn. Or we can end up with a private service that you pay for directly or they stand on the sidewalk and watch your house fall into the basement. Not a lot of choices. Of course, requiring every rental property to have a working fire extinguisher in every kitchen and basement and working smoke detectors on every floor goes a long way to not NEEDING as many firefighters…but now we’re back in the hyper-response of the government telling people what to do in their homes–like ordering us not to burn to death…

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