Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Mayor, Democrats Target Rep. Ryan Clancy

Why are they opposing incumbent Democrat? In a word, they hate him.

By - Jun 11th, 2024 10:58 am
Ryan Clancy speaks at a June 2021 press conference. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Ryan Clancy speaks at a June 2021 press conference. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Last week Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson announced he was endorsing Jarrod Anderson for State Assembly District 19 in the Democratic primary. The statement praised “Jarrod’s collaborative approach,” contrasting it to the incumbent’s approach, “that has not resonated well with many colleagues and constituents.”

Left unsaid was the name of this un-collaborative incumbent: Democrat Ryan Clancy. That’s right, Johnson, the mayor of a an overwhelmingly Democratic city, was opposing an incumbent member of the party. You could go back decades and wouldn’t see such an endorsement by a Milwaukee mayor.

Today, Milwaukee County Board chairwoman Marcelia Nicholson piled on with a nearly identical endorsement, lauding Anderson’s “collaborative leadership” while condemning the style of his opponent, without mentioning Clancy’s name.

So what prompted this remarkable attack on a fellow Democrat? Clancy opposed the Legislation hiking the sales tax that was crucial to the financial survival of the county and city. But it’s about more than the issues.

“There’s nobody more hated in the state Legislature and county government,” County Supervisor and former Democratic legislator Sheldon Wasserman tells Urban Milwaukee. “The majority of Democrats don’t want him back.”

Clancy served for four years on the county board before getting elected to the Wisconsin Assembly, so Wasserman had considerable experience trying to work with Clancy.

“Clancy doesn’t want to get along with people,” Wasserman adds. “He purposely antagonizes people and sets up fights. He bites the hand that feeds him.”

The usually mild-mannered Wasserman has reason to dislike Clancy. “He recruited, financed and ran two opponents against me,” Wasserman notes, both of whom he handily defeated in 2022 and 2024. Clancy denies he recruited them and tells Urban Milwaukee he merely supported the candidates because “Wasserman was not a particularly good county board member.”

But Wasserman’s views are shared by others.

“He’s a horrible colleague,” says Milwaukee Democratic state Rep. Daniel Riemer. “He is someone who can’t be trusted,” and will use information shared at confidential, closed caucus meetings to attack other Democrats, he explains.

“He is viewed as very divisive and vindictive,” says another veteran Assembly Democrat. “He’s toxic.”

“There was a quiet loathing of Clancy” in the county courthouse, says another county Democratic insider.

Clancy dismisses this criticism, saying “I think I’m making all the right kind of enemies.”

“Politicians whose goal is just to maintain the status quo are challenged by someone like me,” he goes on. “If people don’t want to have awkward conversations and feel bad about voting the wrong way on issues they are welcome to change their vote.”

As for Mayor Johnson’s endorsement of his opponent, Clancy charges it’s because the mayor is “beholden to corporate interests.”

When asked what those interests were, Clancy said “I look out for tenants. Some people are on the side of developers.” (The mayor’s office did not offer any comment on this to Urban Milwaukee.)

Courthouse observers say Clancy was particularly disliked by most of the Black officials, including County Executive David Crowley and Nicholson. Last year she gave a fiery speech backing the sales tax hike and declaring that Black leaders don’t need to be told by others what’s best for their constituents — seen as a direct slap against Clancy. “I have heard a lot of references to leadership, with that term almost spat out, with disparagement to a point where the language feels coded,” she declared. “It’s a trope as plain as day: a white liberal ally tosses aside leadership by black and brown people with lived experiences when their beliefs, methods or individual voices – hello – do not square with an agenda that they are advocating.”

Clancy has managed to alienate three of the top leaders in Milwaukee, including the mayor, all of whom grew up in the city’s most impoverished neighborhood, the predominantly African American 53206 ZIP code, and might not appreciate someone who grew up in Fox Point, as Clancy did, instructing them on how to best serve poor people.

Wasserman, a liberal, and Sup. Steve Taylor, one of the few conservatives on the board, both see Clancy the same way. “He’s just a grandstander,” Taylor says. “I don’t think he believes half of what comes out of his mouth. He’s just looking for attention.”

“He’s not a Democrat,” Wasserman charges. “He’s a radical. He’s a revolutionary.”

Clancy’s recent mailer to constituents says “I am proud to be part of the first socialist caucus in Madison since 1931 alongside my colleague, Representative Darrin Madison.” But Clancy also insists he’s a Democrat.

“He wants to be a Democrat when he’s running for office, because he couldn’t win as a Socialist,” Riemer says. “But then he publicly gives his voice to a video pushing people not to vote for Joe Biden for president.”

Clancy has denied this but shows up on Facebook urging people to vote “Uninstructed” in the April presidential primary.

Clancy was also part of the pro-Palestinian protesters condemning the Democratic party at the convention this past weekend, Democrats charge. Clancy says he did speak to the group, but it was part of push to change the convention’s position on Israel versus Hamas.

In the April race to fill his old county board seat, Clancy backed socialist Ron Jansen, while Jack Eckblad was supported by a long list of Democrats: state representatives Christine Sinicki, Sylvia Ortiz-Velez and Evan Goyke (now the City Attorney) county Register of Deeds Israel Ramón, aldermen Scott Spiker and Jonathan Brostoff, Nicholson and fellow supervisors Shawn Rolland, Peter Burgelis and Liz Sumner (now county comptroller). Former Supervisor Jason Haas, insiders say, worked as hard Eckblad himself, because Haas so dislikes Clancy.

Clancy has also won the enmity of attorney and Wisconsin Elections Commission member Ann Jacobs in a controversy that erupted last fall. Jacobs objected to Clancy’s provocative Facebook post after the Hamas attack on Israel and did her own FB post asking “What actual democrat will primary this SOB? Because I will max out. I will host fundraisers. I will not stand for someone who endorses this terrible event.”

Clancy believes Jacobs recruited his opponent. Jacobs denies this.

But Clancy’s problem goes far beyond the opposition of Jacobs. He’s a Socialist running in a Democratic primary with no backing from the party’s politicians or leaders. Clancy himself says he expects there will be significant money spent to defeat him.

“I think his days are numbered,” says Wasserman.

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Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

9 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Mayor, Democrats Target Rep. Ryan Clancy”

  1. Thomas Gaudynski says:

    As the Brothers Clancy would put it, “No, Nay, Never . . .”

  2. Mingus says:

    Democratic Socialists like Ryan Clancy can be as disruptive, attention seeking, and irrelevant to democracy as much as the MAGA extremists in the Republican Party.

  3. ILoveMKE says:

    Disappointing

  4. rubiomon@gmail.com says:

    Ryan Clancy is being primaried because of his very public support for an immediate ceasefire in GAZA and an end to the Zionist slaughter of Palestinian civilians. End of story.

  5. sheistolerable says:

    Sup Wasserman is helpfully identifying the hand that feeds most of our Dem leaders: landlords and the war machine. Love to see more politicians brave enough to bite it. Sending Clancy a donation now.

  6. rootdown42 says:

    This article was pretty long on opinions about Clancy but short on what exactly it is that he’s done to be so alienating. Subjective transgressions like “grandstanding” don’t tell me much. Endorsing primary opponents doesn’t tell me anything about the job he’s doing. There’s allusions to “using information from caucus meetings to attack other D’s” that lacks any detail. From a substantive standpoint the only things mentioned are his disdain for Israel’s war on the people of Gaza and his opposition to the sales tax. But the name-trashing-to-evidence ratio in this article is pretty weak.

  7. huk730 says:

    When did Socialism become a sin in Milwaukee? Or criticizing a war condemned around the world? Or advocating for the rights of a group one doesn’t belong to? If we are going to push out Representative Clancy for holding majority views and fighting for bold action, the Democratic tent just became too small for me. Rep. Clancy speaks for me. My contribution is on the way.

  8. George Wagner says:

    Bruce, I hope you’ll run another piece letting Ryan Clancy answer some of these charges. I doubt that Clancy’s supposed “not being able to get along with anybody” is more the establishment Democrats hating to be called out for being beholden to their wealthy constituents. I’m a Democratic Socialist and still proud to support Clancy. Sorry to all you Dems who can’t stand any criticism of Israel. You criticize Clancy because he only spoke the truth about Israel. He did not support Hamas’ slaughter on October 7, but rightly pointed out that you’ve got to expect violent reaction when you’ve kept a couple million Palestinians in an open-air prison for decades and elect leaders committed to full-scale ethnic cleansing of Gaza and the West Bank

  9. Colin says:

    He should move to Madison and stop alienating POC in Milwaukee.
    Hopefully good riddance, we got work to do.

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