The Most Influential People in Milwaukee

The movers and shakers and wheelers and dealers who make things happen.

Edited by Kurt Chandler | Photographs by Adam Ryan Morris

Written by Ann Christenson, Erik Gunn, Claire Hanan, Matt Hrodey, Howie Magner, Laura Merisalo, Georgia Pabst, Rich Rovito, Dan Shafer & Jon Anne Willow

They forge connections, pull the levers of change and shape the future of metro Milwaukee.

They’re politicians and CEOs, real-estate moguls and sports stars. They’re multimillionaires, entertainment kingpins, talk show hosts and social activists.

Some work behind the scenes, others front and center. Some have made the lists in the past, others are newcomers, young and creative and driven, inching their way to the top as the Old Guard falls back.

They’re the best in their class, people with access, people with clout, and they have what it takes to get things done.

We’ve ranked Milwaukee’s power players in 10 areas of influence. Read on to see who made the list. And who didn’t.

Politics & Government

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele by Adam Ryan Morris.
Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele by Adam Ryan Morris.

No. 1: Chris Abele, Milwaukee County Executive

He’s molded county government around himself, annoying longtime supporters but making new friends, many of them conservatives. “This is a guy with unlimited funds, and everybody knows it,” says one insider. “God knows where his money is.” But can he govern? If you mean outfoxing half the town’s power brokers, yes.

No. 2: Scott Walker, Governor of Wisconsin

The locally minded Republican governor likes tilting the playing field on which cities and school districts operate toward the right. He’s also been a boon to legislators wanting to downsize the Milwaukee County Board or nix the city’s residency requirement. After a painful presidential race, he should be hungry for more.

No. 3: Tom Barrett, Milwaukee Mayor

Dude’s the mayor. He doesn’t inspire rave reviews from insiders, but he’s been a stable and trusted force in city politics for a long time, sort of like Milwaukee’s Dad. “On the streetcar, he was tireless and fearless,” says someone who fought alongside him and notes that when Barrett applies himself, he’s a workhorse – and one that’s just getting started, as mayoral tenures go.

No. 4: Alberta Darling, State Senator

As co-chair of the Joint Committee on Finance, the River Hills Republican is a state Legislature kingpin, and arguably the most powerful woman in state government.

No. 5: Chris Larson, State Senator

A team player, the former Democratic minority leader from the South Side has built up quite the network of friends and supporters, which he’ll be using as he runs for county exec early next year. In a highly polarized state, he’s allied closely with forces on the left.

No. 6: Michael Murphy, President of the Milwaukee Common Council

Now in his seventh term, few people know city government better than this lifelong West Sider, whose personal ambitions can be hot one day and cool the next. Mayoral candidate? Maybe.

Behind The Curtain

  • Pat Curley, Chief of Staff to Mayor Tom Barrett
    Barrett’s gatekeeper, a “pseudo mayor” who generates little resentment. Democrats say Curley is judicious in how he wields his special powers.
  • Tia Torhorst, Political Director to County Exec Chris Abele
    She lost a race for the state Assembly but has since distinguished herself as Abele’s sage. One insider calls her, “The person who whispers the most in Chris’ ear.”
  • Fred Kessler, State Representative
    The aging Democrat is still a kingmaker, prodding all kinds of people, from state Sen. Chris Larson to state Rep. Mandela Barnes, to run for office.
Owners, V&J Holdings, John Daniels and Valerie Daniels. Photo by Adam Ryan Morris.
Owners, V&J Holdings, John Daniels and Valerie Daniels. Photo by Adam Ryan Morris.

Business & Finance

No. 1: Marc Lasry, Wes Edens and Jamie Dinan, Principal owners, Milwaukee Bucks

Pre-2014, Milwaukee’s power base was classic Rust Belt, with old-money heirs, successful industrialists and a few charismatic left-fielders wielding disproportionate mojo. The new Bucks owners changed that. They put together a group of investor-owners that’s the most powerful, bipartisan and ethnically diverse band of Milwaukee movers ever assembled, and achieved what no one could before: building a new arena, with a $250 million kiss from the state.

No. 2: John Daniels & Valerie Daniels-Carter*, Owners, V&J Holdings

She’s the co-founder and CEO of the mega-franchisee (Burger King, Pizza Hut, Häagen-Dazs and others); he’s the board chair. She sits on the Packers board and is a local Bucks owner; he helped with the Bucks arena deal and is chairman emeritus of Quarles & Brady. Together, these siblings have built schools and a Boys & Girls Club, and chaired corporate and nonprofit boards. Their six siblings are successful, too; one can only imagine what dinnertime at the Daniels’ house was like growing up.

No. 3: Ted Kellner*, Executive Chairman, Fiduciary Management

Between managing more than $21 billion in assets and chairing the boards of Summerfest, the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, and the BMO Harris Bradley Center, Kellner has muscle to spare. Why is it OK that he chairs both the Bradley Center board and is an owner of the Milwaukee Bucks? Because he assures us there’s no conflict of interest. Thank goodness.

No. 4: Sheldon Lubar, Founder and Chairman of Lubar & Co.

From humble beginnings, Lubar is the stuff of self-made legends. At 86, his board resume includes Fortune 500 companies, service under three U.S. presidents (Nixon, Ford, Carter) and heading the UW Board of Regents. Pet projects include the dismantling of the Milwaukee County board and turning partial control of MPS over to the state.

No. 5: Gale Klappa*, Chairman & CEO, WEC Energy Group

He has fingers in the juiciest pies in town, including the arena deal. At work, he pulled off a hotly contested, multibillion-dollar merger with Integrys Energy Group. As one of the nation’s highest-paid CEOs, the former M7 chairman sits on several corporate and nonprofit boards in his free time.

No. 6: Rich Meeusen, President and CEO, Badger Meter

Head of a company that grossed nearly $365 million last year, Meeusen punches above his weight. The Water Council manifests his vision for Milwaukee as the hub of the global water industry. Union supporters remember him for publicly threatening to move 100 Badger Meter jobs to Mexico if Wisconsin’s Right to Work law wasn’t passed. It was.

No. 7: Julia Taylor, President, Greater Milwaukee Committee

The GMC might be the region’s vaguest, most star-studded civic organization. Atop it sits Taylor, who attracts money and acolytes to initiatives like MiKE (Innovation in Milwaukee) and Teachtown MKE.

*Denotes local Bucks owners


Milwaukee Bucks owners Marc Lasry, Wes Edens and Jamie Dinan. Photo by Adam Ryan Morris.
Milwaukee Bucks owners Marc Lasry, Wes Edens and Jamie Dinan. Photo by Adam Ryan Morris.

No. 1: Marc Lasry, Wes Edens and Jamie Dinan, Principal owners, Milwaukee Bucks

Few in Milwaukee knew the New York billionaires before Herb Kohl sold his beloved Bucks to them in 2014. But in less than two years, they convinced big-name talent – like coach Jason Kidd and broadcaster Gus Johnson – to work for them, convinced perpetually bickering politicians to help fund a new arena, and convinced long-suffering fans that they just might win a championship.

No. 2: Bud Selig, Former Milwaukee Brewers owner, former MLB commissioner

He officially ceded his vast powers, and often-controversial tenure, as MLB’s commissioner when he retired in January 2015. That the sport’s owners kept him in the power loop as commissioner emeritus is testament to how much weight his opinion still holds. And he remains the man who brought the Brewers to Milwaukee, then kept them here with Miller Park.

No. 3: Mark Attanasio, Principal owner, Milwaukee Brewers

He succeeded Selig as Brewers owner, and was rumored as a candidate to succeed him as commish, too. It didn’t happen, but the mere prospect confirms the respect Attanasio’s engendered in MLB circles, particularly among small- and mid-market owners. The Brewers have had one of their most competitive stretches in club history during his tenure, setting franchise attendance records in the process.

No. 4: Herb Kohler, Chairman, Kohler Company; owner of Whistling Straits

His vision is the reason the world’s best golfers have come to Wisconsin for two PGA Championships this decade, and will do so again in 2020 for the Ryder Cup. Kohler’s reach extends to the very roots of the game with his company’s Scotland resort, the Old Course Hotel at St. Andrews, which overlooks the venerable links where the sport was first played in the 15th century.

No. 5: Rick Schlesinger, Chief Operating Officer, Milwaukee Brewers

As the boots-on-the-ground spearhead for the club’s business, marketing and fan-experience efforts, he’s played a major role in the Brewers setting those franchise attendance records.

No. 6: Craig Karmazin*, Owner, Good Karma Brands

The son of former Sirius XM Radio chief Mel Karmazin, Craig owns WAUK-AM 540 (ESPN’s local radio affiliate), created the Wisconsin Sports Awards, and recently bought a minority share in the Bucks.

No. 7: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers quarterback

He wins games for the Packers. Wins customers with his endorsements. Wins hearts with his charity work, and those Olivia Munn videos.



Founder, Barrett Lo Visionary Development, Rick Barrett. Photo by Adam Ryan Morris.
Founder, Barrett Lo Visionary Development, Rick Barrett. Photo by Adam Ryan Morris.

No. 1: Barry Mandel, President, Mandel Group

Maybe it’s those round-rimmed glasses he wears, but Mandel is able to see Milwaukee’s real estate world the way others don’t. He’s been ahead of the wave on the booming Downtown apartment market, he’s reshaped the city with signature buildings, he’s breathed new life into toxic brownfields, and throughout all of it, he’s maintained a nearly unmatched level of creativity.

No. 2: Rick Barrett, Founder, Barrett Lo, Visionary Development

Using “Visionary Development” in your company’s name takes confidence, but so does building a multimillion-dollar high-rise in the Park East during a recession. That’s exactly what Barrett did with The Moderne. For an encore, he’s charging forward with The Couture – a new lakefront tower (complete with a streetcar hub) that will soon be a signature building in the skyline.

No. 3: Gary Grunau, President, Grucon Group; part-owner, Schlitz Park

For four decades, he’s been at the center of some of Milwaukee’s biggest developments – the RiverWalk, convention center, Discovery World, U.S. Bank Center, the list goes on. The 76-year-old is still known as a trailblazing risk-taker. Look no further than his latest – Schlitz Park – as evidence. More people work there now than did during the brewery’s heyday, and a $76 million expansion is on the way.

No. 4: Matt Rinka, Principal Owner, Rinka Chung Architecture

If you want to make an architectural splash, hire UWM grad Rinka. Beyond sketching out projects like The Moderne and Oak Creek’s Drexel Town Square, he’s a key part of the city’s two new “exclamation point” towers – the Northwestern Mutual Tower and Commons, and The Couture.

No. 5: Willie Wade, Alderman, City of Milwaukee

While he may not grab headlines like some other aldermen, Wade is an integral part of development as commissioner of the Redevelopment Authority and chair of the Century City Redevelopment Corp. The North Side alderman has also been on the winning side of votes for the arena and streetcar.

No. 6: James T. Barry III, President, DTZ Barry

He’s behind the scenes, but Barry is Milwaukee’s broker extraordinaire. Quietly, this third-generation real estate broker has played an active role in big projects, ranging from Amazon’s new facility in Kenosha to the Park East commission that led to the new arena.

No. 7: Laura Bray, Executive Director, LISC Milwaukee

The development world was buzzing in the summer when neighborhood revitalization nonprofit LISC Milwaukee hired Bray as its new head. She’s renowned for the decade she spent running Menomonee Valley Partners – one of the city’s more notable success stories.

Ahead of the Curve

  • Several sources were reluctant to name city of Milwaukee officials as influential figures in local development, and even afraid such recognition would be more positive than what’s being said about Milwaukee County Board members. But, say our sources, three pragmatic, results-oriented mayors of county suburbs – Steve Scaffidi in Oak Creek, Dan Devine in West Allis and Kathy Ehley in Wauwatosa – are emerging as developmental leaders in the region.


Arts & Entertainment

Director, Milwaukee Art Museum, Dan Keegan. Photo by Adam Ryan Morris.
Director, Milwaukee Art Museum, Dan Keegan. Photo by Adam Ryan Morris.

No. 1: Dan Keegan, Director, Milwaukee Art Museum

Since taking the reins in 2008, Keegan has accomplished what other recent directors couldn’t: renovating the museum’s oldest galleries. With $10 million from Milwaukee County and gobs of private cash, sources say, Keegan pushed through the red tape for November’s big reveal. Considering more than 400,000 people enter the museum each year, the impact of Keegan’s approval on everything from architects to curators and major artworks (like the controversial Eggs Benedict) can’t be understated.

No. 2: Joe Bartolotta, Co-owner, The Bartolotta Restaurants

Many chefs have trained in the kitchens of Joe B’s empire, which – besides fine-dining venues Lake Park Bistro, Bacchus, Harbor House and others – has grown to include casual restaurant models (such as Downtown Kitchen) that it can duplicate. Bartolotta Restaurants is “the gold standard,” says a source, that “created the excitement [for dining] in Milwaukee.”

No. 3: Jonathan Jackson, Artistic and Executive Director, Milwaukee Film Festival 

It was only seven years ago that the wee Milwaukee Film Festival dreamed of growing up to be like her big sister, the Chicago International Film Festival. Well, kids grow up fast these days, because this year, the MFF screened 300-plus films – about double that of Chicago. Jackson has helmed the ship since the early days, and is responsible for putting the fest on the map in record time.

No. 4: Mary Louise Schumacher, Art and Architecture Critic, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

We declared her dual critic role “horrible news” in 2008, but we’ve reconsidered. When Schumacher sharply critiques the design plans of a large area museum, the museum tweaks the design. She has a knack for starting conversations – online and in print – that art lovers and artists follow in Milwaukee and beyond. Her opinions carry weight.

No. 5: Gary Witt, Executive Director, Pabst Theater Group

While he will certainly agree with his inclusion on this list, there’s no mistaking the hard and occasionally glamorous work Witt has done to lift three historic venues – the Pabst, Riverside and Turner Hall Ballroom – into the cultural platforms they are today, to the benefit of arts and entertainment groups, and even civic discussion.

No. 6: Justin Aprahamian, Chef/Co-owner, Sanford Restaurant

The James Beard Award winner has picked up the torch of excellence from another Beard-winning chef, Sanford D’Amato. There’s unanimous agreement among our sources of Aprahamian’s prodigious talent.

No. 7: Polly Morris, Executive Director, Lynden Sculpture Garden

Described as the “shrewd fairy godmother of Milwaukee’s arts scene,” Morris has made quick work of hosting artistic groups of all kinds. On top of that, she administers the Greater Milwaukee Foundation’s Mary L. Nohl Fund Fellowships, a highly prized grant that can help establish a local artist’s name. No small responsibility.

No. 8: David Ravel, Director, Alverno Presents

The Uncovered Series asks artists to reimagine the works of an artist with icon status, like this year’s ode to Prince organized by “dark folk” act Hello Death. Ravel brings these disparate groups together for musical events that seem to turn the concert experience on its head.

No. 9: Reggie Baylor, Artist, Owner of Plaid Tuba

The former truck driver’s art hangs in MAM, homes of wealthy locals, and in public venues for all to see. And through Plaid Tuba, Baylor and business partner Heidi Witz lend their guidance to other artists who might not be familiar with the logistical side of the creative life.

Chair of Emergency Medicine, Froedtert Hospital, Steve Hargarten. Photo by Adam Ryan Morris.
Chair of Emergency Medicine, Froedtert Hospital, Steve Hargarten. Photo by Adam Ryan Morris.

Health & Wellness

No. 1: John Bartkowski, President and CEO, Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers

He was reforming health care before health care reform was cool. From river cleanup to lead abatement, Sixteenth Street has revolutionized caring for its community. Under Bartkowski, in 10 years, the center has doubled its budget (to $30 million) and the number cared for (to 36,000). Next: a new clinic in the 43rd Street corridor by 2017, thanks to a $12 million gift from Froedtert Health.

No. 2:  Michael Gifford, President and CEO, AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin

6,899: the number of people living with HIV in Wisconsin as of 2014, nearly half of whom receive care from ARCW. 250: average number of new HIV cases in the state each year. 127: average number of HIV patients in Wisconsin who die each year. 85: percentage of ARCW HIV patients with undetectable viral loads, more than double the national average. Keeping these stats in check: Gifford.

No. 3: Steve Hargarten, Chair of Emergency Medicine, Froedtert Hospital

Treat gun violence as a preventable, biosocial disease, and the good old days of the 1930s, when Milwaukee was “the healthiest, safest and best-policed city in the United States,” are 10-15 years within reach. So believes Hargarten. With national credentials to leverage cross-sector support, this homegrown voice against violence says, “Police Chief Flynn needs to know he is not alone.”

No. 4: Joy Tapper, Executive Director, Milwaukee Health Care Partnership

As the point person for improving the health of Milwaukee’s most vulnerable, Tapper brings to one table leaders from five competing health systems, the Medical College of Wisconsin, community health centers, and local and state agencies. Tapper modestly calls herself “just a catalyst.”

No. 5: Cathy Jacobson, CEO and President, Froedtert Health

The new kid on the CEO block has more than two decades of experience but is hardly old-school. Jacobson is leading change in a new era of health care by tapping talent within and beyond the system, with an emphasis on community health and primary care.

No. 6: Geoffrey Swain, Professor, UW School of Medicine & Public Health; Medical Director, Milwaukee Health Department

He combats Milwaukee’s complex public health issues with candor – and results. Most notably, Swain has worked steadily to knock down the infant mortality rate.

President and CEO, Bader Philanthropies, Dan Bader. Photo by Adam Ryan Morris.
President and CEO, Bader Philanthropies, Dan Bader. Photo by Adam Ryan Morris.


No. 1: Dan Bader, President and CEO,, Bader Philanthropies

Passionate. Engaged. Thoughtful. That’s how many describe Bader, who this year merged the foundation of his mother (Helen) and the trust of his father (Alfred). With a grant-making capacity of $15 million for the fiscal year, its funding extends to health, the arts, the poor, nonprofit management and other areas. “He’s the real McCoy,” one leader says. “He makes sure the money is spent wisely.”

No. 2: Sheldon and Marianne Lubar, Lubar Family Foundation

The Lubars not only give big, they’re active fundraisers. In July, they donated $10 million to UW-Milwaukee to establish the Lubar Center for Entrepreneurship. That followed a $10 million gift in 2006 to endow professorships and scholarships at the Lubar School of Business. With foundation assets of $51 million reported in 2013, they’ve bankrolled arts, education, community and Jewish organizations, and raised millions more.

No. 3: Michael Cudahy, The Cudahy Foundation

Businessman, inventor and philanthropist, he’s described as a total risk-taker who says out loud what’s on everyone else’s mind. Cudahy has donated to a range of arts and educational institutions. He funded the MAM’s Cudahy Gardens, helped build Discovery World and the Harbor House, gave to MU and MSOE, and has taken a keen interest in lakefront development. The 92-year-old says he wants to give it all away before he dies. And with a bit under $10 million in his foundation in 2013, he just might do it.

No. 4: Michael Grebe, President and CEO, Bradley Foundation

He and the foundation have become nationally known leaders in funding conservative groups and causes, including the voucher school movement. Grebe was national chairman of Scott Walker’s presidential campaign.

No. 5: Herb Kohl, Former U.S. Senator

With his $550 million sale of the Milwaukee Bucks and $100 million donation to build a new Downtown arena, many see him entering into a more visible role in local philanthropy.

No. 6: Susan Lloyd, Executive Director, Zilber Foundation

Since coming here in 2008 to run the $50 million Zilber Neighborhood Initiative, she’s become a major force in fostering collaborations and leveraging resources to help poor neighborhoods. She sees “the big picture.”

No. 7: Ellen Gilligan, President and CEO, Greater Milwaukee Foundation

Since arriving in 2010, this daughter of an Ohio governor has encouraged foundations to be more strategic and collaborative in addressing community issues. She gets kudos for helping to launch Milwaukee Succeeds.


  • Ricardo Diaz, Executive Director, United Community Center
    • He has taken the UCC to new heights as a vital South Side center for social services, arts and education, and housing. Diaz oversaw the addition of a geriatric center for those with Alzheimer’s, and for driving the $8 million fundraising push to expand Bruce Guadalupe Community School to 1,600 students. Fans credit him as a skilled resource manager and caring mentor.
  • Sharon and Larry Adams, Founders, Walnut Way Conservation Corp.
    • The couple has helped revitalize the impoverished North Side neighborhood. They’re noted for collaboration and “getting things done.”
  • Ken Leinbach, Executive Director, Urban Ecology Center
    • He’s become a nationally recognized leader in community-based environmental education. The center has branched out from Riverside Park to Washington Park and the Menomonee Valley. Leinbach thinks outside the box, shares his knowledge widely and uses resources wisely.
  • Sister Edna Lonergan, President, St. Ann Center
    • After leading the intergenerational health and education center on the South Side for many years, she’s now replicating one at 24th Street and North Avenue. Lonergan gets high marks for raising money.



Superintendent, Milwaukee Public Schools, Darienne Driver. Photo by Adam Ryan Morris.
Superintendent, Milwaukee Public Schools, Darienne Driver. Photo by Adam Ryan Morris.

No. 1: Darienne Driver, Superintendent, Milwaukee Public Schools

On the job barely a year, she’s initiating bold reforms to improve student outcomes, and is seen as an energetic visionary. There’s cautious optimism she’ll remain a force for MPS, which has a history of grinding up leadership. One insider warns, “Her board and political opponents of public education could put a ceiling on her impact.”

No. 2: Ricardo Diaz, Executive Director, United Community Center

Respect for Diaz runs so deep in the Latino community and beyond, many believe him to be a prime candidate for public office. The Cuba native pushes education as an antidote to social ills and forges strong ties to the business community.

No. 3: Patricia Hoben, Principal, Carmen High School of Science and Technology

A former biophysicist and science adviser to Washington, D.C., politicos, Hoben left the laboratory to later found Carmen High School, ranked seventh in the state in 2014 by U.S. News & World Report. The charter school now has campuses on Milwaukee’s South and Northwest sides. “A gem,” says a business leader.

No. 4: Abby Andrietsch, Executive Director, Schools That Can

She was a manufacturing executive who shifted gears to focus on education reform. Wearing that hat, she’s working to raise the quality of school leaders and close the achievement gap.

No. 5: Larry Miller, Vice President, MPS Board of Education

He’s a former Milwaukee Public Schools teacher, and before that, was a union organizer. Insiders believe Miller wields the most power on the MPS board. He’s also an editor at the publishing nonprofit, Rethinking Schools.

No. 6: Rob Rauh, Chief Education Officer, Milwaukee College Prep

With 2,000 students in this four-campus charter school network, Rauh is lauded for producing strong results with minority and low-income students. “Not sure where Milwaukee would be without him,” says a board member.

No. 7: Howard Fuller, Professor of Education, Marquette University

Fuller’s memoir is titled No Struggle, No Progress, an apt summation of the career of the civil-rights activist and onetime MPS superintendent, who now leads a think tank at Marquette and the Milwaukee Collegiate Academy.

Justice System

Chief Judge, Wisconsin’s First Judicial District, Milwaukee, Maxine White. Photo by Adam Ryan Morris.
Chief Judge, Wisconsin’s First Judicial District, Milwaukee, Maxine White. Photo by Adam Ryan Morris.

No. 1: Maxine White, Chief Judge, Wisconsin’s First Judicial District, Milwaukee

The daughter of Mississippi sharecroppers, she was named an assistant U.S. attorney straight out of MU’s Law School before taking the bench in Milwaukee in 1992. Heralded for her work in domestic violence, White cast a long shadow when presiding over family court and drug court, and was a shoe-in in March when the state Supreme Court appointed her Wisconsin’s first African-American chief judge.

No. 2: John Chisholm, District Attorney, Milwaukee County

Spotlighted in May by The New Yorker for his attempts to correct racial disparities in the justice system, this DA thinks outside of the box. His claim to fame was installing community prosecutors in each police station as a crime-prevention strategy. “He’s doing stuff that’s radically different than his predecessor, Mike McCann,” says a local criminologist. The heat he’s taken for leading two John Doe investigations of Scott Walker’s political associates hasn’t slowed him down. “John’s a guy who’s OK taking risks,” a source says. “Heck, he’s an 82nd Airborne guy.”

No. 3: Carmen Pitre, Executive Director, Sojourner Family Peace Center

She’s been a warrior in the domestic violence trenches for decades, in support of women, men and families. Pitre, say her allies, is especially effective at connecting the dots between health and welfare, and women’s rights. She’ll open the doors to the center’s new $21 million North Side headquarters in January.

No. 4: Joseph Kearney, Dean, Marquette University Law School

The Harvard Law School grad is seen as conservative and traditional. (He clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.) Yet he asked Russ Feingold to teach (to the right’s chagrin), and created a heavyweight public forum, starring journalists Mike Gousha and Alan Borsuk, and the Law School Poll.

No. 5: Tom Reed, First Assistant State Public Defender, Milwaukee Office

In an adversarial system, Reed is good at partnering with opponents to solve issues, without compromising his ethical responsibilities.

Law Enforcement

  • The short list of top law enforcers shouldn’t surprise anyone: Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn is noted for his smarts and cutting-edge community policing, while Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke scores points for his passion and endurance. Also praised is Assistant Police Chief James Harpole for putting his heart in his work and community.


Newscaster, WISN-TV, Mike Gosha. Photo by Adam Ryan Morris.
Newscaster, WISN-TV, Mike Gousha. Photo by Adam Ryan Morris.

No. 1: Mike Gousha, Newscaster, WISN-TV

Gousha enjoys respect, credibility and access to be envied by any journalist – and on two platforms: Channel 12, where he’s a weekly interviewer, and at Marquette University Law School, where his lunchtime Q&As pack the house with political and policy elites, and ambitious students angling to join them. “He’s a master interviewer,” notes one observer.

No. 2: Dan Bice, News columnist, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

His unique niche as political gossip gumshoe explains why he’s the newspaper’s only reporter repeatedly mentioned, regardless of the mentioner’s vantage point. A Bice front-page story gets people talking for days and can shape coverage by other news sources. Bice’s in-your-face celebrity has made him the face of the JS’s Watchdog team.

No. 3: Charlie Sykes, Talk radio host, WTMJ-AM

Love him or hate him, the flagship talker on TMJ’s right-wing radio gets unanimous recognition for commanding an audience and the power that goes with it. His website Right Wisconsin, his editorship of the conservative Wisconsin Interest policy magazine, and ties to a larger web of conservative groups extend his reach as a sort of anti-Gousha – or, say some critics, make him merely the mouthpiece for other interests.

No. 4: Mark Belling, Talk radio host, WISN-AM

He laid the groundwork for Sykes and others, launching his own conservative talk radio show when TMJ was still just a news station. Deprived of Sykes’ multiple platforms, Belling, some say, has an independent streak Sykes misses.

No. 5 & No. 6: Patrick Marley & Jason Stein, Reporters, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

There’s nothing like covering a governor who garners praise and opprobrium in equal measure to lift a journalist’s visibility, but hard work helps, too, in the case of the paper’s Capitol bureau Dynamic Duo.

No. 7: Jerrel Jones, Owner, WNOV-AM and the Milwaukee Courier

Not as visible as he once was, but he commands two channels to the city’s black community: the only black news and talk radio, and an African-American newspaper.


  • No media list is complete without a nod to the many alternative outlets – from independent websites such as the wonky, passionate Urban Milwaukee, a go-to site for urban affairs and political reporting, to ideological organizations like the MacIver Institute and Media Trackers, who have changed coverage, and reactions, for better or worse.

‘The Most Influential People in Milwaukee’ appears in the November 2015 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Find the November issue on newsstands Nov. 2

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Kurt Chandler began working at Milwaukee Magazine in 1998 as a senior editor, writing investigative articles, profiles, narratives and commentaries. He was editor in chief from August 2013-November 2015. An award-winning writer, Chandler has worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine writer, editor and author. He has been published in a number of metro newspapers and magazines, from The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and Minneapolis Star Tribune, to Marie Claire, The Writer, and He also has authored, coauthored or edited 12 books. His writing awards are many: He has won the National Headliners Award for magazine writing five times. He has been named Writer of the Year by the City & Regional Magazine Association, and Journalist of the Year by the Milwaukee Press Club. As a staff writer with the Minneapolis Star Tribune, he was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and chosen as a finalist for the Robert F. Kennedy Award. In previous lives, Chandler worked construction, drove a cab and played the banjo (not necessarily at the same time). He has toiled as a writer and journalist for three decades now and, unmindful of his sage father’s advice, has nothing to fall back on. Yet he is not without a specialized set of skills: He can take notes in the dark and is pretty good with active verbs.