For the past 12 years, Michael D'Amato has served as alderman for the 3rd District -- a zig-zaggy, diverse district that runs from the East Side's Lake Drive to Pierce Street in Riverwest (part of Riverwest is in the 6th District).
In 2008, Sura Faraj and Nik Kovac will run against D'Amato, but not on the same bill. The two are friends, but are running against each other with the common goal of defeating D'Amato. The primary election is set for Feb. 19, 2008, with the general election on April 1.
Faraj is chair of the Riverwest Neighborhood Association, participating in the City's North East Side plan, the Milwaukee River Work Group and the Milwaukee Urban Agriculture Network. She's also a former business owner and real estate broker.
"I've negotiated complex deals including in Riverwest in the late '80s, when many other agents wouldn't work there," says Faraj. "I've owned my own small businesses and I've helped with start up for others, including bakeries, cafes, newspapers, the Milwaukee LGBT Center and the Riverwest Food Co-op."
Kovac spent 13 years in the Milwaukee Public Schools, and for the past few years has worked as a journalist, covering city politics and neighborhood battles in New York City and Milwaukee for the Riverwest Currents and the Shepherd Express.
"There's no better preparation for a job at City Hall than to cover its debates -- and the effect those debates end up having on the ground in neighborhoods -- as a journalist," says Kovac. "In my case, I've done that with two city halls. I can tell you what goes here that's a constant throughout urban American politics -- and what goes on here that's uniquely Milwaukee."
OnMilwaukee.com recently caught up with Faraj and Kovac to hear more about their thoughts on the district and their unique collaborative approach to create change in Brew City.
OnMilwaukee.com: Explain your "strategy" of running against each other yet with the common cause to defeat the incumbent.
Sura Faraj: I believe cooperative ventures always bring better results. Even if there are disagreements, it's beneficial to share ideas and information. Nik and I are doing that.
D'Amato is an entrenched, 12-year incumbent. He's got a lot of money in his "war chest." Nik and I both believe that running a cooperative campaign will make it harder for D'Amato to marginalize his opposition and will make it more likely that he'll be unseated. Three people running force a primary. And that's good for everyone in the district, giving more opportunity to hear multiple sides to the issues.
Nik Kovac: Sura and I first got to know each other by talking 3rd District politics, but now we talk about just about everything. She's an asset to the neighborhood, and a strong candidate for Common Council. I feel lucky to call her a friend.
OMC: Why did you decide to run?
NK: The people of the 3rd District deserve a representative who is
empathetic enough to listen to all of them, smart enough to figure out
how their ideas overlap, and then savvy enough to make workable
compromises happen. I'm running because I think can do all of those
SF: I'm running because I'd like to see the political climate on the East Side and Riverwest change. I've spent years working for positive change in my neighborhood and in the 3rd District, working for better representation in City Hall and promoting community decision-making regarding what our neighborhoods look like.
We need a creative vision for leadership that includes people from every walk of life coming together to work on issues that affect us all. That includes issues surrounding UWM, our small businesses and, under my leadership, sensible and sustainable development which answers the needs of the people.
OMC: Why the 3rd District? Why not run against Michael McGee? (Faraj lives in the 6th District.)
SF: Most of my life and my organizing take place in the 3rd District. This is the area of my experience and passion. Only a fraction of Riverwest is in the 6th District, and others have stepped up there to run.
OMC: What makes you different from the incumbent, Michael D'Amato?
NK: I listen. I know a lot, but I don't know it all. The only way to bring people together is to listen to them.
SF: For one thing, I believe in representation and giving a voice to the people, even those with whom I disagree. That's the foundation of clean government. We also need better, more sensible, long-range planning. We shouldn't be building on the river bluff, or on parkland. We should take care of sensitive, historic areas.
OMC: How would the 3rd District be different if you were elected?
NK: This district is home, and I'm a sentimental guy. My parents still live here. I was born and raised in their house on the east end of the district. Now I live on its other end, in Riverwest. I went to high school right in the middle. But when I think of my loyalties, they are to the city as a whole, not just to the neighborhoods I've lived, worked, and played in. Milwaukee will be a great city again. The residents of the 3rd District are some of its most intelligent and involved citizens. We can be the leaders of that resurgence.
SF: It would be cleaner, more inclusive and service-oriented and we'd be getting a variety of things done. I would work with my constituents to create a vision with a strong focus on small business development, ecological and environmentally sustainable projects, and sensible and sustainable development answering the needs of the people. Milwaukee still has a lot of work to do regarding segregation, and I'd like to bring some of that work to a table we can all sit at. There would be more art in the streets, better bike lanes, and students and long-time homeowners working together on the issues that affect us all.
OMC: Any closing thoughts?
SF: I can relate to and have worked with all kinds of people. I have sold a house to Mayor Norquist on the same day that I went to a basement punk show. I've rolled up my sleeves to start my own businesses and I've also supported others in starting theirs. I'm willing to take constructive criticism. I'm able to negotiate, compromising when necessary, but listening to people and their bottom-line concerns. I'll bring color to the district and better ideas, art, community-building and a real responsiveness that has been lacking in carrying out the serious business of the city.
NK: Setting a less divisive tone is not just for the sake of decorum. While I'm in office, there are going to be controversies, and people are going to have objections to what's going on. But instead of calling them "naysayers" and trying to defeat them in the short-term, I'm not going to focus on the "No." I'm going to find out the different kind of "Yes" they are trying to articulate, and in the long-term that style will actually get more done.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.