Politics of Race on the Milwaukee County Board

It’s a sad commentary but the current County Board Chairman, Lee Holloway, won re-election from his collegues on the County Board largely based on the politics of race.

Holloway managed to get all African-American supervisors as well as the one Latino supervisor to vote for him lock-step. It took over 30 rounds of voting from the 10 member board to wear out his opponents but Holloway was victorious in the end. In his last two elections to the leadership position, Holloway pledged to take more of a hands-on approach to governing. Unfortunately Holloway did not live up to his hands-on promise for much of his last term and when it comes to standing up against neo-conservative County Executive Scott Walker, Holloway has been meek.

What the County Board needs is a reform that requires elimination rounds in their elections for Chairman. Had this been the case, the several mini coalitions that refused to condense under the top two candidate would have been forced to choose between the two that had the most impressive numbers on their side.

Clearly Holloway would have been one of the finalists in a race under these reforms and he probably would have won anyway, but at least the board wouldn’t have felt forced into voting for a candidate the majority wouldn’t have wanted.

But there are other nuances in this recent race that are noteworthy. One of the candidates for Chairman, Gerry Broderick decided last minute that he would make for a great Chairman. While I won’t make any judgment on his abilities or qualifications, it’s out of the ordinary and difficult when others who were established candidates find someone like Broderick who appears to be out to win this for himself rather than to provide a voice in contrast to Walker.

Essentially, Broderick’s late entry into the race meant there were 5 candidates vying to chair the 19 member board. Of these candidates, Holloway had 8 of the 19 votes locked up due more to ethnic and racial loyalty rather than commitment to leadership. Another vote, freshman Supervisor Theo Lipscomb, was not going to vote against Holloway because he represents a primarily African American district and he believes he should vote the will of his district.

The other Supervisors, not bound by racial loyalty, were fractured not only with their votes, but with their own personal ideologies. Conservatives didn’t feel they could vote for a liberal and Supervisor Jim “Luigi” Schmidt, who would have been palatable to the conservatives, has the reputation for supporting most of Walker’s policies so the liberals couldn’t vote for him.

With the race coming down to Holloway or Schmidt, Broderick (who in the end succumbed), supported Holloway and was rewarded for his loyalty and is now the Chairman of the Parks committee. Almost all Supervisors who supported Holloway have now been rewarded by leadership positions on the County Board.

None of this is to say that Holloway is incapable. To the contrary, he is one of the most politically savvy members of the board and if he were to actually lead in this next term he would be a force to be reakoned with. Unfortunately his track record doesn’t leave voters with much hope.


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