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Thursday, Dec. 23, 2010

Milwaukee County Executive Race Still Unsettled

Potential candidates are making their final decisions

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With just one week left before candidates can begin circulating nomination papers on Dec. 28, the race for Milwaukee County executive is still up in the air.

This much we know: Republican state Rep. Jeff Stone is in. Although he is seen as somewhat of a moderate in a party that has moved to the right, he will likely have the support of conservatives in the county and build on the Scott Walker agenda.

Former state Rep. Sheldon Wasserman has stated that he would not run if Chris Abele enters the race. Wasserman is seen as a strong candidate who could sew up the votes of moderates and progressives in the county.

But Wasserman said it would be impossible to top the virtually unlimited money Abele could spend on the race.

(Full disclosure: The Shepherd Express and the nonprofit corporation that the Shepherd had created are suing Abele, Milwaukee Film Inc. and two of its employees for misappropriation of confidential information, misappropriation of good will, unjust enrichment, computer crimes, theft and damages arising from conspiracy to injure business. For a complete copy of the complaint filed in the Milwaukee County courts, go to www.milwaukeefilmfest.info.)

Abele did not return a call seeking comment for the article.

But it’s been reported that he will put more than $1 million of his personal money into the race. While Abele, who has never run for public office, has donated heavily to Democratic candidates in the past, he seems to have won the support of Republican businessman Sheldon Lubar, who has pushed for “blowing up” county government, a pet cause among conservatives.

Other leading candidates are still undecided as of Tuesday.

“I’ll be making an announcement next week,” Milwaukee County Clerk Joe Czarnezki told the Shepherd. He said money is a factor, both the money it would take to mount a campaign (“I’m not a trust fund baby”) and the money that is required to run the county when both the county and the state are experiencing budget crunches. However, the former state legislator said he’s “no stranger to budget challenges” and sees the need for “radical reform” of the county. That reform could include spinning off some of the county’s functions—for example, giving up responsibility for county trunk highways—and working more cooperatively with other governments.

Milwaukee County Treasurer Dan Diliberti told the Shepherd that he is considering running. He said the solution to the county’s troubles is not to “blow up” the county, but to “clear the decks” and bring in new leaders. If he does run, Diliberti said he would work to restore the public’s trust, “right size” the county’s functions and create partnerships with other levels of government to find efficiencies. He said the prospect of raising between $400,000 and $500,000 simply to get one’s message out during the campaign is just “a reality.”

Milwaukee County Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic said that she was still undecided, but that she is “interested in leadership, no matter where that may be.” She said that if she does not run for county executive, she would like to run for board chair; she’s also set up a political action committee, dubbed New Generation Milwaukee, to support progressive candidates. Dimitrijevic told the Shepherd that she has “one of the best messages,” but money is a factor. “Will I have the financial resources to get that message out?” she said. While she’s on the board, Dimitrijevic hopes to fully fund the director of sustainability position, which had been blocked during Walker’s tenure.

John Pokrandt is running as an “independent” for this nonpartisan office. His top issues are increased government transparency, support for the parks and the mental health complex and pursuing a regional transit plan.

Other potential candidates include Milwaukee County Board Chair Lee Holloway and Supervisor Johnny Thomas. Holloway could not be reached for comment. Thomas said he is still deciding.