The Sheer Ambition of Marina Dimitrijevic
She’s running for assembly but wanted to continue as county supervisor and collect two full-time salaries.
Last month I moderated a candidates forum for the 19th Assembly District. The district runs along the lake, from the East Side all the way to Bay View, and there are four impressive candidates running for the seat, including two attorneys, Dan Adams and Sara Geenen, and Jonathan Brostoff, who has served as an aide to state Sen. Chris Larson and before that as an aide to county supervisor Jason Haas.
But if I were judging the debate I’d say the fourth candidate, Milwaukee County board chair Marina Dimitrijevic, had the best of it. She’s an excellent speaker, she was on top of the issues and she projects a lot of power and confidence.
Dimitrijevic has been seen as the favorite in the race: she has endorsements from many elected officials, led by Mayor Tom Barrett and Democratic congresswoman Gwen Moore — both of whom sponsored fundraisers for her. And the list of the unions supporting her is lo-o-ong: at least 12, including the state teachers union, state firefighters, county deputy sheriffs and the state Service Employees International Union council.
Remarkably, Dimitrijevic garnered all this support despite the fact she planned to continue drawing a salary as county supervisor while serving as a state representative. When she announced her decision to run last November, Dimitrijevic said she would step down as county board chair but would also finish her term as a supervisor.
The position of state legislator is generally seen as a full-time one and pays $49,943, plus about $6,000 on average in annual “per diem” living expenses. The position of county supervisor pays $50,679. Yes, it will be reduced to a part-time salary of $24,051, but not until after the April 2016 election. So Dimitrijevic would therefore have collected two full time salaries, for a total annual compensation of about $106,000, from January 2015 through April 2016.
Keep in mind that Dimitrijevic did everything possible to fight the legislation changing the county supervisor position to a part-time one, arguing vociferously that the job had to be done full time. So how could she possibly do this while also serving as a full-time legislator where most of the work is done in Madison?
Last night at a candidates forum, Dimitrijevic suddenly announced she had decided not to hold both jobs. As she puts it on her campaign website, in a post written this morning, “When I announced I was running for State Assembly last year, people asked me to consider filling out my term on the County Board. I did consider it and decided months ago that I would not hold both offices.”
Months ago? Then why didn’t she put this up on her campaign website? Why didn’t she let folks know at the candidate forum held last month?
I think there’s a more recent explanation for her change of heart. On Thursday, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist Dan Bice reported that from mid-April to mid-June Dimitrijevic showed up at the courthouse on just 16 of 48 work days and on average, spent about 2 hours and 25 minutes at the courthouse on the days she was there.
Said Dimitrijevic: “County business is not just done at a desk or in the courthouse.” Yes, supervisors do spend some time in the district attending occasional neighborhood meetings, but most of their work typically occurs at the courthouse. Supervisors who show up as seldom as she has in the last two months would be considered part timers by their colleagues. As Supervisor Mark Borkowski told the JS, he puts in ten times more hours than Dimitrijevic.
It was not good publicity for Dimitrijevic, but what made it all the worse was this was the person who said she can perform two full-time jobs and should therefore collect two full-time salaries.Yet she was averaging, all told, less than one hour a day working at the courthouse.
Dimitrijevic made history in 2004 by becoming the youngest woman elected to the Milwaukee County Board, at age 22, but it soon became clear she had bigger ambitions. She was clearly working to become county board chair, and soon after board members chose her for that post in April 2012, she announced she would do listening sessions in all 19 municipalities in the county, which seemed like preparation to run for county executive. She did a very good job of uniting board members against County Executive Chris Abele, and even made common cause with conservative Sheriff David Clarke in opposition to Abele. And yet Dimitrijevic’s many endorsements include just four county board members. That’s surprising.
Also surprising is the number of endorsements from elected officials Brostoff has gotten, including one county supervisor (John Weishan, Jr.), six state legislators and 14 other current and former elected officials. It may be that the race is not the shoo-in for Dimtrijevic that many politicos had assumed. Which could be an additional reason Dimitrjevic decided against holding two full-time jobs; she’s worried she could lose this race.
Yet for eight months she had let the community believe she intended to collect two salaries. So why weren’t Dimitrijevic’s supporters concerned about this?
This is not the first time that Democrats have tolerated double dipping elected officials. In the spring of 2012, newly elected City Treasurer Spencer Coggs said he intended to continue serving out his term as state senator through December 2012, thereby collecting monthly payments on annual salaries of about $50,000 as legislator and $114,000 as treasurer. And David Cullen, who won a county supervisor seat in that same election, said he intended to continue serving in the state assembly through December 2012, thus collecting monthly payments on two full-time salaries of about $50,000 each. Both said they would donate the extra salary to charity. Coggs made an announcement that he was donating $19,680 to charity, which is close to the extra amount he collected. But what about Cullen? Moreover, why are taxpayers paying this money so these politicians can build political support by donating the money to charity?
The message to voters in the case of Cullen, Coggs and Dimitrijevic is exactly what Republicans charge of Democrats: that liberal politicians are cavalier with the taxpayers’ dollars. Democrats — and Dimitrijevic — might ponder whether that has anything to do with them becoming a minority party in Wisconsin.
-There is no shortage of upcoming candidate forums in this race, including two on one day, July 29: at Chai Point Townhall, 1400 N Prospect Ave, from 3-4:30 pm, followed by the Shepherd Express Candidate Forum, from 7:00-8:30pm, at Kasana, 241 N. Broadway. Others include the Bay View Neighborhood Association Candidate Forum, on August 4, 7:00-8:30pm, at Parkside School of the Arts, 2969 S. Howell; and the Riverwest Neighborhood Association Candidate Forum on August 6 from 6:00-7:30pm, at Milwaukee Friends, 3224 N Gordon Pl.
Correction: An early version of this story incorrectly stated that Spencer Coggs had offered no details on the money he was donating to charity. The story also suggested Dimitrijevic made her announcement toward the beginning of last night’s forum; it was toward the end.