By Jeff Mayers for   Published Aug 10, 2004 at 5:04 AM

{image1}For a while at Monday's 4th Congressional District forum, you might have thought that the speakers were competing for the head of a Milwaukee chamber of commerce.

The five political candidates -- three Democrats and two Republicans -- showed off their cheerleading skills during the forum, touting everything from the city's tourism assets to its high-tech potential.

Maybe it was the business-leaning audience (tech-oriented Wisconsin Innovation Network members augmented by Realtors, MMAC members and politicos). Maybe it was the recent news that the national economy is still not blooming. Maybe it was the recognition that the Milwaukee economy is in transition and needs a federal boost.

For whatever reason, the auditions for 4th CD cheerleader were on, with the competitors vying to replace U.S. Rep. Jerry Kleczka, a Dem veteran who sits on the powerful Ways and Means Committee in Congress but hasn't been a headline grabber. It looks like Kleczka's successor will display a different style. On Monday, they would have made Tommy Thompson -- the former Wisconsin huckster-in-chief -- proud.

Speaking of Thompson, even liberal state Sen. Tim Carpenter dropped the former guv's name a few times as part of his pitch that he can get things done, "I can sell Milwaukee ... because I'm a true-blue Milwaukeean!'' Carpenter said at one point. His No. 1 issue is health care.

Not to be outdone, fellow state Sen. Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, boasted of her role in securing tax credits for Midwest Airlines and venture capital funds for new businesses. She noted the region's natural resource assets, including great Lake Michigan, and the success of tech college grads. Moore said she's made a difference no matter what committee she's been on, no matter whether she was in the minority or the majority.

And she contended she'd have instant impact in Congress as the state's first African-American member of Congress. "I will not just be one in 435,'' she declared. "I will be a member of the Congressional Black Caucus ... the women's caucus.'' She said she'd like to be on Ways and Means or Appropriations, but added: "Whatever committee I'm on, I can make hay!''

Matt Flynn, the Quarles and Brady attorney who's running again for political office, called for scientific freedom, more help for entrepreneurs and renewed vigor -- whether it be in the committee room or the board room. "It really requires salesmanship and leadership,'' he said, declaring several times that his key issue was jobs. He noted that the new Congress member from Milwaukee, whoever it is, will not have the seniority Kleczka or Tom Barrett had. He said Democrats could be in the majority, but if they're not, they'll need a strong fighter to bring home the bacon. "I will be that fighter.''

Republican Gerald Boyle, a Marine Corps major and criminal defense attorney, said part of the answer to energizing Milwaukee's economy was to have the right person in Congress. He said he would "be a cheerleader and go and fight. I don't think we have a plan for economic development. You've got to lower the tax burden -- money talks.''

Republican Corey Hoze, a former Thompson team member and the other African-American in the race, was more understated in his appeal. But he said the keys were jobs and education. He said Milwaukee's education system was in crisis and he would fix it in part by boosting school choice and closing the black achievement gap. As to his operating style, he suggested he would be part diplomat and advocate. His trump card, though, was the person he called the most powerful member of Congress, Speaker Dennis Hastert. He said Hastert was on his side, having come into the state to do a fundraiser for him. "Hastert said I will have immediate impact,'' Hoze said.

Hoze downplayed Flynn's scenario of a Democrat-dominated Congress after November, saying that the power of incumbency likely means Republicans will hold control, and that he'll be in position to help Milwaukee by being in the majority. "There's a greater likelihood you will die in office than get defeated,'' he said.

To that, moderator Tom Still of the Wisconsin Technology Council quipped: "That doesn't say much about the job.''

But it's clear the job is worth seeking -- at least to the competitors who aim to sell Milwaukee in D.C.

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