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In Milwaukee Buzz Commentary

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele removed Sue Black from her parks position last week.

Abele's move seems surprisingly political


I was out of town when the news of Sue Black's firing hit and it almost ruined my vacation because it made me so sad.

Not sad for Black, although I know her well and like her a lot.

But sad for Chris Abele and what he told us he was and what he is turning out to be.

I've known Abele for several years, back to the days when he was the main backer of Milwaukee Shakespeare, one of the best theater companies this city has ever seen.

I liked Abele. He had a sense of humor and didn't take his wealth too seriously. I know his first wife and she is a pixie doll who had a smile for everyone, even though she was the wife of a really, really rich guy.

When Abele decided to run for Milwaukee County Executive I was and early and eager supporter. And the thing I liked most about him was that he was going to be a breath of fresh air from the string of career politicians who have headed local governmental units.

There would be none of that usual petty bull that we saw all the time. Abele saw the big picture and promised a new way of doing things.

And then, out of the blue, he fires his best, most popular and most successful department head.

All because her light shone brighter than his did.

Abele is a very liberal guy. He didn't fire Black because she offended his sensibilities or beliefs. She was a maverick department head who ran what is, by far, the most visible department in the pantheon of stuff the county tries to run.

She complained and moaned in private about the cuts to the parks budget, but in public she went around the bureaucrats and got people to contribute time and money and effort to keeping our parks a jewel.

She was innovative. She was open to new ideas.

Make no mistake, she was a little edgy sometimes and nobody would ever call her easygoing. But she did a lot with dwindling funds and fewer and fewer people.

And she was popular. Real popular. Give them the same amount of money and I wouldn't be surprised if Black could beat Abele in an election.

She was always out in the parks. Always meeting with someone she wanted to help. People saw her and knew her and liked her.

Decades ago, people have said, Richard Nixon briefly considered firing Henry Kissinger because the Secretary of State had become so popular.

That's what the firing of Black sounds like. I'm sure Abele has a bunch of numbers and a bunch of supporters willing to back up his decision.

But unless he's got some evidence of egregious, almost criminal, activity, I'm left to my conclusion.

A lot of politicians I've known have a mean vendetta-fueled streak in them. Tom Ament, Scott Walker, Henry Maier and John Norquist come to mind.

I had high hopes that Chris Abele was going to be different. Now, I'm just not so sure.

Talkbacks

AndrewJ | Aug. 24, 2012 at 9:59 a.m. (report)

I've learned over the past several weeks that whenever you question a politician, you should just incessantly demand over and over again for them to release their tax returns. So that's gotta be the answer here right? Abele should release 5 years of tax returns. Then we'll understand everything. Sigh. Abele has always come off as smarmy to me. Now I'm adding chicken---- to that description. He made this move at the beginning of his 4-year term so that he wouldn't have to deal with any fallout. Most voters today have a major case of ADD, so it's hard to imagine that 3+ years from now this move will haunt him. Unfortunately.

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fetlarpo | Aug. 23, 2012 at 7:48 p.m. (report)

Everything can be related to the Packers. Sue Black is Brett Favre and Chris Abele is Ted Thompson. Eventually, a general manager gets sick of brilliant stars throwing tantrums. If Black is going around Abele to the county board and not serving the County Executive as she should be. She should be fired. I think alot of Sue Black, she was asked to make great parks with less of the people's money. Black showed how generous people's private charity and corporations charitys can be. She made government parks feel public in a good way.

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yes_that_nick | Aug. 23, 2012 at 6:53 p.m. (report)

When it seems like someone's acting like a Disney villain, chances are you don't have the whole story.

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Jfkfc | Aug. 23, 2012 at 5:43 p.m. (report)

The key word in your title is "seems." I think your assumption about Abele's motive is reactive and careless. Maybe you can give Chris a call and ask him, since you're buddies. Based on the myriad of articles written in Milwaukee that air a complete sense of shock, I have gathered an underlining message that may be much different. I'm thinking that the firing is most likely due to actions by Black that, if revealed in public, could tarnish her reputation - he used the term "gossip". Abele insinuated this a few times to reporters, but no one seems to be reporting on this.

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TosaJim | Aug. 23, 2012 at 3:53 p.m. (report)

Wow...a politician that changed his stripes once elected. Say anything you know your voters want to hear to get elected...then.....I'm disappointed too...another rich guy...out of touch with us.

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