By Gregg Hoffmann Special to Published Mar 30, 2004 at 5:19 AM

District Attorney E. Michael McCann's announcement that he will file civil charges against acting Mayor Marvin Pratt would normally be the death blow for a candidate. But don't bet on it.

Many minority voters in the city feel Pratt has been getting a raw deal because he is African American. They feel the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and other media have scrutinized Pratt closer because of his race.

That's why a poll released over the weekend showed Pratt in a dead heat with Tom Barrett. Around 90 percent of likely African American voters still supported Pratt.

Many of these voters very likely will see McCann's findings as just another racist attempt by the white power structure to derail Pratt's campaign. It would not be surprising if other polls before next week's election still show the race to be very close.

If McCann had found reasons for criminal charges, some African-American voters likely would have changed their votes. But McCann did not find reason for criminal charges, instead saying Pratt has co-mingled personal and campaign funds. It amounts to sloppy bookkeeping, not a crime, the report says.

That should still be a concern for any voter, regardless of their race. The next mayor will have to propose budgets during very challenging economic and tax climates. If a man is sloppy with his bookkeeping as a candidate, will he continue as the top elected official in the city?

But on Monday, some African-Americans were calling McCann's findings a victory for Pratt. They contend that Pratt's questionable bookkeeping pales in comparison to the misdeeds of aldermen Jeff Pawlinski and Paul Henningsen, who were convicted by the feds of misusing their campaign funds. They also point out that those officials are white.

In a press conference Monday afternoon, Pratt said he took "full responsibility" but said his campaign reports contained "mistakes" not "misdeeds."

Pratt said he used personal dollars in his campaign that were not properly reported and that his campaign actually owes him money. He said he would pay the fine that goes along with the charges, but added that he felt the charges were "politically motivated."

Federal investigators found nothing wrong when they investigated him and several Common Council members months ago, Pratt said. The more recent investigations have been prompted by the Barrett campaign, he added.

As for his ability to propose budgets, Pratt said the mayor sets "policy and direction" and doesn't "sign any checks."

Pratt said he was moving on to address the issues "that really concern the citizens of Milwaukee." He said he did not think the controversy would sway voters.

He might very well be right. So, the outcome next week will still come down to turnout in the African American community and among other demographic groups in the city.

County Exec

Challenger David Riemer has waged a very aggressive press release and ad campaign in the weeks between the primary and election, but it remains to be seen how much that effort can cut into the substantial margin incumbent Scott Walker had in the primary.

Pensions -- an issue that swept Walker into office and led to the recalls of several county supervisors -- have again surfaced as an issue in recent weeks. First, Riemer asserted that while Walker says he returns $60,000 of his annual salary to the county his pension is still calculated based on the salary of $132,000.

Second, Walker asserted that a city pension deal, negotiated while Riemer served as city budget director, would "cost the taxpayers millions." Riemer countered by claiming that the deal actually saved the city $25 million.

Riemer has received the endorsements of most unions and public employees, and has received help from state Democrats. Walker has support of Republicans within and outside the county and still seems to have many voters agreeing with his tax control emphasis.

Riemer likely will cut the large margin from the primary, but any victory by him would have to be classified a major upset.

Other Races

The pension scandal also has surfaced as an issue in a couple of races in which former county supervisors who were recalled over the issue are running again.

Supporters say the plea bargain deal reached with former county budget guru Gary Dobbert showed he was the guilty party in the scandal, and basically duped supervisors along with constituents.

But opponents maintain these supervisors are using Dobbert as a scapegoat. At the very least, these opponents claim, the supervisors who were in office at the time should have known what they were voting in when the souped-up pensions came before the board.

The race drawing the most interest pits Jim McGuigan, who was recalled after the pension scandal, against Joe Rice, a veteran of the Whitefish Bay Village Board. McGuigan has been endorsed by state Rep. Sheldon Wasserman, district attorney E. Michael McCann and Tom Bailey, who held the seat for years. Walker backs Rice.

The spring county supervisor races and aldermanic races in the city will determine who the next county exec and mayor have to work with.

There will be no presidential primary to boost turnout like there was in the primary. But in the city, one would expect the close mayoral race to entice a good turnout. For those at the top and bottom of the ticket, it depends on who turns out.

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Gregg Hoffmann Special to
Gregg Hoffmann is a veteran journalist, author and publisher of Midwest Diamond Report and Old School Collectibles Web sites. Hoffmann, a retired senior lecturer in journalism at UWM, writes The State Sports Buzz and Beyond Milwaukee on a monthly basis for OMC.