’03 alum to be added to Board

On Monday, the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors will inaugurate its youngest female board member ever.

Marina Dimitrijevic, a 2003 graduate of Marquette, celebrated her 23rd birthday Wednesday. Dimitrijevic was elected April 6 to represent the fourth district, a district she has lived in all of her life except while attending Marquette.

Professor of political science Janet Boles, who knows Dimitrijevic, said Dimitrijevic's youth and gender may be the biggest challenges she'll face as a county supervisor.

"Men tend to be judged on their potential," Boles said. "Women tend to be judged on past experience. She has no past. Eleven months ago she received her bachelor's degree in political science and Spanish from Marquette."

And 11 months ago Dimitrijevic was still unsure about what her next move should be when she graduated.

"Stupidly, I thought when I graduated everyone would know and be knocking on my door and calling," she said.

She was disappointed, however. She said she spent a couple of months in a transitional period, not knowing what to do.

Eventually she was picked up by Friebert, Finerty and St. John, a law firm in Milwaukee where she worked as a paralegal until being elected. Despite the months of uncertainty which saw Dimitrijevic consider entering the Peace Corps, Dimitrijevic said she knew from day one at Marquette that she wanted a career in politics.

"When I got to Marquette, the first day I declared political science (as a major) because I just loved politics," she said. She said she knew then she wanted to work in the field, but wasn't sure where.

During her senior year Dimitrijevic studied in Washington, D.C., at Marquette's Les Aspin Center for Government, where she finally decided she wanted to hold an elected position.

"I never thought I'd do it this young," she said, but "the thing in politics is seats don't open up that often."

The district itself is a combination of four old districts, created after recent re-districting. The supervisors who represented the old districts were not seeking re-election, so the spot was open.

While at the Les Aspin Center, Dimitrijevic worked as an intern in the office of Congressman Jerry Kleczka, who represents the south side of Milwaukee. She said networking was an advantage while in Washington, which proved true when Kleczka endorsed her.

"On the south side of Milwaukee, his endorsement is just phenomenal," she said. Dimitrijevic said the semester in Washington also helped her learn "consensus building."

Dimitrijevic said she is quite liberal and had to work and go to school with many conservatives in Washington. She learned how to work with people of different political views, which is important when holding office.

Another important skill she acquired at Marquette is proficiency in the Spanish language. As a sophomore, Dimitrijevic studied in Spain for a semester. The fourth district is 31 percent Hispanic.

"Knowing Spanish and speaking Spanish fluently is probably the main reason I was elected to this position," she said.

Her grassroots campaign for the county board involved a lot of door-knocking.

Dimitrijevic said many people she communicated with spoke English but preferred Spanish. She said they were impressed when she could accommodate.

Perhaps starting her campaign four months before any of her opponents also helped.

"Hers was truly a textbook campaign," Boles said. "She did everything right."

Boles said Dimitrijevic was a "well above-average student," which will help her as a supervisor.

Professor Lowell Barrington agreed. Barrington, a professor of political science who had Dimitrijevic in several classes during a two-year period, said she always searched for a way to connect the theoretical class material "to practical politics and the real world."

He said she faces a challenge "as anyone would have, learning the official rules and the unofficial rules" of the position.

"I'm a rookie," Dimitrijevic said. "I have to be very humble and leave it to the veteran supervisors to mentor me." She said anyone's first term is always the hardest, but she anticipates hers being even more difficult with the county's budget problems.

She said she wants to protect and improve the parks system, and will fight to keep crucial county services such as welfare programs and mental health programs.

"That's what I love about local government," she said, "You really affect people's lives."