Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

The Decline of Sheriff Clarke

The weirder and crankier he gets, the more unlikely his reelection.

By - Jun 18th, 2013 10:00 am
Sheriff David Clarke

Sheriff David Clarke

There was a time when David Clarke was a rather formidable politician. As a law-and-order Democrat, he had appeal for voters in both parties. As the rare black conservative, and one who gave the media juicy quotes, he got tons of coverage. He was personally likable, and he was colorful, riding a horse and wearing his cowboy hat. Milwaukee Magazine did a fairly flattering profile about a decade ago. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel was typically sympathetic in its coverage (some reporters grumbled about this when I worked at the paper). And the TV stations seemed to love him.

But in the last year or two, Clarke seems to have gone off the deep end. Perhaps nothing is more illustrative than this Journal Sentinel headline in February: “David Clarke accuses Chris Abele of ‘penis envy’ in latest rant.”

The comment merely made Clarke look childish. And since County Executive Abele isn’t really seen as a liberal (county board members have called him “Scott Walker lite”), Clarke’s feud doesn’t play to his classic storyline, that he’s smiting those silly liberals. Perhaps worst of all, the headline dubbing this Clarke’s “latest rant” helps cement an image of him as a crackpot.

In particular, JS columnist Dan Bice is having a field day covering Clarke, with several columns noting the public money the Sheriff is spending on ads telling people to arm themselves or handle intruders by being “ruthless,” and a column about Clarke’s agreement with a crazed conservative who believes the federal government is a greater threat than terrorists.

Clarke is now accusing the Journal Sentinel of suffering from “Clarke Derangement Syndrome.” Bad move. You never pick a fight with the state’s largest newspaper, it will only hurt you. A narrative is beginning to set in, that Clarke is losing credibility in the community, as this op ed in the Biz Times suggests.

Besides Abele, Clarke has picked fights with county board members, Mayor Tom Barrett, Police Chief Ed Flynn and various other officials. Meanwhile, Clarke is taking weird stands that leave him as an island unto himself. The legislature’s proposal to bring back private bail was opposed by everyone in the criminal justice system, including the Wisconsin District Attorneys Association, Wisconsin Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys, all 47 Milwaukee County judges and all 10 of the state’s chief circuit judges, not to mention the Wisconsin Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs Association, police chiefs and clerks of court. Only Clarke has publicly favored it.

And what exactly is the record Clarke has to run on for reelection in 2014? His opponents can note his department does little to combat serious crime, handling just one-fifth of one percent of all major property and violent crimes in the county, as I’ve reported.

As an administrator, he looks suspect: the County board voted overwhelmingly for and Abele signed a measure to remove Clarke as manager of the House of Correction because they felt he was doing a poor job. When you combine that with the fact that he’s been spending a lot of time in California pursuing a graduate degree, he’s vulnerable to the charge that he’s not on top of the job.

Nor does he look like a careful manager of the taxpayers’ money. The Sheriff Department’s budget had risen 61 percent over the last decade, far faster than any other county department. Yet he’s still had overruns on his budget due to overtime costs.

Finally, there’s the fact that he’s spent $19,000 in taxpayer money on ads, mostly telling people to arm themselves or to “be ruthless” in defending themselves. Much of spending was on WISN radio, where he’s served as a guest host, which raises the issue of a conflict of interest. And regardless of the message in any of the ads, all have served to promote the name of David Clarke. Voters may not want to foot the bill for that.

All told, there is no shortage of issues for an opponent running against Clarke. Should he decide to run for reelection (and his increasingly erratic behavior makes you wonder), Clarke could face a number of opponents who smell blood in the water.

The Buzz

-Dan Bice’s latest column considers the mystery of why Gwen Moore, the Democratic congresswoman from Milwaukee, bucked her party to support a bill “that would help big banks by exempting them from U.S. regulations when they trade derivatives through foreign subsidiaries.”

Moore’s decision contrasts sharply to Rep. Maxine Waters, also an African American representing a district (in Los Angeles) that has traditionally had a lot of poverty. Waters, as a profile in the New York Times noted, has become more sympathetic to bankers since becoming the ranking Democrat on the Financial Services Committee. Even so, she urged her colleagues to vote against the bill Moore supported.

Years ago, as a state legislator, Moore also supported the infamous CAPCO bill that was supposed to bring jobs to Wisconsin but mostly gave handouts to financial companies. Is there a pattern here?

-Abortion opponent and state Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) offered a truly classic quote on the floor of the senate last week, saying abortion “became popular in the ’60s and it was almost the thing to do. You needed to get one of them to be a woman.”  No, I’m not making this up.

-For those readers who might have missed this, Urban Milwaukee now runs the weekly column by veteran state capitol reporter Steve Walters, who works these days for Wisconsin Eye, which provides “gavel-to-gavel, unedited coverage of state proceedings.” Walter may know as much about state government as any reporter in Wisconsin. His latest column is an insider’s take on the Democrats desperate search for a candidate to oppose Scott Walker.

Categories: Murphy's Law

23 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: The Decline of Sheriff Clarke”

  1. Paul Kosidowski says:

    Say what you will about Sheriff Clarke, but all those gratuitously tricked out SUVs and blazing sirens on the lakefront Sure Are Purdy.

  2. Michael P. says:

    I don’t believe Clarke will run for reelection. I think he will parlay this hype into some media contract with WISN or even larger outlet. He’s thinking about himself.

  3. Dean Deardurff says:

    I guess I’m considered to be an outsider, being from Indiana. I’ve been in Milwaukee for 5 years now. Four years ago, I became a gun owner and carrier. Your headline is the only thing I’ve read in the article. It’s because of people, such as yourself, is why I became a gun owner. I consider you to be a danger to this country and why it as degraded to where it is today.
    Thank you Bruce

  4. The Danimal says:

    Nice grammar there, Dean. I’m glad your little pew-pew makes you feel safe. Thanks for letting us know that you don’t even bother to read, though I have no clue what your point is. Journalists have “degraded” America? Maybe turn down the O2 supply there, buddy…

  5. dohnal(Wis. Conservtive Digest says:

    The Left lives in such a dream world, David is riding high around this country, not with the left but with all normal people. In Milwaukee he has 70% approval and out state 85%. Only nutcase Leftists hate him cause he advises people to learn how to defend themselves and get a gun if necessary.
    Look at this farce at Potawatomi. A known felon, comes in with gun, security guards with out guns hide under table when shooting starts and then unarmed citizens have to grab guy while the employees stand stupidly by and watch. I will never go down there unless I can carry my gun.
    When ever I go into Milwaukee I carry a gun as our raptourous friend Ed Flynn and who is your Mayor again, cannot contain the crime. They should look to Houston to see how they do it and even NY. Has he, Barrett, a new job yet??? He hates his job so much he has spent most of the last ten year trying to get another and now he wants to be judge, where his personality fits.

  6. Dohnal(Wis. Conservtive Digest says:

    I hate to tell you but you cannot possibly best him. Not only the democrats in this county, especially on the south side love him like they did Seraphim, the inner city people like him, but best of all all of the Conservatives can cross over and vote for him this time as there will not be any primaries next time.
    So put up that sissyfied left winger for sheriff and watch us wipe him off face of earth.

  7. East Slider says:

    I’ve been SLIGHTLY put off by some of Clarke’s tactics over the last couple of years, like the wrangling over not wanting to turn over control of the House of Correction, etc. but I’ll still take Clarke any day over some of the goofs and do-nothings he’s been tussling with lately. I wish he and Abele could put their differences aside and maybe them having the common foe of the Milw County Board (who have made themselves into the most ridiculous elected board in the history of elected boards!) will help, but other than Abele, who I also like and appreciate, look who he’s tussling with-a bunch of total goons! Tom (still hiding under my desk) Barrett, who’s managed to do basically nothing in the many years he’s had in office-other than LOSE two governor’s races! Ed Flynn, the chief that spends an amazing amount of time kissing Barrett’s butt and doing his bidding, unless of course he’s off in DC treating US Senators like some ex-con he just arrested again, the county board-no comment needed there!

    Your wishful thinking about Clarke being defeated in his next election reminds me of the anti-Walker crowd, circa late 2011-all fired up (at least among themselves, no one else) and ready to go, but they totally forgot the most important part-who’s your candidate going to be? In this case, who’s it going to be? Name some name here! (and no, Chris Moews or Mews or Mewes or whatever it is doesn’t count-real heavyweight there!)

  8. dohnal(Wis. Conservtive Digest says:

    Bruce, you conveniently forgot to mention that Clarke took over the mess in the Correction facility and fixed it up after the Leftists made the mess. Then, of course, he has been just too hard on those poor rapists, robbers, burglars, drug dealers, so the Left took it back so they can baby the poor dears.
    No wonder we have worse crime than Houston, with it’s 60 gun stores and well armed populace. Houston is 5 times the size of Milwaukee and has the same number of murders.

  9. Nicholas says:

    “The five year trend in Houston is positive. Crime has been going down from 295 murders in 2008 to 217 in 2012; from 750 rapes to 665; robberies are down by more than one thousand; and aggravated assaults are down by 1,700.”

    Houston had almost 200 more homicides than Milwaukee in 2012…

  10. Patrick says:

    “The Decline of Sheriff Clarke”? What are you talking about? You’re making something out of nothing. What has he done wrong exactly? So far the only evidence everyone brings up is his deputies saying he’s an ass. That doesn’t mean he’s not a good sheriff. That usually means the job isn’t as cushy as it once was before his tenure.

  11. Nicholas says:

    Excuse me for my glaring mathmatical error above.

    The FBI Uniform Crime Reports backs me up.

    Houston had 198 homicides in 2011 and 217 in 2012
    Milwaukee had 86 in 2011 and 91 in 2012.

  12. Nicholas says:

    What exactly DOES the MCSO do to fight violent crime in MKE county?

    It is a glorified highway patrol

  13. Dohnal(Wis. Conservtive Digest says:

    I have seen different figures but Houston area is 5 times size of Milwaukee metro. Your record shows that Houston is roughly double. NY has done extremely well, following Giulaini’s lead.
    Our guys spend too much time talking about eliminating emi autp guns that we have used in this state for over 150 years. Only 3 shootings last year with semi auto rifles.

  14. dohnal(Wis. Conservtive Digest says:

    The deputies hated Artison and anyone that is not a oood old boy like Lev. Clarke advises people correctly to protect themselves cause you can’t depend on MPD to do it.

  15. Clarke's a mess says:

    Clarke’s a lazy mess, as sad as that makes the Wis. Conservative Digest. Hey, how’s Walker doing? Is he back from China yet?? He’s still created less jobs than Minnesota. Snap to it Walker before you embarrass yourself like Clarke

  16. Bruce Murphy says:

    To Bob Dohnal: I think an opponent could run to the right of Clarke as a true fiscal conservative who would pledge to stop jacking up the budget of the sheriff’s budget as Clarke has for more than a decade. And crime really isn’t an issue because the sheriff doesn’t handle it, that’s handled by the various police chiefs in the county. The Sheriff is mostly an administrator who runs the jail and House of Correction and a traffic cop patrolling the xways. A better administrator, whatever his ideology, could be a very strong opponent, but it would have to be someone who could educate the public as the true duties of the sheriff. Perhaps the Wisconsin Conservative Digest would like to join me in educating the citizenry as to what the department actually does.

  17. Dohnal(Wis. Conservtive Digest says:

    Bruce, good luck with that idea, you should run. I can deliver 100,000 conservative votes for David next time, match that. As far as administrator, he fixed the house of correction. We should have stayed with the boot camp idea. When he took over the House it was a mess. He fixed it. can hardly wait to see what this tenderfoot does.
    Besides, he really looks good on his horse. I bet that the new guy looks more like a dweeb on a horse. Can he drive a motorcycle?

  18. duncan says:

    I’m a moderate .. I’ve voted for Clarke in the past. I won’t be voting for him in the future due to his antics this past year.

    Bruce – Thanks for the heads up on Steven Walter’s writing. His column was a must-read in the Crossroad section every Sunday .. looks like the JS discontinued that, sadly.

  19. Steve says:

    I won’t be voting for Clarke again, that’s for sure. The guy has gone off the edge.

    Certain people from WCD who clearly have had a nerve touched by this article yet cannot make a valid point against the points Bruce makes are NOT helping Clarke’s case either, in my opinion.

  20. Jesse H. says:

    I’ve also voted for Clarke in the past & met him many years ago, he struck me as actually trying to make his department relevent.

    Over the last year he’s turned himself into a sideshow, he’s lost my vote for good.

  21. Stacy Moss says:

    I am flabbergasted the defenders of Clarke here say nothing about the points made in the article they are commenting on.

    Why isn’t Clarke’s out-of-bounds behavior and judgement a concern for his supporters?

    Is there an alternative universe where gravity is reversed and actions of public officials don’t matter?

  22. dohnal(Wis. Conservtive Digest says:

    What behavior are you talking about? His great radio ads? His successful take over of the House of Correction from the last Leftist that ran it? His comments of the Left wing judges and DA that let the gun wielding criminals go?

  23. Bruce Thompson says:

    I too voted for Clarke when he first ran. But even then I wondered if he knew what the Sheriff’s department did. He seemed to have some great ideas (I recall him pushing community policing) but they seemed to fit much more with the role of the police department.
    Recently he has simply become a flake.

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