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Mayoral maybes

Illustrations by James Kloiber

January 2014

Although Tom Barrett handily won a third term as Milwaukee mayor last year, speculation about who might run for the city’s top political office in 2016 is already percolating. "Mayor Barrett is well positioned to run again in 2016 if he chooses, but there’s still hope of finding a viable candidate to run against him," says Janet Boles, professor emerita of political science at Marquette University. So who’s being mentioned about town as a potential candidate? Among the possible contenders:

Tom Barrett

Despite rumors of a potential position in the Obama Administration, Barrett was already seeking contributions for his re-election campaign last spring.

Although critics say he lacks charisma, should Barrett decide to run for a fourth term, he holds several advantages, including plentiful campaign funds, loyal supporters and the incumbency.

Mordecai Lee, professor of governmental affairs at UW-Milwaukee, points out the last incumbent to lose a Milwaukee mayoral election was Daniel Hoan, who lost to Carl Zeidler in 1940 after 24 years in office.

"Incumbents typically have an edge, but in Milwaukee it’s particularly significant," Lee says.

Marina Dimitrijevic

Last April Milwaukee County Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic earned the distinction of being the youngest person — and only the second woman — elected as chair of the County Board of Supervisors.

A Milwaukee County supervisor since 2004 (when she was elected at age 22), Dimitrijevic is a strong proponent of responsible economic development and environmental protection. Her focus on supporting the needs of working families has made Dimitrijevic a favorite among area residents, earning her nominations for Milwaukeean of the Year and Best Milwaukee County Supervisor in local media’s "best-of" contests.

She has announced her candidacy for departing Milwaukee Democrat Jon Richards’ 19th District Assembly seat, so mayoral aspirations are likely on hold until the outcome of that election .

Bob Donovan

If Bob Donovan decides to run in 2016, he can count on at least two votes. In August, a pair of friends paid for a billboard near 61st Street and Bluemound Road urging the South Side alderman to throw his hat in the ring.

Though the alderman issued a statement saying he has no plans to run, sources say the veteran politician — and vocal critic of Barrett — can’t be discounted.

First elected to the 8th District in 2000, Donovan holds annual walk-throughs to learn about residents’ concerns and view neighborhood conditions. He also serves as vice chair of the Public Works Committee.

Willie Hines

The Milwaukee Common Council president’s name surfaced almost immediately after the 2012 mayoral election, Boles says.

"Milwaukee has a similar makeup to other large cities with African American mayors," she says. "There is a liberal faction that would like to see an African American elected."

Hines has been a Milwaukee alderman since 1996, is well-liked among his constituents and has been essential in improving housing and increasing police presence in the neighborhoods he represents.

Despite voicing an interest in running for mayor in the past, there are no signs yet that Hines is preparing to mount a campaign.


Nik Kovac

Born and raised on Milwaukee’s East Side, Kovac has served as alderman for the city’s 3rd District since 2008. He’s active on several committees, including chair of the Capital Improvements Committee and vice chair of the Finance & Personnel Committee.

Outside City Hall Kovac is an ardent supporter of Milwaukee’s cultural scene, lauding neighborhood beautification programs and public art campaigns as having a positive impact on the community and local economy.

Although he’s been identified as a rising star on the Milwaukee political scene, most don’t believe the young alderman has enough clout yet to be a viable candidate for the 2016 election.

This story ran in the January 2014  issue of: