Decisions, Decisions: Spring Election Breakdown

We take a look at state, county and city races on the April 5 ballot.

City Comptroller
Former County Supervisor Johnny Thomas is taking another stab at city comptroller and hopes to unseat incumbent Martin Matson. Thomas was a riser until a corruption sting foiled his first run, even though he was later acquitted.

Wisconsin Supreme Court
This year’s race for the Wisconsin Supreme Court has remained calm and courtly compared to 2011’s bloodbath. On the conservative side is Rebecca Bradley, endorsed by a laundry list of county sheriffs and even a sitting Supreme Court justice. On the more liberal wing is JoAnne Kloppenburg, who lost in 2011 and served for years in the Wisconsin Department of Justice. In 2012, she ran in and won an easier race for the state Court of Appeals, putting her in position for the high court. As with the close race for Milwaukee County executive, turnout will be key.

Milwaukee County Executive
County residents face a primal dilemma between philanthropist and incumbent Chris Abele and state senator Chris Larson. To some, Abele is exactly the kind of fiscal realist the county needs. To others, he’s an overgrown prince and bad manager who hates to be challenged. Larson’s narrow victory in the primary could foreshadow an upset in the general, but such an outcome would have to overcome both Abele’s huge spending advantage, given his private wealth, and a turnout expected to be richer in Republicans voting for a presidential nominee.

Milwaukee Mayor
The streetcar debate isn’t over, and it should remain a defining issue in the fight for the area’s most visible office. Incumbent Mayor Tom Barrett’s perennial opponent and now challenger, Ald. Bob Donovan, has framed the project as distracting from such important matters as public safety, education and creating jobs. A supporter of both the streetcar and Downtown arena, Barrett will have to reckon with all of their benefits and drawbacks. And Donovan will have to expand his message from that of an aldermanic gadfly to someone ready to fill the mayoral shoes.

Suburban Mayors
Mequon mayor Dan Abendroth faces challenger Aaron Armstrong, an engineer and conservative. And voters in Oconomowoc will have to choose between interim Mayor Dave Nold and challenger Kevin Ellis, who owns a local gym.

Milwaukee County Supervisor District 11
Two candidates with serious credentials are on the ballot for this part-time gig: Dan Sebring, former Republican candidate for Congress, and Patricia Najera, chair of the City Plan Commission.

Milwaukee Alderman District 7
Battling for the seat vacated by Willie Wade, County Supervisor Khalif Rainey and Milwaukee School Board President Michael Bonds will pit the former’s youthful vigor against Bonds’ grizzled experience.

Milwaukee Alderman District 12
In this hotly contested chunk of the South Side, businessman and former alderman Angel Sanchez is targeting freshman Jose Perez, who won the seat from Sanchez’s old nemesis, Jim Witkowiak.

Milwaukee Alderman District 13
Restaurant owner and challenger Chris Wiken moved his family to this South Side district to take on streetcar supporter Ald. Terry Witkowski, who has deep connections to neighborhood groups in the area.

Milwaukee Alderman District 14
A tight matchup could be in the works for Ald. Tony Zielinski, whose latest foe, former MPS School Board member Meagan Holman, is running on “10 Big Ideas” to improve the neighborhood and the city.

Editor’s Note: Our “Decisions, Decisions” story in the April 2016 issue has caused confusion for some readers. It was not our intent, explicit or implicit, to endorse any candidate over another, and we apologize if it appeared that we did. We admit that some graphical elements in the story may have contributed to the confusion. A red checkmark next to a race simply indicated that it is a district race, as noted in a key that ran with the story. Four candidates’ names were highlighted in the text to indicate that they were included in the illustration that ran with the story. The candidates in that illustration were chosen because they’re recognizable and represent closely contested races at the city, county and state levels.  

‘Decisions, Decisions’ appears in the April 2016 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Find the April issue on newsstands beginning March 28.

Be the first to get every new issue. Subscribe.



Matt has written for Milwaukee Magazine since 2006, when he was a lowly intern. Since then, he’s held the posts of assistant news editor and, most recently, senior editor. He’s lived in South Carolina, Tennessee, Connecticut, Iowa, and Indiana but mostly in Wisconsin. He wants to do more fishing but has a hard time finding worms. For the magazine, Matt has written about city government, schools, religion, coffee roasters and Congress.