Green candidates win 7 of 12 seats in Spring 2009
by Ron Hardy, Green Party of Wisconsin and editor of GreenPartyWatch.org
The Wisconsin Green Party has had a history of successes in the non-partisan spring elections and 2009 was no exception. Twelve candidates were on the ballot, including six incumbents. Five of the six incumbents retained their offices and two challengers were elected for a 58 percent win rate.
In Oshkosh two Greens won elections for three city council seats on the seven-member Common Council. All seats were elected at-large and all candidates were on a single ballot with the top three vote getters winning seats on the council.
Dr. Tony Palmeri, a University of Wis≠consin Oshkosh communication studies professor, outspoken media critic and former candidate for State Assembly on the Green Party ticket in 2004, won a seat on the Oshkosh Common Council in his first attempt two years ago. As an incumbent this year, Palmeri was considered a front-runner due to his broad public appeal and his tough stance on City Hall and open government transparency over the last two years in office. He had the support of labor organizations, blue-collar voters, Greens, “progressives,” Democrats, environmentalists, and others. His only opposition was from the Chamber of Commerce, which actively sought candidates to try to unseat Palmeri.
The local newspaper, the Oshkosh North≠western, endorsed Palmeri again this year, stating: “Palmeri has been a change agent at City Hall. With captivating rhetorical skills, he has not shied from asking probing questions or demanding greater openness and public access to government. He has not fallen into the trap of opposition without alternatives.”
Fellow Green Party candidate Bob Poeschl, a life long Oshkosh resident, joined Tony Palmeri on the ballot for Oshkosh Common Council. Poeschl, who started the Winnebago Peace and Justice center in 2003, was awarded the 2004 “Peacemaker of the Year” award from the Wisconsin Net≠work for Peace & Justice. He is also a former co-chair of the Wisconsin Green Party, and ran for Oshkosh Common Council in 2005, when he received 1,403 votes in the February primary for 7 percent of the vote and did not advance to the general election.
This year Bob Poeschl ran a textbook campaign based on fund raising and building name recognition. He raised and spent close to $2,000. He knocked on doors every weekend, and had volunteers out dropping literature twice a week. He had radio ads, newspaper ads, and made himself available to every community group that would have him speak.
In Madison, the Four Lakes Green Party endorsed Greens Marsha Rummel and Satya Rhodes-Conway for Madison Com≠mon Council. Both were incumbents, and both were unopposed. Rummel was first elected two years ago in 2007 in Madisonís District 6, one of Madisonís ëgreenestí districts. Rhodes-Conway was also first elected two years ago in a tightly contested race in Madisonís District 12. She is also a member of Progressive Dane and the Dane County Democrats.
Very few individuals have influenced local government over the last eight years more than Brenda Konkel did in Madison. Konkel was first elected to the Madison Common Council in 2001, and was re-elected in 2003, 2005, and 2007. This year however, she did not win another term due to strong efforts to get her out of the council. Mayor Dave Cieslewicz recruited candidates to run against Konkel as she was the one councilor to challenge his agenda. “He felt because I bring things up at the council, I blindside him,” said Konkel, in the Wisconsin State Journal. “Heís a nice guy, but heís cutthroat when it comes to politics. I guess Iím in his way.”
Konkel faced an unusually large field of four candidates in the February primary, yet finished strong with 40.44 percent of the vote. The other candidate to survive the primary, Bridget Maniaci, was an intern in the office of Mayor Cieslewicz. Although the Maniaci campaign went negative, the Konkel campaign stayed focused on securing and publicizing key endorsements, raising over $7,000, handing out lots of literature, and running vote drives.
In the general election, Konkel lost to Maniaci with 48 percent. “When losing by 64 votes of 1800, every little thing led to my defeat,” said Konkel. “Spring break in the Madison Schools hurt me; my opponent was younger and that helped her get votes on campus; the Mayor; recent issues that I supported that were controversial; what is left of the media and their biases throughout the years; and the police union spent more than $4,000 [to oust me]. But we stayed positive. We didnít go negative. I didnít want to win under those circumstances.”
Madisonís fourth Green Party candidate didnít make it past the primary. First-time candidate Katrina Flores ran in the student heavy District 8, a seat that was held from 2003 to 2007 by Wisconsin Green Austin King. Flores is a co-founder of the Multicultural Student Coalition, founder of the Youth Engaged through Language Project. Flores finished third in the primary, falling just seven votes short of second place. This student district had very low turnout, with just over 500 total votes cast.
In Milwaukee, two Green Party candidates, Peter Blewett and Annie Wood≠ward, won seats for Milwaukee Board of School Directors. Blewett, an incumbent School Board Director who was elected President of the Board in 2007, joined the Green Party this spring. Blewett has been a champion of social justice and environmental issues on the Milwaukee School Board and had caught the attention of the Milwaukee Greens. He enacted a ban on pesticides at Milwaukee Schools and repealed the handcuff policy enacted by a previous board. Blewett has been a strong supporter of language and arts education in Milwaukee schools and an outspoken critic of charter schools.
Annie Woodward, who has run for local office (County Board) twice before, ran this spring for District 4 Milwaukee Board of School Directors. Woodward was born and raised in Alabama where she attended segregated schools. She moved to Milwaukee in 1961. She has work≠ed for Milwaukee County for over 30 years as a mental health worker and social worker. “I truly believe that every child deserves the opportunity to be what he or she wants to be,” said Woodward. Woodward finished first in the February 17 primary with 348 votes or 44 percent of the vote. Wood≠ward won the general election in a very close race that was decided by absentee ballots. On election night she was losing by 82 votes from the polling stations, but by the time absentee ballots were tallied she defeated her opponent by 76 votes due to her overwhelming advantage in absentee votes.
In a statewide race, professor Todd Price was a last-minute addition for the non-partisan Superintendent of Public Instruction, the administrative head of education in Wisconsin. Although Price did not win the seat, for such short notice it was an impressive campaign. Price is a professor in curricular education at National Louis University and a resident of Kenosha, WI just north of Chicago. He got his PhD from the University of Wis≠consin-Madison in curriculum and instruction, where he was a union organizer with SEIU and worked on student labor and higher education issues.
Price and the Wisconsin Green Party decided to go ahead with the campaign with just weeks remaining to gather over 2,000 signatures with no campaign structure in place. On January 6 they turned over 2,100 signatures. They were challenged, but responded with a final tally of 2,010 signatures, just enough to join four other candidates on the February 17 primary ballot across the state.
Priceís campaign quickly pulled to≠gether a coalition of support, including Pete Karas as campaign manager and organizers from both the Wisconsin Green Party and Progressive Dane, a local Madison-based political party that endorsed Price on February 2. Price ran on dismantling “No Child Left Behind,” fixing the school funding formula, building safe schools through anti-discrimination measures and tolerance for students and teachers of different religions, ethnicities and sexual orientations. He also spoke about the “Truth in Recruiting” movement that seeks to make sure that students hear both sides of the story when talking to military re≠cruiters so they can fairly weigh the risks of military service along with the benefits.
Priceís campaign probably suffered its biggest blow when the State Teacherís Union endorsed the current Deputy Super≠intendent Tony Evers, who would go on to win the general election on April 7. Price finished in fourth place in the primary with 28,927 votes, 11.26 percent of the vote.
Still working on Priceís campaign, Pete Karas made a bid for first Green mayor in Wisconsin in a special election. When Racine Mayor Dave Becker was arrested for child enticement and child pornography, a special election was scheduled to replace him. Karas was recruited to run for the office, being a lifelong resident of Racine and having served for five years on the Racine Common Council. He is well known in the city for being a man of integrity. Unfortunately ten other candidates also filed for the April special election primary, a huge field of candidates that would ensure no candidate would move to the special general election May 5 with anything near a majority of the votes.
Karas hit the ground running, converting his “Cynthia McKinney for Pres≠i≠dent” office into a Pete Karas for Mayor office in downtown Racine. He quickly hired a campaign manager, raised money, built a team of volunteers to drop literature and put out ads on TV, radio, and YouTube. Karas was President of WAVE (Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort) that seeks to get handguns off the streets of our cities. Al≠though Karas had appeared to have strong grassroots support, he came in 6th of 11 candidates in the special election primary for Mayor of Racine with 851 votes (9 percent). “I was everybodyís second choice,” said Pete Karas, who was disappointed with the results but didnít appear too surprised. Karas did not make definite plans for future races but he is serving on the Wis≠consin Green Partyís Election Com≠mit≠tee, which is preparing to begin recruiting candidates for 2010 races.
Bruce Hinkforth, co-chair of the Wis≠consin Green Party and former state as≠sembly candidate, ran for Common Council in Oconomowoc, WI. He was one of three candidates on the ballot, and came in third with 15 votes (2.7 percent).
Hinkforth has been with the Wisconsin Green Party for over 20 years. He has been active in the local Natural Step for Sustainable Communities movement in Oconomowoc, and stated that he was laying the groundwork for a future campaign.
JoEllen Gramling ran unopposed for Town Clerk of Schleswig, WI, a township of 1,985, 45 miles south of Green Bay. She has served as the Town Clerk since 1999.