Michael Horne

The Other Mandela

The fundraiser for Rep. Mandela Barnes, just two days before his namesake Nelson Mandela died, had a big turnout.

By - Dec 8th, 2013 01:49 pm
Rep. Mandela Barnes gives a welcome address at his birthday party held at the Milwaukee Athletic Club. Photo by Michael Horne.

Rep. Mandela Barnes gives a welcome address at his birthday party held at the Milwaukee Athletic Club. Photo by Michael Horne.

The Milwaukee Athletic Club was the site of a birthday party fundraiser for Democratic Rep. Mandela Barnes on Tuesday, December 6th, 2013.

The 27-year old was elected to his 11th Assembly District seat in 2012, defeating incumbent Jason Fields in the primary election. The 2003 John Marshall High School graduate attended Alabama A&M University where he was a member of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity. After working in the office of Mayor Tom Barrett upon his return to Milwaukee in 2009, Barnes moved on to the Milwaukee Inner City Congregations Allied for Hope [MICAH] from which he launched his political career.

“This is the first big event I have held since being elected,” he told the 100 or so revelers in a meeting room in the second floor of the downtown club. He then announced that he is running for re-election. “I’m ready to go to 2014 with the same spirit I had in 2012,” he said. “As a public servant, you can’t forget the people. In 2014 I will be running for re-election.”

While guests supped on free pizza, and bought beverages to drink, Barnes circulated easily with well-wishers.

The guest of honor was Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who made some remarks.

Among the attendees, sitting in a table in the corner, was Marlene Ott, who just that week had been selected as new chair of the Milwaukee County Democratic Party.

Nikiya Harris, Tamara Grigsby, and Mandela Barnes. Photo by Michael Horne.

Nikiya Harris, Tamara Grigsby, and Mandela Barnes. Photo by Michael Horne.

Barnes gave a shout-out to Sen. Nikiya Harris, noting that “before she was a senator she was a county supervisor. Before she was a county supervisor, she had me doing doors,” he joked. Harris joined her predecessor Tamara Grigsby for a photo with Barnes.

The City of Milwaukee was represented by Mayor Barrett, along with aldermen Nik Kovac and Jose Perez.

Supervisor Willie Johnson Jr., Barnes’s frat brother, was in the audience as was his fellow county board member David Bowen.

Barnes also teased the audience by bringing up the name of Bryan Kennedy, who took on Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner a couple of times. Kennedy has a “new venture” planned, Barnes said. [Kennedy has not responded to a request to find out what the venture is, but since his last run he been redistricted out of Sensenbrenner’s realm.]

The party was held just days after nomination papers could be circulated for the spring elections. This meant a parade of judges and judicial hopefuls armed with clipboards.

Among them was Judge Rebecca Dallet who enjoyed a bit of facetime with the senator. Ald. Kovac happily signed her nomination papers. Rep. Fred Kessler, the assembly neighbor of Barnes, enjoyed a chat with Rev. Joseph Ellwanger.

Laura Gramling Perez has her nomination papers in a clipboard from Nation Consulting. Photo by Michael Horne.

Laura Gramling Perez has her nomination papers in a clipboard from Nation Consulting. Photo by Michael Horne.

Chief Court Commissioner Laura Gramling Perez was there with her clipboard which was labeled for safekeeping as the property of Nation Consulting, the firm which is helping her candidacy, and whose employee Sachin Chheda is the immediate past chair of the county Democratic party.

Her fellow commissioner and rival for the judgeship of Branch 32, Cedric Cornwall also was gathering signatures. Judicial candidate Janet Protasiewicz was there collecting signatures for her own run for the seat of retired Judge Charles Kahn, Jr., accompanied by her husband Greg Sell and fellow prosecutor Irene Parthum. Grace Fuhr of Historic Milwaukee, Inc. also attended the event, but had disappeared by the time the salsa dancing began, with Barnes styling on the floor.

Gary Goyke was there as a proxy for his legislator son Evan Goyke, who was otherwise engaged, as was Rep. Gwendolynne Moore, doing her stuff in Washington, D.C.

Jonathan Brostoff. Photo by Michael Horne.

Jonathan Brostoff. Photo by Michael Horne.

Jonathan Brostoff also worked the room as he prepared to announce his own candidacy for the assembly.

Atty. Mark Thomsen checked out the event, and conferred with his alderman, Nik Kovac.

Terrence and Laura Morton spent some time chatting with Sheriff candidate Chris Moews. Moews has gotten the support of Barnes, who opined that the Moews standard of policing will differ from that of Sheriff David Clarke, the nominal Democrat who holds the job now.

“Moews wants to keep the streets safe, not get more guns to keep yourself safe,” he said in a dig at the current sheriff.

Throughout the event intern Richard Batzler, a UW student from Montgomery County, Md. manned the reception desk, collecting donations and handing out the nametags that ran out long before the last guest entered the hall.

That last guest was Bishop Sedgwick Daniels, who is a member of a large family.


Two days after the event, Nelson Mandela, for whom Jesse Mandela Barnes was named, died. Barnes issued this statement:

“The spirit of Nelson Mandela will live throughout the world for an eternity.

“It wasn’t until I was a young adult that I truly realized the significance of the namesake that my parents had given me. To this day, a particular quote of Mandela’s continues gives me inspiration; ‘It always seems impossible until it’s done.’”

His twitter handle is @TheOtherMandela.

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