Graham Kilmer
MKE County

County Exec Race Upended

State Election Commission disqualifies Kennedy and Sullivan. Abele's $6,000 donation wasted?

By - Jan 21st, 2020 06:45 pm
Theo Lipscomb, Jim Sullivan and Bryan Kennedy. Images from the candidates.

Theo Lipscomb, Jim Sullivan and Bryan Kennedy. Images from the candidates.

The Wisconsin Election Commission announced Tuesday that they removed two candidates for Milwaukee County Executive from both the February primary and April general election ballots.

Jim Sullivan, Director of Child Support Services, and Bryan Kennedy, Mayor of Glendale, will not be on the ballot. The two were removed from the ballot because they violated state election law when they used the same person to collect nomination signatures for their campaigns, someone who had previously collected signatures for another county executive candidate, state Rep. David Crowley, according to the Wisconsin Election Commission (WEC).

The issue was first raised with the Milwaukee County Election Commission by County Board Chairman Theo Lipscomb, who is also running for County Executive. Lipscomb told Urban Milwaukee he was made aware of the overlapping nomination circulators by his father who noticed the irregularities after looking through nomination papers. 

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel was the first to report that a complaint was filed with the Milwaukee County Election Commission, seeking invalidation of a number of signatures for both Sullivan and Kennedy. Ultimately, the Milwaukee County Election Commission had to dismiss the complaint because of a tie vote. Commissioner Tim Posnanski voted against invalidating the signatures and Commissioner Rick Baas voted in favor.

In a statement the WEC said, “the Milwaukee County Election Commission did not comply with the election laws when it accepted signatures on nomination papers,” for Sullivan and Kennedy.

This all started when the two candidates subcontracted, unbeknownst to them, the circulation of their petitions for candidacy to the same person. As the Journal Sentinel reported, both candidates paid Simon Warren, a community organizer and owner of Sweet Black Coffee, to circulate petitions. Warren, in turn, used the same people to circulate the petitions as were used by Crowley. 

As a result, so many of Kennedy and Sullivan’s nomination signatures were invalidated that neither legally reached the threshold of 2,000 signatures that are required to be on the ballot. In a statement, Sullivan said he plans to appeal the decision by the WEC in Milwaukee County Circuit Court. Kennedy could not be reached for comment.

Sullivan said he was “disappointed by the staff level decision made by the Wisconsin Election Commission.” He also attacked Lipscomb saying: “He doesn’t want to put his track record on the county board up against two better-qualified candidates, so he seeks a process-based disqualification.”

Lipscomb told Urban Milwaukee, “I wasn’t afraid to do it in my own name. I’m proud to stand up for the rule of law.” He also said of the WEC decision, “Obviously I think that they came to the right decision.” Lipscomb added that he appealed the Milwaukee County Election Commission decision because he thought state statutes plainly showed that Kennedy and Sullivan’s nomination signatures were not valid. He also took a shot at Sullivan and Kennedy for their error saying, “That’s why you tend to rely on real supporters” to collect nomination signatures.

The decision to remove Kennedy and Sullivan from the ballot, it if stands, is great news for all the other candidates, who will have less competition. Moreover, Kennedy was a big fundraiser, having raised more than $58,000 for his campaign since the beginning of November. And Sullivan had already received the backing of County Executive Chris Abele. On the day Sullivan announced his candidacy, Abele donated $6,000 to Sullivan’s campaign, the state statutory limit for the contributor in the county executive’s race. Abele has also spent heavily through third party spending in the past and might have decided to do so for Sullivan.

Lipscomb is probably the biggest winner here as his county supervisor district’s North Shore base overlapped that of Kennedy’s Glendale base.

Candidates remaining on the ballot including Crowley, Lipscomb, Chris Larson and Purnima Nath.

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Categories: MKE County, Politics

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