Monday, August 26th, 2019

Donovan’s run

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Bruce Murphy over at the Urban Milwaukee website is already predicting Milwaukee Alderman Bob Donovan will not defeat Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in the 2016 spring election.

Why can’t Donovan win a race for mayor? Let us count the reasons. For starters, no alderman has won a campaign for mayor since the election of 1910, when Emil Seidel was elected heading up a Socialist wave that was historically unique. His fellow socialist Daniel Hoan later won after serving as city attorney, which gave him a city-wide base to run for mayor, while Henry Maier and John Norquist were state senators and Barrett a congressman — all had a much larger electoral base than an aldermanic district.

Donovan also has no money. Barrett now has $454,461 in campaign funds or 29 times more the $15,497 Donovan has. Donovan can expect to get some money from Republican-leaning individuals and groups who’d favor anyone who attacks Barrett, which Donovan does routinely. But he won’t get anywhere near enough money to level the playing field.

Donovan is also unlikely to gain many volunteers to support him. Why? Because there is probably no one on the Common Council who will support Donovan.

I’m surprised Murphy did not mention Donovan’s arrest in 1992 on the UW-Milwaukee campus.

I do want to caution Murphy on some of his analysis. I don’t know if Donovan can win and I certainly won’t make predictions this far out. But let’s look at some of Murphy’s assumptions:

1. Money. I’ll grant that Donovan will not raise as much as Barrett. However, Donovan should be able to raise enough to run an adequate campaign. As we learned with Clarke’s re-election, money can’t buy everything.

2. Geography. I’m sympathetic to the idea that a larger geographic base is needed to knock off an incumbent mayor in Milwaukee. What Murphy is missing is that Donovan has a constituency outside his district because of his ability to attract attention on law-and-order issues.How big and how firm that constituency is will determine Donovan’s viability, not the size of his aldermanic district.

3. Lack of support from fellow Common Council members. So what? Is there a more lonely figure in Milwaukee County politics than Sheriff Clarke? By starting his campaign now, Donovan has time to build a grass roots base plus build his message through talk radio and other alternative media.

It’s a mistake to underestimate Donovan at this point in the campaign. We have no idea what other candidates will be entering the race or how the voting blocs will be split.

It’s worth remembering that John Norquist actually came in second to former acting governor Martin Schreiber in the mayoral primary in 1988. If Donovan ends up in the top two in a split primary, who knows what could happen? I’m certainly not going to predict at this point Donovan is going to win, but it’s certainly too early to tell what will happen.

The more interesting question to me is why are so many candidates interested in running? Over at the MacIver Institute, I gave an answer to the question by pointing to the public policy problems confronting the city and the failures to deal with them. Those issues are fueling the possible candidacies of Donovan, Clarke, and Ald Joe Davis. Mikel Holt of the Community Journal also suggested on Sunday Insight with Charlie Sykes that State Sen Lena Taylor might be a candidate.

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