The County Board is going part time, forcing some of its members to find second jobs.
It’s a classic Milwaukee scene: sitting down with your elected representative to talk politics over a couple of beers at your favorite tavern. But what if your county supervisor is behind the bar instead of on the next stool? Or what if your doctor appears on your doorstep, seeking your vote instead of your temperature? Such mixing of roles could become a reality in Milwaukee County after the spring 2016 election, when pay drops and benefits end for Wisconsin’s only full-time county board. Older members could combine the county pensions they earned as full-time supervisors with the new part-time paychecks – whereas young-to-middle-aged supervisors must choose between seeking other political offices or finding some supplementary income.
Current board members and future candidates fall into at least one out of four overlapping groups:
Thanks For the Memories
Despite having roots in the county pension scandal of 2001-02, the move to cut supervisors’ pay and power could raise issues of pension double-dipping. Supervisor Willie Johnson Jr., a county social worker for more than 12 years before his 2000 election, plans to seek re-election and collect his pension even if he wins. County Corporation Counsel Paul Bargren says that’s legal, and benefits already earned aren’t wiped out by state Act 14, which only stops members from accruing new ones.
Also eligible to retire by 2016 are supervisors Mark Borkowski, Gerry Broderick, Patricia Jursik, Michael Mayo Sr. and Jim “Luigi” Schmitt. Borkowski plans to leave; Schmitt says he’s leaning toward running again; and Broderick and Jursik remain undecided. Mayo couldn’t be reached for comment.
One Foot in the Private Sector
Branching out from legislation to libation, Supervisor Peggy Romo West opened Romo’s Silver City Sports Bar with her husband in late 2013. And although it was later shut down over delinquent taxes, insiders say that at least one other supervisor is considering a similar venture. That person is not Supervisor Deanna Alexander – who’s leaning toward running again in 2016 and says she’ll expand her accounting and management consultancy. Nor is it Supervisor Tony Staskunas, who has a law practice.
[quote align=’left’]Sheldon Wasserman, an obstetrician by day, could run for a seat covering the East Side and North Shore, thereby delivering both votes and newborns.[/quote]
Not everyone’s plans are so precise. Theo Lipscomb Sr., Steve Taylor and Khalif Rainey all say they would need to find second jobs if re-elected. Lipscomb says he’s running again; Taylor is leaning that way, and Rainey says he’s undecided. Even Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic, who didn’t return requests for comment, may need a second career path, also a possibility for colleagues Jason Haas and John Weishan Jr. If Broderick retires, as other supervisors expect, then former state Rep. Sheldon Wasserman, an obstetrician by day, says he’ll run for the seat covering the East Side and North Shore – and we’ll see if he can still deliver votes as reliably as future voters.
Too Cool for School
Three supervisors graduated to other offices in 2014 – state Rep. David Bowen, County Treasurer David Cullen and Milwaukee Ald. Russell Stamper – while Dimitrijevic and Weishan both lost bids for the state Assembly. Dimitrijevic has often clashed with County Executive Chris Abele, but the Assembly loss and Abele’s wealth suggest that competing for his job in 2016 could be a kamikaze run.
Alexander, the accountant, isn’t ruling out campaigns for city or county comptroller, offices currently filled with first-term incumbents. Steve Taylor, who lost a 2014 race for Franklin mayor, says he might try again in 2017, and Jursik has been rumored to be targeting a run for Cudahy mayor in 2016 (rumors she shot down). Other members could zero in on open legislative or aldermanic seats.
Abele, an increasingly influential player in county races, contributed $250,000 for ads slamming Sheriff David Clarke in 2014. The county exec also gave hundreds to the campaigns of state Rep. Joe Sanfelippo (the ex-supervisor and Act 14 author) and candidates opposing Bowen and Dimitrijevic. One insider called 2014 “a test run for the 2016 elections,” when Abele and business allies will “try to fill the board with rubber stamps for Abele.” (Abele wasn’t available for comment.) Some supervisors predict the newcomers will resemble their outstate and suburban counterparts: A not-very-diverse group of retirees and business owners.
‘Moonlighting’ appears in the February, 2015, issue of Milwaukee Magazine. Click here to subscribe.