Voters in Milwaukee will decide Tuesday whether incumbent County Executive Chris Abele will continue serving their community or opt for challenger state Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee.
Abele was first elected in 2011 during a special election to fill Gov. Scott Walker’s vacancy before winning a full four-year term in 2014. Abele is a philanthropist, acts as CEO for a real estate company and manages a venture fund.
His campaign strategy has focused on his track record as county executive thus far, especially regarding the economy. In a March 9 debate between the candidates, Abele said he has reduced county debt payments from $74.5 million in 2011 to $56.6 million in 2016. Abele has also cited his creation of job training opportunities like UpLift MKE.
Larson, a former county board supervisor, is currently serving in the state Senate. He has focused heavily on a commitment to being an accessible community leader, something he claims Abele has failed to do by not being open with the public about key issues.
“That's what happens when you try to shut out the public for five years—people get upset," Larson told Wispolitics.com after a debate in Milwaukee. "This is the guy who ended up causing the transit strike last summer in the middle of Summerfest, he doesn't play well with others. He doesn't work with leaders in the community."
Larson wants to improve parks, protect the environment and enhance public schools and transit according to his campaign website. The challenger also touts his long record of opposing Walker and a Republican state Senate majority on issues such as Act 10.
The primary election for county executive was held Feb. 16 to limit the field from four candidates to the remaining two. Larson received 44.8 percent of this vote, while Abele trailed closely behind with 44.2 percent.
However, the April 5 vote held in tandem with the Wisconsin presidential primary promises to bring out far more voters than in February, especially among Milwaukee’s minorities. This may skew the vote in Larson’s favor, as he has received endorsements from popular public figures in Milwaukee’s black and Latino communities.
"We need a Milwaukee County Executive who will listen to us and fight for living wage jobs, better bus service, and support our public schools,” said U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wis., in her endorsement of Larson. “That's why I'm endorsing Chris Larson."
Abele, however, also has support among many other prominent state Democrats, including endorsements from former U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, former Gov. Jim Doyle and Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha.