In The News
Respected county fiscal hawk supports Abele
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Milwaukee Labor Press
Posted March 19, 2011
Events have made the April 5 race not only about his own better ideas. Chris Abele has drawn support for Milwaukee County Executive because his opponent, Republican Rep. Jeff Stone keeps tripping over his own big clay Madison feet – and offering such Stone-sinking ideas as selling off the county's best assets, the airport.
But what surprised me as I made the journalistic rounds was that Abele had been doing his homework. He has talked to diverse experts in local government – not just from his own roots in progressive causes -- and won them over.
I learned that in an interview with the man you could call the brains of the county government -- in a more flattering way than Karl Rove was called Bush's brain. And no one would call him a liberal. In fact, "I'm just a conservative South Side guy," Richard Nyklewicz chuckled during our talk.
For 30 years as a supervisor -- he preceded Chris Larson in District 14; Larson was elected to the state senate last November -- Nyklewicz was known as the quiet man pulling the county's financial chestnuts out of the fire, He was clever but cautious, the home-grown fiscal scalpel whom many think kept the county government afloat through the worst excesses of Walker and even Walker's predecessors. He is still praised as the mentor of responsible detail work, with such intimate knowledge of how things should operate that he surprised many in not pursuing higher county office.
Recalling how it was teachers who inspired his interest in government, he's told interviewers he never had that sort of political fire and just quietly retired in 2008.
Years ago Nyklewicz had a spat with Stone about airport operations, and from up close and personal contact with then exec Scott Walker, he is not a fan of the new governor or his approach. But he's stayed out of expressing public opinions in retirement, and speaking up now is hardly an anti-conservative thing given his reputation.
"Pause and think about it," he said. "Did workers cause the problem? The answer is no. So why demean them? When you start threatening people’s livelihood, well, frankly, I'm amazed at the peacefulness of the response."
"I think folks are finally seeing the real Scott Walker. What I fear most is his now having a line item veto despite everyone's hope that there are reasonable people near him in the government. Most people know that when you find yourself in a hole you stop digging. He doesn't."
But distaste for Walker doesn't translate into agreeing to support Abele, so I was struck by how deep that commitment was. "I've talked to him and I like him. My take is he is extremely intelligent, curious, with a breadth of knowledge from the business sector. He's big on best practices."
"You know, I'm a process person. I think he needs to become more familiar with the reasons why things were set up the way they are in county government, but he's doing that by talking to people. And there are some benefits in looking at it all from a fresh perspective. I want that backed with a knowledge of why things evolved that way."
Nyklewicz paused. "The current Madison administration is going to give county government a hard road in any case, but that's why we need bright people who have a fresh view -- not dictating to people."
In Related News:
Holloway Throws a Snit
Lee Holloway, chairman of the Milwaukee County Board, had a chance to cast himself as the savvy senior statesman when he took over as the acting county executive as Scott Walker escaped to Madison. More than that, from his leadership perch, he had the opportunity to set the tone and issues of the contest to replace Walker.
Rather than do that, he inserted himself and his controversial personality and image into the contest as a candidate.
The result at the polls among voters who knew him well is that he came in No. 4 in a five person primary. Asked March 17 his opinion of the two top vote-getters, he reverted to familiar Holloway defiant form that explains why the voters so soundly rejected him.
Though many now see how often he gave in to Walker when he should have stood up more forcefully, in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he sniffed that neither Abele or Stone was “as tough as I am” and whoever did win would make him a “foil” and demean his accomplishments.