What would it take to boot Bob Donovan from office?

Quick! A Milwaukee alderman is holding a press conference. Who could it be? Why is this man talking, and how much longer do we have to listen to him?

Nine chances out of ten it’s from Milwaukee’s #1 noise-making alderman Bob Donovan. After we had the second or third snowiest December on record, Donovan’s latest trick was to complain about the snow, and how it’s taking the city plowing service a while to get the side streets cleared out. Like any true grandstander, he’s making it sound as if peoples’ lives are in danger as a result — even though that’s not at all true. Quoting the Journal Sentinel:

“Many of our side streets are simply impassable for emergency vehicles,” Donovan told reporters. “These streets need to be cleared out.”

However, Donovan said he was not aware of any case where a firetruck, ambulance or squad car had been unable to get through. [Emphasis added.]

As Zach at Blogging Blue said, “Donovan has taken it upon himself blast city public works officials for failing to tow stranded cars which were blocking streets. [He sits on the DPW committee. – JH] However, according to Patrick Curley, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett’s chief of staff, Alderman Donovan was briefed about the situation at 11 a.m., which would be 2 1/2 hours before Donovan’s 1:30 p.m. news conference on Friday.”

So he is wasting time. Only he can look like he’s Fighting For The People™ — or as Zach put it, being nothing but a “professional grandstander.”

What would it take to oust him? Let’s look at his district.

Donovan represents the 8th Aldermanic District on Milwaukee’s southwest side. It’s a fairly conservative area, running roughly from 16th and 27th street, and west between 33rd and 50th. Its southern edges skim along Euclid and Oklahoma Avenues, and I-94 marks the northern edge. Here’s a map of the district, and this map shows where it is in the bigger picture of the city. By virtue of where he is, he seems to be in line with our friends at CRG. He actually thanked them in what was, knowing Donovan, either a press release, press conference, or interview with the super business-friendly rag BizTimes. And while I don’t have a problem with the voting on the issue in discussion, note how Donovan said that getting blitzed wiht calls from the two or three people in CRG was enough to influence his vote; he called this “[erring] on the side of the little guy.” Note to the good alderman: CRG ain’t the little guy. It may be a lot of small, petty men, but they do not comprise your constituency.

So, we’ve got an alderman who lives in a traditionally conservative part of Milwaukee and has backing from a hyperconservative anti-spending group. But is it that conservative an area? Looking at the latest presidential election results from the County and trying to match them against the City’s wards is a frustrating effort, but nonetheless it shows that President-elect Obama did fairly well in many of the wards in the County’s 14th district [PDF], parts of which overlap with the City’s 8th. (And this is just another reason why we need to consolidate city and county government.)

In fact, a more telling indication of where the area’s heart lays is in the recent sales tax increase. Only one ward within the district (ward 146) vote against the increase by a slightly greater number than those who voted for it; 377 for, 385 against. All other wards voted in favor of the tax increase, which flies in the face of what groups like CRG stand for. (Thanks to Dan Cody for pointing out that data.)

Also, there’s always been some question as to how cleanly or crookedly Bob Donovan has operated. It wasn’t long ago that he was indicted but later exonerated on fraud charges. While he was exonerated, questions still remain about what he was trying to do by shuffling city money toward his group.

What it seems that we need is someone from the district, not a newcomer, but a long-time resident to start firat a grassroots campaign, and build it into a real race for Donovan’s seat. Now, get this: he was unopposed his reelection bid this past spring of 2008, which not only means that his biography is wrong in saying that it’s his first term, but it also means that no one tried to unseat him. What good is democracy if incumbents run unchallenged? If they run a fair race and win handily, fine. But someone needs to challenge him in 2012. Bob Donovan’s grandstanding and self-gratifying noisemaking would face a much-deserved challenge.

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Author: Jason Haas

Jason is an elected member of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors, occasionally moonlights as an amateur gardener, and is a proud father of two, or three, depending on how you do the math.

3 thoughts on “What would it take to boot Bob Donovan from office?”

  1. I think part of the reason no one will step up and challenge Donovan has to do with the fact that he’s firmly entrenched himself as alderman and as a result, benefits tremendously from name recognition. Money may play a big part in winning elections nowadays, but name recognition is just as important.

  2. So should no one oppose him because he is an incumbent, then? I understand where you’re coming from, but a steadily built grassroots campaign that actually talks about real issues affecting the city would make Donovan actually do some work instead of preening his own feathers and squawking loudly in front of reporters once a week.

  3. Jason, I’m not saying he shouldn’t be unopposed; I’m just saying it’ll be extremely difficult for any newcomer to have a real shot at beating him.

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