By Doug Hissom Special to Published Mar 26, 2008 at 5:20 AM
It's been a somewhat lackluster spring election in the City of Milwaukee -- except maybe for an open aldermanic seat on the East Side and the Ald. Michael McGee vote -- as incumbents are facing relatively weak opponents who got late starts.

But there have been some interesting developments. Some loose observations as we head towards the April 1 vote:

• Residents in Milwaukee's South Side 12th aldermanic district might be confused as to who exactly they are "re-electing." Ald. Jim Witkowiak uses the phrase "re-elect" on his signs, since, after all, he is the incumbent. Challenger Angel Sanchez has "re-elect Sanchez" on his gaudy green and orange signs. In essence, Sanchez is also correct, sort of.

Sanchez was bounced from the Common Council four years ago by Witkowiak after Sanchez narrowly beat Witkowiak four years before that. Sanchez was viewed as being largely ineffective, as was Witkowiak after his first term eight years ago. So it is correct to say that Sanchez is seeking re-election, just not while holding office. More accurately it could be said that Witkowiak is seeking to be re-re-elected.

• When there's a gay candidate on the ballot expect a visit from some hate-filled literature courtesy of Ralph Ovadahl, the state's high-profile prejudiced preacher. Anti-gay literature is popping up on the city's East Side and in Riverwest, where Pat Flaherty is running for alderman against Nic Kovac.

While not mentioning Flaherty directly the literature is quite derogatory.

"It is because of the no-special-rights approach that we now have open homosexuals involved in many activities from which they should have been banned, and principled property owners and businessmen are required by law in many states to rent to and employ persons of low moral character engaged in immoral conduct which flies in the face of the deepest beliefs of the landlords and employers," reads the flyer, in part.

Ovadahl and his Pilgrim's Covenant Church used the same tactics when state Sen. Tim Carpenter, who is gay, ran for Congress and for his state senate seat.

Flaherty won the primary and has the most broad-based support since his issues are also the most broad-based. Kovac is known mainly opposition to the new Downer Avenue development, of which his dad has been a prominent opponent.

Flaherty served as the director of community relations for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of Milwaukee and helped organize Milwaukee's efforts to defeat the anti-gay marriage amendment. He has been endorsed by the Milwaukee Labor Council, AFSCME, and the LGBT Center Advocates PAC, Wisconsin's only LGBT political action committee.

• When it comes to local elections "retail politics" is the key -- knocking on doors, glad-handing in the local pubs, hitting the church festivals and continued smiling. Milwaukee County Executive candidate Lena Taylor and judicial candidate Rebecca Dallet took the retail end of the campaigns to new highs last week, paying visits to local taverns to join the revelry of St. Patrick's Day. Taylor and Dallet made separate appearances at the packed Franky's Newport bar, 939 E. Conway St., in Bay View (where this writer works on a part-time basis). They received hearty receptions from the capacity crowd and drawing accolades from the patrons.

• It would be a huge blow to the Coggs family if Milele Coggs loses to jailed Ald. Michael McGee April 1. After all, losing to a guy running from behind bars would be a further embarrassment to the North Side political machine the Coggs family has built for decades.

There have been county board supervisors, state representatives and state senators in the Coggs family. No matter that many have been do-nothings. For example, state Rep. Leon Young is better known as co-owner of a nightclub where people were killed than for his legislative record. Young has also been consistently a top requester of per diems for daily work supposedly done in the Capitol, but lacks the track record to back up those claims.

Milele Coggs failed in 2003 to win in a neighboring aldermanic district, not even making it through the primary. The ultimate winner then, Willie Wade, is also from a prominent North Side family, but one not as extensive as the Coggs' machine.

Despite holding a law degree from UW-Madison, Coggs, 30, is not practicing and lists herself as a "political consultant." But for a political consultant Coggs is going light on the issues, offering no specifics on her Web site and neglecting to fill out a candidate questionnaire requested from the daily newspaper. She does have a nice picture of herself with Gov. Jim Doyle and Sen. Barack Obama on the Web site, however.

• Brad DeBraska lists his occupation as a "judicial consultant" in his race against Southeast Side Ald. Terry Witkowski. DeBraska is best known, however, as former president of the Milwaukee Police Association, which long battled with police chiefs of the past.

It is also one of the few unions that endorses Republican candidates -- some that even the Milwaukee Police Supervisors Organization would not dare to cozy up to. MPA's endorsement of Tommy Thompson for governor was soon followed by DeBraska's appointment to the UW System Board of Regents by Thompson

DeBraska now serves as chairman of the Police Officers Defense Fund, Inc., which hires lawyers for cops in trouble, sponsors youth sports teams and doles out $2,000 scholarships to cops' kids.

• It is kind of interesting when candidates try not to disclose their age, especially in an electronic age that renders such information easily available. Brenda K. Pullen-O'Donnell, a Milwaukee Public Schools teacher challenging two-term incumbent Ald. Jim Bohl on the Northwest Side, declined to give her age to the Journal Sentinel, however a quick check of state court records shows she is 57. We also found that Pullen-O'Donnell had her wages garnished over some hospital bills in 2003 and 2004.

Pullen-O'Donnell received the daily newspaper's endorsement over the oft-acerbic and quite preachy Bohl, 36; a rare move for the staid daily.

• Sharon Polk, who is running against Downtown Ald. Bob Bauman, gets the candidates' lead-foot award, having been ticketed twice for speeding -- once for going more than 16 miles per hour over the limit on the freeway -- and twice for not wearing a seat belt.

• Despite a famous name, Andy Reid faces the near-impossible task of overcoming Bay View Ald. Tony Zielinski, who nabbed 83 percent of the vote in the primary. The real estate exec shares his name with famous NFL coach Andy Reid of the Philadelphia Eagles and formerly of the Green Bay Packers. But timing is everything in politics, they say, and Reid's real estate firm -- Kinetic Realty on Brady Street -- failed to shovel the sidewalk in front of its office after the last big snowstorm, claims one eagle-eyed Bay View resident. The building was one of the last on the street to finish the job. Good thing it was on the East Side.

Reid has also taken the unique position that being a Milwaukee alderman is not a full-time job despite its $70,000 plus annual pay. He says he could keep his real estate job and the aldermanic post and return some of his aldermanic pay. 

Doug Hissom Special to
Doug Hissom has covered local and state politics for 20 years. Over the course of that time he was publisher, editor, news editor, managing editor and senior writer at the Shepherd Express weekly paper in Milwaukee. He also covered education and environmental issues extensively. He ran the UWM Post in the mid-1980s, winning a Society of Professional Journalists award as best non-daily college newspaper.

An avid outdoors person he regularly takes extended paddling trips in the wilderness, preferring the hinterlands of northern Canada and Alaska. After a bet with a bunch of sailors, he paddled across Lake Michigan in a canoe.

He lives in Bay View.