Michael Horne
Plenty of Horne

Milwaukeean Scores Top NYC Job

Phil Walzak, who ran campaigns for Kohl, Barrett and Abele, is now a high-paid aide and good buddy of New York Mayor de Blasio.

By - Feb 11th, 2015 06:01 pm
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Phil Walzak is now New York City Mayor de Blasio's right-hand man.

Phil Walzak is now New York City Mayor de Blasio’s right-hand man.

Phil Walzak, a Milwaukee native who managed the gubernatorial campaigns of Tom Barrett, the County Executive campaign of Chris Abele and the 2006 re-election bid of Senator Herb Kohl, among other political pursuits, was named Senior Adviser for Strategic Planning for New York Mayor Bill de Blasio last Friday, February 6th. He replaces Peter Ragone, a longtime de Blasio intimate who resigned to return to his home and family in California.

Walzak, a Marquette High School graduate and former East Side resident, had served as the Press Secretary to de Blasio since the beginning of his term in January, 2014. Previously, he had worked as the press contact during the mayor’s long-shot primary campaign to replace Michael Bloomberg, and in the general election.

Ragone earned $212,614 in the position as the mayor’s right hand man, which gives some clue to the sort of salary Walczak may pull down.

Walzak may be the right person to inherit the job as the mayor’s confidante. In addition to his campaign and administration work, Walzak seems to have created a personal bond with the New Yorker.

Last September, the New York Times reported on a spontaneous road trip the two buddies took to see the Milwaukee Brewers play in Pittsburgh during a time when the ill-fated team still had playoff hopes.

The account, entitled, “De Blasio Turns Slow Day Into Adventure,” called the excursion “part road trip, part man date.”

“It offered bonding time with Mr. Walzak, who besides his official duties wrangling reporters has emerged as a close confidant [to de Blasio]” according to reporter Michael M. Grynbaum.

“The two frequently talk baseball, with Mr. Walzak following the playoff hopes of his hometown Milwaukee Brewers. When the mayor realized the Brewers were playing in Pittsburgh on Saturday, he decided to attend if the day stayed clear, according to aides at City Hall who shared details of the trip.” The boys jumped in the van and headed to Steel City to catch the game, which the Brewers won.

“’De Blasio made a beer run in the seventh inning,’ Mr. Walzak recalled,” according to the report. The beer was Miller Lite — after all, they were watching a Milwaukee team.

Milwaukee Mayor Barrett’s Chief of Staff Pat Curley, claims some credit for the rise of Walzak. “We gave him a start,” Curley says.

Now that Walzak is in the Big Apple, has he forgotten the Cream City, and his old buddies like Nick De Palma and Nik Kovac? (And those are just the Nicks.)

No way, Walzak tells Urban Milwaukee:

“All I can say is you may take the kid out of Milwaukee, but you can never take Milwaukee out of the kid.”

Alderman to Wed

Speaking of Kovac, the Third District Alderman will marry his fiancee Grace Fuhr at a Sunday ceremony at the Best Place at the Pabst Brewery this July, Fuhr announced today. Fuhr is a former legislative assistant to Kovac, who left the job in 2011 to become Program Director at Historic Milwaukee, Inc. In 2014 she served eight months as District Director in the Milwaukee office of State Senator Chris Larson, and was Development Director of his successful re-election campaign. She has a political science degree from UW-Milwaukee.

Fuhr expects about 200 at her nuptials. A measurable percentage will be from the groom’s paternal branch of the family tree. The Catholic Kovacs produced quite a brood, apparently. Fuhr said she especially looks forward to the wedding as a chance for her family to get together. A sister was recently married in a small service in Chicago, she said, and the Fuhr / Kovac wedding will provide a opportunity for the whole clan to whoop it up in what the bride-to-be called one of the city’s greatest venues. After the wedding and honeymoon, the couple will reside in a home Kovac bought last year in Riverwest.

Run for Mayor? Run for Alderman? Do Both Together!

With few exceptions candidates are prohibited from running for more than one office at a time at the state and federal level. A recent Wisconsin exception was Paul Ryan‘s joint candidacy for Congress and the Vice Presidency, under a special exception engineered for Lyndon Johnson‘s 1960 bid. In Wisconsin, state legislators may also occupy school district, local or county board seats, which is not unheard of in rural areas.

And if you are a Milwaukee alderman and want to run for mayor, you don’t have to give up your job, according to what Curley calls a “loophole in the City Charter.”

This means that aldermen Joe Davis, Sr. and Bob Donovan, both of whom are challenging the Mayor, may also run to keep their seats on the Common Council, a provision that Curley describes as “B.S.”, using the whole spelled-out word. (Tsk, tsp, Patrick.)

This provision could produce all sorts of mischief, particularly of the financial sort.

Consider this: the maximum individual contribution that Davis is permitted to accept for his Second District aldermanic campaign is $417. For Eighth District Alderman Donovan, the individual contribution limit is $396. [The difference is due to the small variation in population between the two districts.]

But for Mayor, the maximum individual contribution is $3,000.

This leads to a number of questions. What happens if one or both of the candidates comes to his senses and realizes that his mayoral campaign has no chance? It appears the money raised could be transferred to the aldermanic account, giving the incumbents a great advantage over their rivals who lack mayoral aspirations.

In fact, it is even possible that a shrewd, calculating politician (or two) could mount a hopeless campaign for mayor simply to raise much bigger bucks with much less effort than his aldermanic rivals, then drop out of the citywide race with pockets full of campaign cash for his council run. While we do not know — yet — if this is a strategy Davis or Donovan might be considering, it does raise a concern or two.

Perhaps Justin Bielinski, a Milwaukee Public Schools teacher who has announced his candidacy to replace Donovan as alderman, should form another committee and run for mayor, too, just to keep even with Donovan.

For that matter, Barrett could run for mayor and 10th District Alderman at the same time, if he would like to squeeze his donors for an extra $395 a head. That would leave him facing Common Council President and 10th District Ald. Michael Murphy!

How about it, your honor?

“No thanks, I like my alderman,” Barrett says.

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