Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Why Bob Donovan Can’t Beat Barrett

No alderman will back him. Why he’s so disliked -- and so certain to lose.

By - Aug 21st, 2014 10:30 am

This week brought us another outburst from Ald. Bob Donovan, condemning Mayor Tom Barrett for not putting enough officers on the street. This won him a slap down from Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn, who has called Donovan “a demagogue,” along with a droll tweet from Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Don Walker, who covers City Hall. “Ald. Bob Donovan is mad as hell and isn’t going to take it any more,” Walker tweeted.

Ald. Robert Donovan

Ald. Robert Donovan

Bob Donovan is the Rodney Dangerfield of the Milwaukee Common Council. His colorful style wins him coverage, but few take him seriously. He can’t get no respect.

Why can’t Donovan win a race for mayor? Let us count the reasons. For starters, no alderman has won a campaign for mayor since the election of 1910, when Emil Seidel was elected heading up a Socialist wave that was historically unique. His fellow socialist Daniel Hoan later won after serving as city attorney, which gave him a city-wide base to run for mayor, while Henry Maier and John Norquist were state senators and Barrett a congressman — all had a much larger electoral base than an aldermanic district.

Donovan also has no money. Barrett now has $454,461 in campaign funds or 29 times more the $15,497 Donovan has. Donovan can expect to get some money from Republican-leaning individuals and groups who’d favor anyone who attacks Barrett, which Donovan does routinely. But he won’t get anywhere near enough money to level the playing field.

Donovan is also unlikely to gain many volunteers to support him. Why? Because there is probably no one on the Common Council who will support Donovan.

I asked liberal downtown Ald. Bob Bauman if he would support Donovan. “Doubtful,” he answered. Would any of your colleagues support him? I asked. “Doubtful.”

Ald. Joe Dudzik

Ald. Joe Dudzik

Southwest side Ald. Joe Dudzik, who is closer to Donovan on the issues than any alderman (Dudzik says he typically votes in agreement with Donovan “95 percent of the time”) considers it unlikely any Common Council member would support Donovan. Far South Side alderman Terry Witkowski, agreed, calling Donovan “noisy but ineffective.”

Dudzik and Donovan had once been seen as allies, but they had a falling out over redistricting back in 2011. Donovan also annoyed Dudzik and other council members by barnstorming in their districts on the issue of crime, trying to win political points at the expense of his colleagues.

“He didn’t go into central city districts (where crime is higher),” Dudzik notes. “He went into districts like mine where he felt comfortable. I don’t think an alderman should stick his nose in my district. Bob is for Bob.”

Donovan’s big advantage is supposed to be his likely support from the police union. In fact, it’s a sign of how little clout the union has these days.

Dudzik remembers the power the union had decades ago, back when his father Jerome Dudzik ran it. “The Milwaukee Police Union had more clout in those days than the state teachers union,” he contends.

The police union still has clout with Republican legislators, who gave members their dream by eliminating the city residency requirement. But on city issues the union is seen by many council members as a group that’s out to undermine the city.

Ald. Terry Witkowski

Ald. Terry Witkowski

The alderman who should be most supportive is Dudzik, as his district has long been where the most police and fire fighters reside. He estimates that fully 25 percent of all city employees live in his district. He says he is strongly supportive of police and fire fighters — but not their union. “We (council members) have lost all respect for some of the union leaders,” Dudzik says. “The difference is stark from the old days.”

The other district that in the past would have been solidly behind the union is Witkowski’s. Not any more. “The police union is not for the public good,” he says. “The union is for pay, for benefits, for less work to do.”

To gauge how far the fire and police unions have fallen consider the fact that they have targeted both Witkowski and Dudzik for defeat — and lost badly. Former police union president Bradley DeBraska ran against Witkowski and lost. “I won every ward,” Witkowski recalls.

The police and fire unions both supported Dudzik’s opponent in the last race. “I won by a two-to-one margin,” Dudzik notes.

“The unions do not have the clout they once had,” Witkowski says. “I think every alderman holds that view.”

And their influence is likely to decline further as their members abandon the city. Dudzik says he can see the impact in his district, as police and fire fighters and other city employees move to the suburbs. “It’s having a negative effect on home prices, loss of students at schools, a fall off in volunteers at churches and civic groups.”

The decline of union power has occurred over a period of years, and is a result of many factors, but perhaps the biggest is the budget situation the city faces. As state shared revenue has continued to decline, the budget for the police and fire departments now is equal to the city’s entire tax levy, and about two-thirds of the entire budget (counting state and federal funds that help support the city).

This greatly constrains any spending the city can do. And the city faces state caps on what it can tax and spend, and gets punished, with cuts in shared revenue through the state Expenditure Restraint Program, if spending goes higher than in other municipalities. The situation has largely melted away the old divide between fiscal liberals and conservatives on the council. Every member sees the huge impact of the public safety budget, and realizes you have to find any possible efficiencies. Every member, that is, except Donovan.

“When we can do it, I’ve always supported more police officers,” Dudzik says. “I just don’t know where we get the money from.”

Donovan, says Witkowski, “fails to deal with reality. Finances are not important to him. Basically, what you hear him spouting is from the police union.”

Not surprisingly, when Donovan announced his run for mayor, police union president Michael Crivello hailed the news. “It’s exciting — and telling — that members of the council are willing to challenge the current mayor,” he declared.

It certainly is telling. It shows how isolated Donovan and the union are from any other city officials. The two districts Donovan would need to run up big totals in a race against Barrett are those of Dudzik and Witkowski, neither of whom will support the alderman. Witkowski predicts Donovan won’t be able to carry either district.

“Through the years I’ve had some of my constituents say, ‘oh, you oughta be more like Donovan,’” Witkowski says. “My response is, ‘oh, you don’t want me to be effective?’”

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Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

24 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Why Bob Donovan Can’t Beat Barrett”

  1. Patty Thompson says:

    Donovan does everything through sarcasm and negativity. The voters of Milwaukee won’t buy into that.

  2. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Anyone that dares to criticize the Left wing establishment that has ruined Milwaukee: worst schools, worst crime, worst management, worst poverty, worst youth unemployment, abandoned house, corruption, incompetence, scaring business into Waukesha, will get crucified. As long as the Left wing gang is not affected, just the black kids killing black kids they do not care. They are worried about a trolley and Arena.
    The people have spoken and they have buried the Left with David Clarke. if the whole population had voted Clarke would have gotten 70%.

  3. PMD says:

    What are conservatives in Milwaukee doing about the prevalence of shootings in Milwaukee? And I mean outside of Donovan issuing press releases calling for more cops, and certain people posting the exact same anti-Barrett/Abele/Flynn/Chisholm comments over and over and over again. Those don’t count.

  4. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    We do not have any power, all we can do is expose the idiocy of the Left. I have for 50 years been critiquing Milwaukee policy and working with our cities and improving what they do. We do not have the problems n WA or Tosa for many reasons but one is a very active and demanding citiizenry, which the Left buries in Milwaukee. When we had some problems with the stupid school board we tossed them out asap 4-1. The Left just accepts them in Milwaukee until they spill over into Fox Point. The Left in Milwaukee has become corrupt with power and have inept leaders. WE would never accept the quality of schools that you have in MPS. I worked with Sensenbrenner to form Chapert 220. It works. I also worked on CHOICE, it works. Nothing happens with MPS. thornton was a good super but Barrett, the Left and the Union foiled everything he wanted to do so he left.

  5. PMD says:

    So you’re telling me that outside of Donovan’s press releases and comments posted on web sites, conservatives are doing nothing whatsoever? Anyone can be a blowhard in a press release or in the comments section.

  6. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    PMD blow it out your butt you never say anything of value, never attack a problem or propose a solution to the big problems of Milw.

  7. PMD says:

    It was an honest question. You are constantly blaming Barrett/Flynn/Abele/Chisholm for every major problem in Milwaukee, and you constantly make sweeping statements about how the left doesn’t care at all about black kids or the people being shot in the city. So what is the right doing about it, outside of press releases and comments on the web? I’d like to know.

  8. Andy says:

    PMD, other than the private efforts of individuals through philanthropy and volunteering personal time to non-profit organizations, the only thing in conservatives hands are things that can be affected from outside city government. Here are three examples:

    Because of ACT10, MPS has saved tens of millions of dollars.
    Created and support school choice to give parents and students better options
    Eliminated residency requirements to make it easier to recruit top education and police talent

    Agree with those or not, those are some steps they’ve taken. It’s hard though when you’re not actually part of the leadership of a city…

  9. PMD says:

    I’m not saying it’s easy when you don’t have positions of power, but that’s not an excuse to do nothing. I agree that those things have been done, but I don’t believe they have made anything better for the population WCD is talking about. I also don’t think school choice was created to help the people he is talking about.

  10. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    They are in charge, we are not. We cannot do anything but suggest policy and critique the mess that you have all made.
    In 1974 we suggested that MPS be broken up, we have pushed the changes made in NY by Giuliani/Bloomberg as the crime wave goes on. We have criticized the business stands of Milwaukee preventing Wal-Mart and other to come in and the effect on business by SEIU and Palermos.
    Left creates problems cannot solve but they whine and blame everyone else or confront Conservatives and tries to change subject. You are in charge do something or prepare to be roasted.

  11. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Save my time. left creates problems, whines, talks around it sounds stupid, problems get worse. Sayonara, babble to yourself send welcome card to Detroit.

  12. PMD says:

    Pot, meet kettle. You are guilty of exactly what you accuse others of. You never propose policy here. You whine and blame Flynn/Barrett/Abele/Chisholm.

  13. David says:

    Andy: School Choice in Milwaukee was implemented through the efforts of Polly Williams, a democrat and further supported by Mayor Norquist, a Democrat. Act 10 will eventually save MPS money, but it’s not an outcomes based program. No one believes it will improve education, just reduce costs. That’s not a bad thing though. Also, Act 10 left out police and fire, by far Milwaukee’s biggest expenses. Walker left them out for votes. No poilitical courage. He also gave them a gift, he lifted the residency requirement. Do you really think that the problem with MPS is bad teachers? And do you really think MPD and MFD can’t recruit people?

    WCD likes to blame everything on the left, but the truth of the matter is that Milwaukee must deal with social problems that no other community in the county and Waukesha has to confront. It’s no accicent that our suburbs and bedroom communities are 97% white.

  14. Truby Cole says:

    And if Barrett’s long overdue thank you from the Hope and Change Administration (for early endorsement of The One Who Will Heal The Seas) means he is appointed Federal Judge close to the actual election, or, IDK, lets say he collapses again at the Ice Center… maybe Donovan would win. I’d rather have a blowhard posturing and drawing attention to the severity of the crime problem than… IDK, is Barrett actually a life form, or some kind of animated jello?

  15. David says:

    WCD: A good defense is a good offense. You’re a lot like Ali, just cover up and let the left just punch themselves out. Why do anything when you can sit back and cherry pick? Right? Most people that live and work in Milwaukee are moderate – they’ll listen to both sides.

    Schools – I agree WCD. We need neighborhood schools and we need to abolish the Milw School Board – Moderate stance

    Crime – The key is to get juveniles that show a pattern of escalading criminal behavior off the streets. Not just juvenile detention, but something that instills discipline, structure and purpose. They become the 20 somethings that murder. The drug gangs wouldn’t know what to do without the young kids they rely upon.

    Drugs – Legalize. However it would have to be a nationwide effort. This is a far left and right stance.

    Extend Act 10 to Police and Fire. This should be something WCD agrees with as well.

    WCD: This is all a game to you, but the people that live and work in the city of Milwaukee really care. We don’t really care about left or right. We know you’re a mouthpiece for the right. A failing Milwaukee means more votes for your side. PS. No one babbles more than the right.

  16. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Game my ass. “Politics is a game for adults, all other games are for children”, but it really life and problems must be solved. This is my 50th year working on policy and have had big effect on elections and policy during that time.
    Have written political columns in every major news media in this country and have been well accepted. I choose to criticize the problems that the left and many GOP has gotten us into but I always propose solutions. Just got back from meet with Paul Ryan on poverty.
    Act 10 to police and fire will not happen. No one can cover a strike of both.
    Crime: Solutions are there in many cities. NY rescued aggravated assaults by 80%. look at other cites that followed.
    Drugs: I have been pharmacist all my life. have counseled, been on too many committees, have read history and realize that there is not a good answer but legalizing has been done to very bad effects.
    Education: Tech schools are badly run , need new governing body as Grothman worked for. Big school districts are and have been disasters. UW is pork barreled to death.

  17. Matt says:

    And he’s a Republican. Why won’t anyone ask him?

  18. PMD says:

    How did NYC do that? What did they do that Milwaukee is not doing to achieve such a large reduction in aggravated assaults? You keep referencing NYC and its crime reduction as a model, but you never say what they actually did.

  19. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    NY’s programs have been well publicized for years, it is nothing less than miracle. People ned to do their research. It is far too big to type here. They had 80% reduction in the biggest category, murder, aggravated assaults, robberies, the violent crimes. Why? Cause the small population that caused these things were stymied to let the good people live their lives. Chicago does not do that, only 6% of people that commit gun crimes go to jail. Political correctness has replaced safety. Probably about same here. Look at recent headlines. 70% increase in auto thefts. Why? Take a ride and nothing happens. Look at headlines to day. Sex traffic under our noses for years. Newspapers and police ignore. “Milwaukee is Harvard of sex crimes”. WE have taken far too many dollars from crime prevention and bought off votes. Heroin is epidemic. Cities were formed to fight fires, stop crime and have sewers. Money has been taken from those areas for al kinds of worthless programs, look at the budgets. Some cites, when faced with budget crunches laid out their priorities and funded them properly, then split up the rest. WE do not do that.
    Abele/Barrett/Flynn/Chisholm/kremer are in charge. Hold them responsible. The Left only whines, blames Walker and makes excuses. When the crime starts to hit them there ill be hell to pay.
    Where are our priorities: trolley, arena or crime and schools?

  20. PMD says:

    You keep telling me to do research, but you keep acting like an expert on the subject, so you must at least have some bullet points. I am not asking for a 100-page paper here. So they locked up people for gun crimes? What else?

  21. Mike Bark says:

    I think you underestimate Bob Donovan at your own risk. I mean they practically redistricted him out of a job and he still managed to get reelected by a pretty wide margin.

  22. Gary says:

    “Terry Witkowski, agreed, calling Donovan “noisy but ineffective.”
    I would like to know what Alderman Witkowski has done since he was elected. Other than renaming a neighborhood. Alderman Donovan may be noisy but at the very least he is highlighting the flaws of the current city leadership. Flaws they fail to correct.

  23. Dave Reid says:

    @WCD the police department is far and away (nothing else is remotely as expensive) the largest part of the city’s budget… i.e. it is prioritized number one.

  24. GOOD News for JOHN MC CAIN says:

    The Milwaukee Police Union, what little credibility it had under Debraska*, went away when the rank & file elected as Debraska’s replacement one of the cops who turned away the supplication of residents & let Dahmer kill, again. The hated (because, outsider, or because, “Messican”? or bit of both?) Arreola tried to axe him, but the Fire & Police Commission intervened, & once the proud father of a murderer Debraska hung it up, time was right for the Fraternal Order to make plain its contempt for those they “protect & serve”. Ever since I learned Balserczak was Union Pres, I knew the Po were a joke. A cured meat joke.

    *Never forget: Debraska’s son killed another man in a Racine barfight.

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