Graham Kilmer

Chris Abele Won’t Seek Reelection

County executive reverses course in surprise announcement, won't run for reelection.

By - Oct 16th, 2019 04:05 pm
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Chris Abele. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Chris Abele. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele announced Wednesday he will not seek reelection.

The news reverses Abele’s May announcement that he would seek reelection to the office he has held since 2011. Abele was running unopposed.

A spokesperson for Abele confirmed to Urban Milwaukee he is not seeking reelection and Abele soon released a statement explaining his thought process.

“Today, the time has come to make another tough decision,” Abele said in the statement. “After nine years in a job I love, I have decided not to run for reelection.

“I have approached public service just as I have approached every venture I take on – giving it my all every day, all day, leaving everything on the field. But I also believe public service is about passing the torch when we have done our best to do what you have elected us to do,” he said. 

Abele, 52, is a high-profile philanthropist and recently married Jennifer Gonda and his statement references that, noting that public service, “Required significant sacrifice, which I was honored and humbled to take on. Now – alongside my three incredibly dynamic daughters and a new marriage with a strong woman who brings life and love into every room she walks into – it is time to write our next chapter together.”

Abele recently found himself immersed in controversy for razing a historic mansion in Shorewood and building a new home to replace it. It seemed a surprise and not the sort of controversy someone running for office would want to generate.

“This announcement does not mean I am slowing down,” Abele said. “We have more to do, and we will do everything we can to walk out the door leaving Milwaukee County and its residents in a stronger place than it has ever been. 

“I will continue growing, evolving and fighting to address racial equity in Milwaukee. This is – by far – the most significant challenge we face as a community and I join many in remaining committed to not resting until it has been addressed. I will also continue working with Madison to find a necessary solution to funding our local government adequately,” he stated.

Abele, who has frequently been at odds with the Milwaukee County Board, was working closely with the board and its chair, Supervisor Theo Lipscomb, on what they dubbed a “Fair Deal” for Milwaukee County, pushing the state Legislature to either increase state aid to the county, which has been declining for years or to allow the county to levy an increased sales tax.

Abele, the son of a Boston billionaire, settled in Milwaukee years ago and became a great champion of the city and a philanthropist particularly interesting in arts groups like the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. Abele served as CEO of the Argosy Foundation for some years. In 2011, he surprised the city with his decision to run for county executive. He was first elected in 2011 in a special election (to fill the final year in Scott Walker‘s term after Walker was elected governor in 2010). Abele defeated Republican challenger Jeff Stone in that election and was then reelected in 2012 and again in 2016.

Abele relied on his personal fortune in winning election in 2016, spending more than $4 million in his victory over state Sen. Chris Larson, a fellow Democrat and former county board member who challenged Abele from the left. The race initially looked close, as Abele finished second in the primary, but he defeated Larson by 12 percentage points in the general election.

After becoming county executive Abele seemed to switch his interests from the arts to venture capitalism. He invested $10 million into a venture fund, CSA Partners LLC, which invests in Milwaukee start-ups.

Abele’s decision leaves a wide-open race for county executive as he was the only candidate running. The spring primary is just four months away, on Feb. 18 and the spring general election is April 7. Candidates for the position can start circulating nomination papers on December 1 and they are due back to the Election Commission office by January 7.

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Categories: MKE County, Politics

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