Economy is top issue in Milwaukee County Executive race

With Tuesday’s primary results in, the April 5 general election for Milwaukee county executive will be a race between a man with 16 years of political experience and one who hopes to rid the county of partisan politics completely.

The candidates are Rep. Jim Stone (R-Greendale) and philanthropist Chris Abele.

According to, almost 100,000 votes were placed during the primary election, with Stone receiving the lion’s share with 44 percent of votes, followed by Abele with 25 percent. Jim Sullivan (D-Wauwatosa) came in third with 22 percent, with other candidates County Board Chairman Lee Holloway and paralegal Ieshuh Griffin in the single digits.

Moving past the primary, Stone and Abele agree that job creation, fiscal responsibility and economic development are important issues facing the county. Additionally, they both oppose tax increases.

Stone, who has served the past 12 years as a representative for the 82nd Assembly district in the Wisconsin state Legislature, said this is a key time to make necessary changes.

“The issues are creating a sustainable fiscal plan, jobs and economic development to maintain those jobs,” Stone said. “We need to create opportunities for college graduates and people who have lost their jobs. … Fixing the issues will provide the opportunities.”

Abele has no political experience, but is a civic advocate and founder of the Argosy Foundation, an international nonprofit aimed at strengthening programs in the arts, environment, education and health services. He said a solution to the county’s problems is within its leadership.

“County leadership needs to focus on one thing and one thing alone,” Abele said at a county executive candidate forum at the Law School in January. “That is the sustainable and efficient delivery of the best quality of service possible.”

The services Abele aims to provide include saving taxpayers money by issuing pension obligation bonds at reduced interest rates, according to his campaign website. He also plans to address runaway debt, protect county services such as transit and public safety, and reduce government regulation toward job creation.

Abele also plans to do away with a partisan divide in decision-making.

Brandon Lorenz, spokesman for Abele’s campaign, said in a statement that voters face a clear choice between the status quo and real change that will move the county forward.

“Chris Abele will partner with anyone, Democrat or Republican, who can help create more private sector jobs and get the budget under control,” he said.

Although Abele claims not to be a career politician, some question the amount of money he placed toward primary campaigning. One of those people is his opponent, Stone.

According to Stone and various campaign finance reports, Abele spent more than $400,000 during his primary efforts, while Stone spent $20,500. Stone said he was confident about winning the primary, but Abele’s money could be a concern.

“Yes, we won the primary, but you could almost call us the underdog in this race,” he said. “Chris Abele seems to have an unlimited amount of resources. … We’re going to have to continue to work incredibly hard to get our message across.”

Money aside, hard work seemed to pay off for both candidates, whereas their opposition will now return to their regular lives. Holloway, who came in fourth in the election, will focus on his position as county board chairman.

Harold Mester, public information manager for the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors, said Holloway plans to continue making progress on improving mental health, fighting for transit funding, reducing employee benefit costs and seeking partnerships with other local governments to reduce costs.

“The election and campaign matters are over, and I can tell you this,” Mester said on Holloway’s behalf. “Chairman Holloway is proud to serve the remainder of his term as chairman of the board.”