On an easel in Thea Kovac’s East Side living room, near the Downer Theatre, is a brightly colored abstract painting rendered with expressive brush strokes. It’s an artist’s reaction to the parking garage that shot up next door.
“That’s what flamed Nik [and his political career],” Thea says of her son, 3rd District Ald. Nik Kovac.
Nik – who returned to Milwaukee after earning a Harvard degree and bylines in a Brooklyn newspaper – was deeply affected by the rift between then-Ald. Michael D’Amato and residents, who adamantly opposed the garage, and he decided to run against D’Amato. Thea helped out, creating graphics and a slogan for his 2008 campaign. “It was 4½ months of nonstop, 12-hour days,” Thea recalls.
The hard work paid off. Nik won by 71 votes, and Thea has been an “aldermama” ever since.
Thea resides in the same red-brick home where she raised Nik and his younger sister, Delia, an artist now based in Providence, Rhode Island. She’s proud that she and her husband, Peter, a criminal defense lawyer, chose to enroll their kids in Milwaukee Public Schools.
And Nik, who just became a first-time dad when his wife, Grace, delivered a baby girl in March, is grateful for the lessons he learned from his folks. “[They] raised me and my sister to question authority,” he says. “I learned early on to trust your inner voice.”
“She inspires me,” Nik adds. “She’s really able to connect with other people. [As an alderman] you have to listen carefully and ask questions. Sometimes you have to dig a little deeper. In tense moments, I often think ‘What would my mom do?’”
Today Thea – who grew up in Racine the oldest of eight and spent much of her career as a social worker – teaches private art classes and also instructs at Woodland Pattern, at local universities (including MIAD) and at the Infinity Healing Center in Brookfield. In her home studio, she works with pastels and watercolors.
And what do the Kovacs plan to do for Mother’s Day? Thea says that the family has spent past years at the Boerner Botanical Gardens, surrounded by “blooming trees and tulips,” and that “whatever form it takes, this year’s Mother’s Day celebration will include my brand new granddaughter, her other grandparents and her own brand new mom and dad.”