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Bitter struggle ahead for Barrett
Austere gathering marks mayor's nomination.
photos by Michael Horne
Hundreds of supporters gathered at the Hyatt Regency Milwaukee Grand Ballroom Downtown on Tuesday to celebrate the Democratic primary election victory of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in his quest to unseat Scott Walker as Wisconsin Governor in a recall election scheduled for June 5.

“We can’t fix Wisconsin as long as Scott Walker is governor,” the mayor said in an impassioned speech which hit on a number of themes that have been well-tested by the campaign and well-rehearsed by the candidate.

The Walker administration’s actions on many fronts have “raised fundamental issues,” he said, especially with what Barrett calls Walker’s “my way or the highway” approach to governing.

Walker is a wannabe “rock star” of a “national ideological war” that finds him more interested in raising out-of-state money than he is in dealing with issues facing Wisconsin, Barrett said.

Barrett wants Wisconsin to “go back to a state where you can talk to neighbors about politics without a bitter fight ensuing,” he added to the applause of the crowd.


Perhaps that day may yet come, but the results at the polls showed Barrett had 27 days of bitter fighting yet to come before the final election.

Barrett, flanked by Walzak (L) and an MPD officer (R), works his way to the 

Although Barrett trounced his rival, Dane County Executive Katherine Falk – even beating her on her home turf – the evening’s celebration was tempered by the fact that Scott Walker, in an effectively uncontested Republican primary, drew 626,538 of 646,458 votes – the most cast in a gubernatorial primary election in 60 years.

The Democratic field of candidates mustered a total of 670,278 votes, far shy of the 900,939 recall petition signatures certified by the State of Wisconsin Government Accountability Board.

Reporters descended on Wisconsin Democratic Party Chair Mike Tate when this news came out, and Tate, the pro, pointed out to them that when Democrats are in tight primary races, they usually win in the general election due to their superior numbers.


Campaign victory parties are usually loud, boisterous affairs replete with streamers, balloons, banners and posters, but save for a chaste “Barrett for Governor” sign above the podium, the hotel ballroom was unadorned. Perhaps to emphasize the Barrett campaign’s contrast with the heavily funded Walker campaign – where Walker’s $25 million (and counting) war chest dwarfs the mayor’s million bucks or so – such fripperies were dispensed with, and there was a cash bar as well.

Barrett gets in one last handshake before beginning his address.

Instead of the “Four ‘P’s” of the usual Democratic food group (peanuts, pretzels, popcorn and potato chips) the campaign opted to dispense with foodstuffs altogether, perhaps under the impression that a starved audience is an attentive audience.

The ballroom opened shortly before 8 p.m., with the real crowd assembling about nine. At that time, the mayor was in the Milwaukee Room of the hotel, running through a dress rehearsal of his victory speech with campaign high rollers. Meanwhile such worthies as Craig Mastantuono and Ann Jacobs, both chosen as delegates to the Democratic National Convention which will be held somewhere this summer, mingled with fellow attorney Mark Thomsen.

Rep. Gwen Moore made her appearance, as did party elder Vel Phillips.  Health Commissioner Bevan Baker worked the room, which was slowly filling with such political figures as aldermen Tony Zielinski (a former almost-lieutenant governor candidate in 2010), Willie Wade, Ashanti Hamilton, Nik Kovac and their boss, Common Council President Willie Hines, who definitely has some skin in this game.

That’s because if Barrett becomes governor, Hines becomes Mayor. What’s to lose?

Vel Phillips arrives clad in her Green Bay Packers cap.

Barrett was kept in the Milwaukee Room and behind the scenes until after Kathleen Falk gave her concession speech shortly after 9 pm.

Before the appearance of the mayor there was some rustling behind curtains set up behind a makeshift stage, and from there appeared the mayor’s wife, her three children and a bonus child, a daughter’s friend borrowed for the occasion from neighbor Rocky Marcoux, the Commissioner of City Development.

The first family and first family friend then took the stage, without the father, and the evening’s events commenced with an address by Milwaukee First Lady Kris Barrett who kicked off her husband’s campaign for governor with a rousing speech.

“I’m so ready to take it on,” she told the crowd, saying her husband espouses “the kind of values we really want.”

Barrett works his way through a crowd of media and supporters.

Whether Mrs. Barrett was chosen to give the opening speech because of a newfound passion for being in the public eye, or because polling shows that women will be a very large force in the election, was left for the audience to ponder.

Meanwhile, there was a stirring in the audience as the mayor appeared via a side door. Phil Walzak, the campaign’s communications director, who is on loan from the Senate campaign of Tammy Baldwin, used some moves more reminiscent of football linebacking than political campaigning to shepherd his candidate to the podium in a serpentine hand-shaking course through the hall.

Jeff Fleming, a friend and consultant to the mayor, noted wryly that The New York Times that day referred to the communications director as “Phillip Walzak.”

“I’ve never heard anybody call him Phillip,” Fleming said.

Barrett worked his way through the audience before taking the stage with his wife and family for the evening’s speech, which you can expect to hear, with minute localized variations, for the next four weeks as the campaign works its way across Wisconsin.

To see more of Mr. Horne's photos, go here.

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