Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Chris Abele Is In Deep Trouble

A year ago he was a shoo-in for reelection. Now he's in the fight of his life.

By - Mar 24th, 2016 11:57 am
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Chris Abele and Peter Feigin just after signing the deal to sell eight acres of Park East land to the Milwaukee Bucks for $1. Photo by Michael Horne.

Chris Abele and Peter Feigin just after signing the deal to sell eight acres of Park East land to the Milwaukee Bucks for $1. Photo by Michael Horne.

Just a year ago no one expected Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele to have an opponent, much less that he would be looking at likely defeat. But in little more than six months Abele has managed to wound himself so badly that he could well be defeated by challenger and Democratic state senator Chris Larson.

The fact that Abele lost the February primary is one thing. It’s certainly not good news, but in the bigger turnout general election there will be far more voters, enough that he could easily turn around his fortunes. But the Abele campaign is telling us they doubt this, because it is doing nothing but attack ads against Larson, suggesting their own polling shows Abele is behind.

Abele no doubt annoyed some liberals and hard-core supporters of the county board by pushing for state legislation to reduce the county board to part-time status and salary, but the results of a Spring 2014 referendum showed that voters overwhelmingly supported the idea, by a 71 percent to 29 percent majority. Board members, of course, were incensed with Abele and were looking for payback, which made their relations with the executive all but toxic. But all Abele had to do was wait until April 2016 for the measure to go into effect and he’d be facing a very different board with considerably less power. Instead, the ever-impolitic county executive went back to the legislature yet again to ask for more power.

The Republican-controlled legislature complied, with a law that stripped the county board of any power over all county land sales (other than parks), and removed its authority over transfers of county property, over the construction, maintenance and financing of “county-owned building and public works projects” while handing all this power to the county exec. All the executive needs is to get one additional official to sign off — either the county comptroller or a real estate professional designated by the Milwaukee County Intergovernmental Cooperation Council, whose members include all the mayors or village board presidents of the county’s 19 municipalities.

In addition, the County Executive was given “sole authority… without any review or approval of the county board” over “procurement, including requests for proposals,” and “contracting” and “administrative review of appeals of the denial… of a contract award.”

Everything about the deal stunk. It was a last-minute, never-discussed amendment to the state budget that had no fiscal impact and didn’t belong there. The measure was a complete surprise not just to the county board, but to Milwaukee County voters. And it gave Abele far more power than any other county executive or manager in the state.

Adding to the smell was that Republican legislators were almost blindly handing Abele what he wanted — and devil take the consequences for the mostly Democratic voters in this county — because it would allow Abele to give downtown county land (for $1) to the Milwaukee Bucks’ owners without having to get the county board’s approval.

And all of this came just a month or so after Abele had promoted a plan that bailed out Gov. Scott Walker and Republican legislators by transferring most of the public costs for the Milwaukee Bucks’s arena from state to county taxpayers through a plan to use the Wisconsin Center District‘s hotel, car rental and restaurant tax. That might have been bad enough, but Abele also embraced a plan proposed by state officials that would raise the final $80 million needed to fund the arena by having the city and county certify some of their uncollected debt so the state could collect it. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett made it clear he couldn’t support a plan “to collect debt from indigent people to support a $500 million arena,” as one city insider notes. Abele, however, not only agreed, but offered to take on the entire $80 million cost. This, for a project to benefit billionaire sports owners that most county taxpayers already opposed.

But Abele still wasn’t done digging himself into a political hole. In January we learned that the state law giving Abele the nearly unilateral power to sell county land made it possible for him — or any successor — to sell land in as many as 43 county parks, because some of this land was not zoned as parkland.  It was a huge goof by Abele, and showed how little vetting of the budget amendment had been done. Upon learning of this the Abele administration began contacting municipalities asking them to rezone this parkland, but this turns out to be a fairly complicated process, leaving the whole issue unresolved and reeking of political incompetence.

Remarkably, however, Abele was soon digging himself deeper. Three weeks ago, discussing what to do about the Mitchell Park Domes, whose repair could be as high as $75 million, Abele indicated he was open to tearing the Domes down and described their design as “McDonalds-y.” That might be okay to say after the election, but Abele’s frankness has undoubtedly cost him votes with the many people in town who love the Domes. ‘This is a part of our soul, of who we are as Milwaukee County,'” Larson declared, striking a populist note while making Abele look like an elitist snob.

An insider connected to a conservative group that polled Milwaukee before the primary told me that Abele had 10 percent more people rating him unfavorably than favorably, never a good sign for an incumbent. My guess is that Larson will carry the city’s liberals by a wide margin. Which leaves the minority of white conservatives who support Donovan for mayor who are likely to vote for Abele, who has styled himself as a fiscal conservative. Abele must carry the suburbs or he can’t beat Larson.

It’s worth noting that Abele lost the primary to conservative Jeff Stone in the 2011 primary, but won easily in the general election. It’s still possible Abele could rebound in the April vote. But his campaign is unrelentingly attacking Larson with increasingly lame literature, including one that puts a silly-looking white wig of hair on Larson while telling us the state senator is “No Bernie Sanders.” I might add that we get two copies of every piece of literature, for me and my wife, meaning Abele’s campaign consultant hasn’t consolidated voter addresses to prevent that. It makes the lit drops feel more sloppy and desperate.

Larson looked initially like a weak candidate. The Democrats replaced him as Senate Minority Leader, which raised questions about his abilities. He has never made any statements to separate himself from the county board, or suggest he has any views different than the board’s liberal majority. And his campaign initially seemed poorly organized and went through several staff changes. But Larson gradually found his footing, while Abele was wounded badly on the issue of park sales and then on the Domes. Abele has now booked an astonishing $500,000 in TV ads to pound Larson, which may still turn around the race — unless the county exec finds a way to shoot himself in the foot again.

Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

31 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Chris Abele Is In Deep Trouble”

  1. Vincent Hanna says:

    I wonder if the amount of money Abele is spending along with the bad press over the Taylor incident will harm Larson since we’re close to election day.

  2. Jake formerly of the LP says:

    Abele just isnt too bright, and only cares about consolidating power for himself and running rackets that enrich him and his oligarch friends.

    In other words, he acts like a spoiled rich kid that dropped out of college and DUI’ed as a youth. And that’s what will do him in if he loses. It’s also (hopefully) ended that dimwit’s chances of statewide office.

    Extra bonus with an Abele loss- Mike Tate and the former DPW losers who are running Abele’s lame campaign get another black mark on their already-awful resumes

  3. I mainly agree with Bruce’s fine analysis of why Abele is in trouble, but I must point out that over a year ago other journalists saw the game — mine is here tinyurl.com/khee29g — being run by Abele on the citizens, so that the overwhelming majority who support reduced pay for county board supervisors thought they were getting a bargain and only slowly realized the hidden aim of Act 14 was less oversight which they slowly realized makes Abele abnormally powerful with county land and operations. It should also be noted that their pay is reduced to the average income of the county — not encouraging higher pay exactly and certainly not appreciating the status we usually give public officials. It took a year for the public to see that, and that’s a big reason Abele is facing a loss.

  4. tomw says:

    Bruce, this reminds me of the taunt “if you so rich, why ain’t you so smart”. There must be dozens of smart pols out there who would have gladly been bought by Abele and shown him the ropes instead of allowing him to hang himself but it’s so hard to listen when your life has been one of privilege and wealth. The pursuit and/or privilege of wealth seems to dumb down those who also want political power ergo Hillary and her damned e-mails, Mitt and his 47%, etc. etc. However, having said all that, let’s not forget Milwaukee and its love affair with incumbents. Henry Maier, Bill O’Donnell, and I’m sure the list is longer but we don’t change horses once they move to the front of the pack (forgive the mixed metaphor). It usually takes retirement or some scandal so don’t be too surprised if Larson comes in a close second.

  5. Pat Small says:

    I’ve observed Chris Abele for years and have concluded that he’s neither smart, altruistic, nor politically savvy. But he is manipulative, divisive and vindictive. He also shows contempt for citizens, the democratic process and even Milwaukee and its heritage. None of this is what a challenged county needs in a leader.

    His so-called fetish about “efficiency” is belied by all of his horrid negotiations and successful or thwarted giveaways of public assets to cronies and corporations: O’Donnell Park, the Transit Center, 10 acres in Park East, the county transit system, and whatever else he intends to stealthily unload without public oversight, if allowed.

    Abele has proudly declared that he’s “very open” to demolishing the Domes–and replacing them with a serviceable greenhouse or superfluous amphitheater.

    Most of all, his closet-Republican agenda is like Walker’s and focuses on privatization, analyzed here:

    http://shepherdexpress.com/blog-12599-chris-abele%E2%80%99s-privatization-agenda-daily-dose-shepherd-express.html

  6. Bill Kurtz says:

    Don’t necessarily count on Donovan supporters voting for Abele. He has been a prominent supporter of gay causes and Planned Parenthood, which won’t go over well with them. Also, Abele has feuded with David Clarke, who is a hero to Donovan fans. It will be interesting to see how talk radio comes down. They’d talk themselves into pretzels if they support Larson- will they back Abele as the lesser of two evils, or stay neutral?

  7. Matt says:

    I presume Larson dominates among city liberals because city liberals means the same white people it always means on this web site. But perhaps black people do not share your phony outrage about having an NBA team in Milwaukee or your love of a flower garden on the south side. Perhaps there views should be contemplated before making pronouncements about Abele being in trouble. Ironically, Abele may destroy Larson with the David Clarke coalition. But Larson will not dominate anything. That’s just East Side thinking.

  8. It’s always dangerous to respond to a comment rather than to the article cited, but Matt requires a response. He may be right about East Side white liberals embracing Larson, but many black people do love taking their kids to the Domes, as I’ve seen, and many hold Abele responsible for a war on Clarke, while many who think our sheriff is a clown blame Abele for a cartoon caricature that offended black communities and made the race more of a white candidate vs. a black one. Moreover it is a black county worker suing Abele to follow discrimination laws he’s ignoring. . So I think Larson will do well with other communities than the East Side.

  9. bruce Murphy says:

    Matt, just an FYI, I’m a huge NBA fan and never attend the Domes. Simply analyzing the politics here. As to the views of African American voters, I’m not suggesting their views would be the same as white liberals.

  10. Bruce Thompson says:

    I have to agree with Bruce M about Chris Abele’s strange political instincts. Consider the recent PolitiFact rating of his claim that the Mitchell Park Domes “lose about $1 million-plus every year” and “the number of people going to the Domes has been going down.” Both statements were rated “False.” PolitiFact concluded: “He’s wrong on both counts. In the past five years, the tab for county taxpayers exceeded $1 million once. On average it was $630,000. Meanwhile, attendance has actually increased 28 percent under his watch.”

    Very strange. Scott Walker would never exaggerate in a way that would make his management look bad.

  11. Marie says:

    I’m white and personally know numerous black voters, many of whom are NBA fans but rarely can afford to attend games. They also love the Domes, a free or affordable outing, and tell me they can’t fathom why Abele’s talking about tearing them down. Abele’s trying hard to undo real outrage in the black community with his endless TV ads with a smiling single black dad etc. But will it erase the impacts of his vetoing living wage ordinances, removing people of color from MATC’s board, agreeing to take over MPS schools, messing with transit workers, and other unpopular policies? We’ll know on April 5.

    The arena issue may be a wash, but will in-community spats affect the vote? Congresswoman Gwen Moore is undoubtedly Milwaukee’s most powerful black politician, not (Drama) Queen Lena Taylor. Moore convinced Larson to run and is campaigning hard for him. Abele has the incoherently long-winded Mikel Holt and convicted bribe-taker Michael McGee, Jr. stirring up a faux racial controversy relating to Taylor and Larson. It’s entertaining reality-TV-style drama, but it will hardly impact the election.

  12. Observer says:

    What a year for polytricks!

  13. J Morgan says:

    When I was a kid growing up in Kenosha we took class field trips to the Domes and Milwaukee Public Museum, and those were wonderful days that we all looked forward to. But those days paled to the nights me and my dad would come up to watch Marques Johnson and Bob Lanier play at the MECCA. The vast majority of 12-13 year-old boys in SE Wisconsin and the fox valley would say the same thing, many of the girls, too. Basketball is part of our culture here: the first state basketball tournament in the U.S. was held here; two of the early days NBL pro teams were in Oshkosh and Sheboygan, and they featured some of the first black pros in the U.S.; except for about a decade in the late 1950s-late-1960s, we’ve always had pro ball here. It’s part of who we are as a state, like it or not.

    The Bucks needed a new arena in the mid-1970s but there was no help to be had in Wisconsin. It cost the franchise tens of millions of dollars over the years, it’s part of why Marv Fleishman sold the team to the Fitzerald group; it’s THE reason Fitzgerald sold out to Kohl, and if it weren’t for him the Bucks would be long gone. Both the Bucks and Badgers have had arenas gifted to them by extremely wealthy philanthropists.

    When are we going to pay our share? We should have helped the Bucks build their future in the 1970s. The people of Brown County voted to help the Packers when they needed stadium funds. What’s our problem? Are we really that cheap in SE Wisconsin? Eroding parks and golf courses and parking garages, the domes falling into neglect; and if the people had their way, no basketball either.

    If we’re worried about the domes, about paying the $4 mill per year for the arena, if we care about parks and recreation and culture, it’s time for us to be taxed. Bob Bauman had a proposal for a city-only arena sales tax that would have given the city of Milwaukee ownership stake in the arena. Common Council rejected it in committee. Most of us voted for a county-wide parks and rec and culture sales tax that the state blocked. Chris Larson was one of THE biggest supports of this tax. Let’s take another shot at it and save the domes, pay the arena bill and do a better job of maintaining our parks and being a good employer. It’s time now, and its already overdue.

  14. Jake formerly of the LP says:

    Would love to see how Sykes and Belling and the rest of the GOP spokespeople on AM radio are going to back Abele now that he endorsed Kloppenburg for Supreme Court.

    And I’ll second Marie’s point about the Lena Taylor kerfuffle. I’d bet a lot of that goes back to Larson not putting Taylor on Joint Finance in 2013 and Queen Lena harboring a grudge, with the timing of the confrontation being quite convenient. If you’ve ever met a Lena Taylor staffer, you know she harbors a TON of grudges, and would not be below getting even in the worst possible way, regardless of how Pyrrhic the victory would be.

  15. Vincent Hanna says:

    So what Larson said to Taylor is fine? She holds a grudge so he can insult her in front of others all he wants? I call hypocrisy. If a conservative male said that about a female politician the usual suspects here would be bashing him. I’m not a big Abele fan, but to me Larson doesn’t really seem like an improvement.

  16. Kent Mueller says:

    Abele should have stuck with philanthropy. His time in politics has revealed him as a socially-liberal Republican — a hybrid ultimately satisfying to no one.
    I have plenty of misgivings about the Bucks deal, but those have more to do with the way pro sports teams hold communities hostage. Personally I believe all pro sports teams should be community-owned on the Green Bay Packers model, fat chance of that ever happening. Milwaukee is a better place for having an NBA team on its resume’ and at least they chose a site that was a blank spot on the map and needed development, instead of the usual vanity architect/developer idea of tearing down a block or two of buildings for a blank canvas (although the chosen design appears to have been bought from a Sharper Image catalog).
    What bothers me most about Abele are the endless power-grabs and I hope they will be his downfall. His contempt for the County Board, the land authority he’s assumed with an assist from the rabid Wisconsin GOP, trying to seize MPS, and I see no end in sight if he’s re-elected. It’s a GOP approach that ultimately results in Flint River water.
    Finally, his dismissal of the Domes shows a lack of awareness about what the community values. Unlike most of us he didn’t grow up with them and it shows.

  17. Marie says:

    Kent, I agree about Abele’s alarming ignorance about the local and national value of the Domes and their importance to people of all incomes and backgrounds–and to Milwaukee’s identity. If Abele’s decade-long college tour had somehow led him to Missouri instead of Milwaukee, might he now be pushing to knock down the costly-to-maintain St. Louis Arch? That community has instead dedicated almost $300M to refurbish the 50-year-old complex.

    Or, what about Abele’s hometown of Concord, Massachusetts? Might he also suggest draining and paving over Walden Pond with income-producing development? Would he lamely espouse “honoring the legacy” of Thoreau with “sustainable” condos, just as Abele wants tp condescendingly “honor the legacy” of the Domes, rather than preserving the monument itself? After all, it’s surely costly to keep that historic public park operating–just like our beloved Domes. Hasn’t Walden Pond run its course by now and shouldn’t we all just be satisfied with the memory of it.

    As for Lena Taylor, she has been a bull in a china shop for her entire legal and political career. Stories are legion about her antics. Now she’s staging a snit because she reportedly fears having to face a strong and more-progressive opponent this fall, who may be supported by Larson. Taylor’s known for blowing with the wind to suit her own out-sized ambition.

  18. Pat Small says:

    Very insightful analysis, Bruce! Although Mayor Barrett has not aspired to be an inspiring leader, he has retail-political instincts and skills. Tone-deaf Chris Abele does not.

    Barrett’s an effective campaigner and consensus builder, including with city legislators. County Executive Abele is a power monger who shunned the county board and occasionally deigned to align himself with the most-conservative supervisors—until he dissed most of them, too.

    Barrett repeatedly rejected calls to take over and privatize MPS schools. Abele jumped at the MPS gambit for more power and now coyly pretends he won’t take over any schools. However, Abele ally Sen. Alberta Darling was recently caught on video promising supporters that Abele’s stalling will end after the election.

    Barrett refused to pay for a Bucks Arena on the backs of delinquent taxpayers—people mostly beset by job and medical crises, according to the county comptroller. Abele foolishly pushed that scheme. Even though Abele’s collection projections were debunked by County Comptroller Manske, and rejected by state legislators, Abele’s again chewing on that bone.

    A big problem for dilettante Abele is that, as insiders explain, this is his first-ever real-world job. Abele never had to flip burgers or climb any ladders. Before self-funding his campaign for County Executive, he had only dispensed family foundation money (to fawning recipients)–and dabbled in businesses in which he was largely the financier/figure-head (a literary mag, medical supply firm, and real-estate). He never developed basic social or management skills. And now the problem: you can’t start teaching manners to a kid on the way to a birthday party.

  19. Vincent Hanna says:

    So two wrongs make a right Marie? Taylor is prone to antics so Larson should be able to call her whatever he wants? You hate Abele so much that you’ll justify any behavior from Larson? That’s pretty despicable. Again, if Robin Vos called a female politician names where others could hear, you’d be singing a very different tune. You’re a hypocrite.

  20. Casey says:

    Vincent/Marie – isn’t McGee “supporting” Taylor? Anyone who brings McGee on their team should be suspect.

  21. Vincent Hanna says:

    Yes McGee’s support should raise some eyebrows. I am not here to defend Abele. As I said, not really a big fan of his. But the casual dismissal of Larson’s comments and the blaming the victim (“Taylor is prone to antics”) is extremely distasteful and wrong. I am confident that a conservative male politician saying that a female colleague was off her meds in front of other people would draw immediate and strong criticism from liberals. Some here seem blinded by their hate of Abele.

  22. John Casper says:

    I can’t confirm this, but I heard there was a candidate’s forum March 23 and Mr. Abele didn’t show.

  23. Marie says:

    Vincent, I know that Lena Taylor and her supporters are painting her as a “victim,” but of what? When JS journalist Dan Bice wrote about this, he presented it as a “he said-she said” exchange. Even from that, I’m not sure why it’s being considered a “male-female” issue rather than an encounter between two leading politicians, whatever was said. If one or both behaved badly in a public forum, I do not condone either’s actions. But the hearsay so far is hard to parse. And I am confident that Lena Taylor can fend for herself in any situation.

    Books have been written, including by the late-great columnist Molly Ivins, about quips politicians have exchanged in public and private. https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Molly_Ivins_Who_Let_the_Dogs_In?id=SiE4uCfE3tYC

    Here’s a link to one of two rambling Community Journal op-eds by Mikel Holt: http://communityjournal.net/world-according-chris-larson/
    It presents a convoluted backstory about Milwaukee politics and generational wranglings, with arcane musings about whether black politicians should affiliate with white pols, etc. Holt barely mentions Abele, who the CH has endorsed, except to praise Abele’s “educational agenda” to possibly take over what Holt calls “50 failing schools.” It’s as mystifying as the unsigned opinion piece dressing down state Rep. David Bowen in the Courier last summer denouncing his attempts to get a better deal for taxpayers during Bucks Arena giveaways. Bowen was specifically berated for joining with fellow progressive Jonothan Brostoff, who is white, in trying to get Arena naming rights-money used to repay astronomical public borrowing. That hit piece had the verbal stylings of a lobbyist writer, not a Courier staffer. None of this seems productive. It only distracts from crucial issues in local and state races, which Bruce focused on here instead.

    There are also FB video postings of Michael McGee, Jr. at a campaign event and other social-media threads.

    As for Abele, I appreciate that he and the Argosy Foundation support Planned Parenthood, LGBT rights and other causes. However, his record on county-related issues is not progressive and his power-grab control of land deals is unprecedented in the Midwest, if not the country.

  24. John Casper says:

    Matt,

    Mr. Abele wants you to learn the difference between, “their,” and, “there.”

    “Perhaps there views should be contemplated before making pronouncements about Abele being in trouble.”

    Even Mr. Abele knows he’s in danger of losing. That’s why he’s spending more of his billionaire father’s money. According to this link, Mr. Abele hasn’t ruled out spending $5 million. http://fox6now.com/2016/02/17/race-for-county-executive-despite-millions-spent-by-abele-larson-top-vote-getter-in-primary/

    Larson’s raised about $100,000?

    What cities and counties buy the most tickets for the “lower bowl,” at Bucks games?

    “But perhaps black people do not share your phony outrage about having an NBA team in Milwaukee….”

    As a, “black,” person, you’re not concerned about welfare for billionaires?

    In order for the Bucks to leave Milwaukee, another city has to take them. Since prior to closing the deal, no city in the world stepped up, liberals and conservatives understand that Mr. Abele had plenty of leverage to negotiate with billionaire owners, Lasry, Edens, and Dinan. Why did Mr. Abele give them so much? Did you read Bruce’s link’s? He was bidding against himself with the taxpayer’s resources. You claim you’re a conservative. How do you defend it?

    Glen Taylor, who is desperate to sell or relocate the Timberwolves, can’t. He can’t find another city in the world that wants an NBA franchise. He’s selling minority stakes. http://www.foxsports.com/nba/story/minnesota-timberwolves-glen-taylor-owner-sale-sell-negotiating-minority-stake-111315

    You wrote, “or your love of a flower garden on the south side.”

    How does that, “flower garden,” grow stuff in winter?

    Would you like the Domes better, if they were on the north side?

  25. Vincent Hanna says:

    Larson has finally apologized Marie (took him along enough). I’m glad you do not condone his poor behavior.

  26. Marie says:

    Vincent, thanks for the update. I’m glad to hear of the apology too. We need politicians, and citizens, here to focus together on important issues.

    John, as to the Domes’ location, some people think they are less worthy because they are anywhere but downtown or on the lakefront. That kind of thinking will keep Milwaukee and its economy hamstrung. We need thriving neighborhoods everywhere.

    And saying Abele or other pols ‘negotiated” the Bucks deal really stretches the meaning of that word. But that’s now water down a Park East sewer–that we’ll be paying about $5M to replace.

  27. Thomas says:

    Adding to what Murphy said well, Abele has done as much damage to Milwaukee County as he has done to himself. His emasculating the county board in his own interest could take generations to remedy. Re the question as to how right wing a.m. radio will endorse Abele, Sykes and other reactionary squawkers are already in bed with Abele and Walker, and nobody loves a threesome or a foursome more than reactionary media darlings the likes of Jimmy Swaggart … Elmer Gantry is alive and well on right wing talk radio. A vote for Chris Larson could tamp down the nonsense of Sykes and Belling and many other little Limbaughs.

  28. Observer says:

    “Vincent Hanna says: So what Larson said to Taylor is fine? She holds a grudge so he can insult her in front of others all he wants? I call hypocrisy. If a conservative male said that about a female politician the usual suspects here would be bashing him. I’m not a big Abele fan, but to me Larson doesn’t really seem like an improvement.” So Lena Taylor goes off on Larson and Larson asks her, “Are you off your meds” and THAT is what this kerfuffle is all about? If a conservative male said that I’d have the same incredulous response if a liberal called him out for that. And how did anyone other than Taylor and Larson learn of this? I’m betting it wasn’t Larson. Now you just posted that this was said in front of others. Who else was there? I thought it was private. If this is the best Abele has, he’s toast.

  29. Pat Small says:

    Milwaukee magazine’s Larry Sandler analyzed the powers Abele has finagled for himself:
    http://www.milwaukeemag.com/2016/03/16/power-campaign-milwaukee-county-executive-chris-abele-chris-larson/

    “Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele has powers that no other local official in Wisconsin — and no other Midwestern county exec — has been granted. The state Legislature has considered giving him even more…

    “The new sale and lease power doesn’t extend to any of Wisconsin’s other 10 county execs. A Wisconsin League of Municipalities official says he doesn’t know of any mayor or village president with similar power. Nor do any of Abele’s counterparts in Illinois, Michigan, Missouri or Ohio have that kind of authority over county property, according to officials in the four other Midwestern states where counties elect chief executives.

    “Asked in a brief interview why he needs this power when comparable officials don’t have it, Abele responded, “Many of them do,” citing the governor’s control over state property. An Abele spokeswoman did not respond to a follow-up question seeking other local government examples.”

    So Abele’s SOLE model for his monumental power grab, in the entire Midwest, is Gov. Scott Walker (who Abele claims he is NOT like). Except that Walker has nowhere near Abele’s close-to-unilateral power over property, including the zoo, airport, thousands of acres of land not in named parks, and any non-park building. State government in Wisconsin has many checks and balances for liquidating state property, including legislative approval. The Department of Natural Resources conducts a thorough review of every DNR-controlled land considered for sale. A completely transparent, online public-input process allows comment about potential sales. That has resulted in many parcels being removed from consideration, including potential sweetheart deals with Walker cronies. There are no such checks on Abele’s power to execute crony property deals and no-bid contracts.

    http://www.jsonline.com/news/statepolitics/dnrs-plan-to-sell-surplus-lands-avoids-controversial-parcels-b99672875z1-369599551.html

    Even what Abele claims is a “check” on his power, by the elected county comptroller, is a sham. The comptroller can only RUBBERSTAMP an Abele deal–not prevent one. A hand-picked “real estate professional” from the municipality where the property is located can trump any objection by the comptroller. Abele will always be able to get an “ace-in-the-hole” backup signer for any deal to give him cover.

    Milwaukee County now operates like Russia, where oligarchs set up sham procedures for their corrupt acquisition of public assets. Abele and his state GOP enablers apparently think Democracy is SO over-rated. But we do still have the ballot.

  30. Paul Miller says:

    I’m a bit late to the comments here, but I am wondering why there has been no discussion of the effects of the Presidential primaries and how they will drive turnout and affect (or not affect) this County Exec race. Assuming that more people turn out to vote because of the interest in the Presidential primaries, what is the impact?

    Among Dems, even though Clinton looks like she is locking up the nomination, there is still that burst of energy among Bernie fans who (I assume) would be more likely to vote for Larson–and many of them are new voters and who might not ordinarily vote in local elections.

    On the GOP side, there’s the whole Trump saga versus the anti-Trump folks. GOP turnout has been very high around the country in the primaries this year. Will that translate into more votes for Abele (as conservatives try to choose the “lesser of two evils” for County Exec) or will a lot of those voters leave that part of their ballots blank? I have this feeling that the Trump surge is going to pull in a lot of those angry suburban white people–the ones who love people like Clarke and Donovan but maybe weren’t big voters previously. Are those new Trump voters people who will vote for Abele, or are they uninformed enough not to have a preference.

    I’d love to hear some good analysis on all of that. It’s not an ordinary year, and I assume that has to have implications for the local elections.

  31. Observer says:

    The Lena Taylor “meds” kerfuffle is giving us a bipartisan popcorn opportunity. Today’s latest: http://www.jsonline.com/blogs/news/373750851.html

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