By Gregg Hoffmann Special to Published Mar 02, 2004 at 5:14 AM

If the February primary was any indication, incumbent Scott Walker should stroll into a second term as Milwaukee County executive.

But do the voters have the right to know for how long?

David Riemer, Walker's opponent, has pushed him to sign a pledge that he would last out his term as exec, but Walker has refused to do so.

Democrats have been raising the issue since late November, when Walker said in a interview that ``if I can do well here (in the county), I can make a very good case I could do well in a larger platform throughout the state of Wisconsin.'' But he said his focus was on ``getting the job done'' in Milwaukee County.

Republican insiders speculate that Walker could be running for governor in '06 along with Assembly Speaker John Gard and Green Bay-area Congressman Mark Green.

Riemer challenged Walker to lay out his political future during a recent noon-hour debate in front of the Kiwanis Club of Milwaukee.

"Scott, I think we agree that Milwaukee County faces some major challenges that the county executive will need to deal with in the next four years," Riemer said. "There are fiscal and budget issues - how to maintain the county's long-term financial health without raising taxes or destroying important services.

"There are the bigger issues, like driving down health care costs and creating jobs to put the tens of thousands of unemployed people in Milwaukee County to work. None of these are things that can be fixed overnight. All require some long-term vision and commitment.

"So my question, Scott, is whether you will join me today in signing a pledge to serve a full four-year term if you are elected on April 6. I'm willing to make that commitment. I think the voters and the taxpayers deserve it. And I hope you will agree and join me by signing this now."

Walker said Riemer was raising a non-issue. He also criticized Riemer for leaving as state budget director after only 11 months to run for county exec.

Politicians leave one office to move to another all the time. The main issue is what kind of job they do while in the office they have been elected to. Riemer's use of the issue recalls a couple of Tommy Thompson's re-election races. Democratic opponents raised the same issue, but it didn't catch on. Republican strategists say said if handled in the right way, speculation about running for a higher office is a net gain with voters; voters seem to like that their hometown pol is successful enough to be up for a promotion. It didn't work against Thompson, and it won't work now against Walker, they predict.

And if the primary results are an indication, it looks like his constituents think Walker has done a decent job in his first term.

But Walker's next term is the one that will count very soon. Riemer is correct in saying that many of the challenges facing the county need long-term commitment and planning. A non-issue? ``Within the last week, Walker has declared three `non-issues' in the county executive race,'' answers Riemer's blog at, referring to whether Walker would fill out the full term and the county exec's dismissal of Riemer's criticisms on health care and concealed carry. ``What they have in common is that they are all things the voters really care about. It's Walker who couldn't care less.''

Will Walker start planning a gubernatorial campaign a year or so after he starts his second term?

It's a legitimate question to raise, and one Walker should answer in some forum.

Pier Wisconsin compromise

Kudos should go to all those involved in working out the compromise plan for Pier Wisconsin. It looks like it should add a great deal to the already-developed lakefront without detracting from the Calatrava or natural beauty to the north.

The proposal first stirred a rather heated debate between Michael Cudahy, the main backer of the project, and art museum officials. But instead of becoming entrenched, they remained open to discussion and revisions.

Results of the compromise have received good reviews. Acting Mayor Marvin Pratt and Pier Wisconsin officials unveiled the long-awaited redesign of the $46 million lakefront education center at Municipal Pier at a recent news conference. Pratt called the planned facility "spectacular" and "a wonderful addition to the lakefront."

Pier Wisconsin will house Discovery World, the museum of science, technology and economics now based in the Milwaukee Public Museum. Discovery World will be connected to the Great Lakes Aquatarium at the eastern tip of the pier -- a three-story structure with a canopied observation deck on the roof.

The Aquatarium, with an amphitheater stepped down to the water, is to include interactive displays about freshwater resources, plus a digital theater, two aquariums, classroom space and a replica of Pier Wisconsin's Denis Sullivan schooner. The schooner, when it's not serving as a floating classroom, will be anchored off the end of the pier.

Cudahy, a major benefactor of the project, said he felt "wonderful" about the redesign and the compromise that has been reached.

An activist group called The Park People said its main concern is that the project fit in with others along the lakefront and maintain public access to the lake. The group suggested a newly formed county task force on lakefront issues look at the Pier Wisconsin plans. The Common Council is scheduled to consider the project March 19. Pier Wisconsin could break ground in late spring, and the complex could open in late 2005.

For a project that stirred so much initial controversy, and led to such a heated debate, it is encouraging to see what cooperation and compromise have created. Those hoping to make the USS Des Moines a veterans' memorial along the lakefront should heed the process in Pier Wisconsin. In fact, anybody planning a project, on the lakefront or elsewhere in the community, could learn from it.

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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.