Five Takeaways from Yesterday’s Election
The race for Terry Witkowski's seat had surprises -- and key lessons.
Scott Spiker and Patty Doherty were the top two vote-getters in a special election primary held Tuesday for an open Common Council seat. The two will face off in an August 13th special election.
The two candidates emerged from a field of seven vying to replace the recently retired Alderman Terry Witkowski.
Spiker secured 44.46 percent of the vote, with Doherty earning 24.74 Patricia Torres Najera came in third with 15.47 percent of the vote.
What do the results tell us:
1. Working for the Common Council Helps For Once
The conventional wisdom has been that working for the Common Council is a bad way to win an election to the Common Council. A number of legislative aides have run and lost, but this time it worked for not one, but two candidates.
Spiker was Witkowski’s aide and Doherty is Ald. Robert Donovan‘s longtime aide. Whoever wins in the general election won’t need help finding their way around City Hall.
2. Chris Abele Swings and Misses
Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele‘s Leadership MKE independent expenditure fund spent approximately $32,000 backing the campaign of Torres Najera.
But beyond a whole lot of campaign mailers now headed for the recycling bin, there isn’t anything to show for that effort. Torres Najera finished third despite the heavy spending.
Abele’s track record in backing candidates has been mixed in recent years, perhaps owning to how many races he’s waded into.
The millionaire philanthropist and investor backed Richard Schmidt over Earnell Lucas for sheriff and lost. He backed James Davies over Steven Shea and lost. He also failed to oust county board chair Theo Lipscomb Sr., but now the two are prominent partners on the Fair Deal initiative.
He’s also racked up a number of big wins, not the least of which was his re-election. Other wins: he backed the election of Satya Rhodes-Conway as Madison mayor and defeated Steve Taylor and Peggy West‘s re-election bids, backing their challengers Patti Logsdon and Sylvia Ortiz-Velez.
3. Some “Chicago-Style” Politics Didn’t Hurt
Torres Najera wasn’t the only candidate to appear in lots of mailboxes.
Spiker benefited from his time spent as Witkowski’s aide. The then-legislative aide and his family appeared in mailers sent out by Witkowski prior to his surprise resignation.
At least two political insiders compared Witkowski’s inclusion of Spiker’s whole family to Chicago politics.
Spiker filed to run for the seat before Witkowski stepped down.
4. Name Recognition Doesn’t Always Help
The best-known candidate in the race had to be former State Rep. Josh Zepnick who voters sent to Madison eight times between 2002 and 2016. But Zepnick’s name recognition didn’t help Tuesday, with the candidate securing an astoundingly low total of just 72 votes (good for sixth place).
Zepnick was undoubtedly challenged by a number of factors. First and foremost, the 2015 accusations by two women against him. Zepnick has since given up drinking and apologized for his behavior.
But a handful of other factors weren’t in his favor, including the fact that only a small sliver of his one-time assembly district lined up with the council’s 13th district. He also ran for a different council seat in 2016 and came in third behind Bob Donovan and Justin Bielinski.
5. Multiple Runs for Office Are Tricky
Unfortunately for Torres Najera, she’s now lost two close elections.
The City Plan Commission chair ran for an open seat on the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors in 2016, advancing out of the primary before losing to Dan Sebring in the general election.
Torres Najera should talk to Alderman Cavalier Johnson for inspiration. Johnson ran, and lost, in multiple County Board elections before winning his seat on the Common Council in 2016.
Vote Totals from the City of Milwaukee Election Commission
- Scott P. Spiker – 1,357 votes, 44.46 percent
- Patty Doherty – 755 votes, 24.74 percent
- Patricia Torres Najera – 472 votes, 15.47 percent
- James Krickeberg – 266 votes, 8.72 percent
- Jacob A. Krieg – 114 votes, 3.74 percent
- Josh Zepnick – 72 votes, 2.36 percent
- Walt Love – 14 votes, 46 percent
- Write-In – 2 votes, .07 percent
- Registered Voters – 20,837
- Ballots Cast – 3,055 (14.66 percent turnout)
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Political Contributions Tracker
Displaying political contributions between people mentioned in this story. Learn more.
- September 17, 2019 - Cavalier Johnson received $200 from Terry Witkowski
- June 18, 2019 - Patty Doherty received $100 from Mark Borkowski
- June 17, 2019 - Patricia Najera received $794 from Chris Abele
- June 13, 2019 - Patty Doherty received $700 from Robert Donovan
- February 13, 2017 - Cavalier Johnson received $834 from Chris Abele
- January 28, 2016 - Josh Zepnick received $750 from Chris Abele
- October 28, 2015 - Terry Witkowski received $50 from Josh Zepnick
- October 8, 2015 - Cavalier Johnson received $50 from Terry Witkowski
- September 15, 2015 - Terry Witkowski received $200 from Tim Carpenter
- September 15, 2015 - Terry Witkowski received $100 from Scott Spiker
- September 8, 2015 - Robert Donovan received $50 from Mark Borkowski
- July 1, 2015 - Robert Donovan received $20 from Patti Logsdon
- June 16, 2015 - Josh Zepnick received $296 from Terry Witkowski
- March 30, 2015 - Josh Zepnick received $50 from Tim Carpenter
- March 30, 2015 - Josh Zepnick received $100 from Terry Witkowski
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