Chris Abele, after receiving the concession call from Rep. Jeff Stone at the Historic Pabst Brewery, took the podium to speak to a crowd of cheering supporters on election night and pledged to accept new ideas from both sides of the political debate.
The philanthropist, who resoundingly flipped control of the county executive’s office back into Democratic hands, said he wanted to create a new county out of the shambles of the old. Abele compared fixing Milwaukee County to fixing up the Historic Pabst Brewery. The first of the famed Milwaukee brewing companies, the brewery closed in 1996, and sat empty for years, but reopened as banquet halls, a gift shop, and other venues.
“I see great value in fixing up our setting here tonight as I see great value in fixing Milwaukee County,” said Abele. “They both are assets that should not be ignored.”
Milwaukee County’s eligible voter turnout was about 30 percent for the county executive race. Chris Abele earned 61 percent of that vote for the spring election. Supporters attributed Abele’s election at least in part to what they said was voter frustration with Gov. Scott Walker’s budget repair bill.
Abele paid for an open bar from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m., which included beer, wine and soda. Several cold-cut platters were also furnished.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Wisconsin State Sen. Chris Larson were among the 300-plus guests celebrating Abele’s victory at the rustic brewery that night. Larson gained a measure of fame (or in some people’s minds, notoriety), when he fled to Illinois with other Democratic senators in an attempt to block passage of Walker’s budget repair bill. Walker, of course, last held the Milwaukee County executive seat before defeating Barrett in the governor’s race. His election had switched control of the seat into Republican hands, a rare achievement in a largely Democratic county.
“I’m happy to have Abele as my partner in the fight to fix the current condition of the city and county of Milwaukee,” Barrett said.
The brewery still contains all the original décor from when the Best family owned it decades ago.
Pledging a new approach
Minutes after Stone conceded the election to Abele, Abele greeted his supporters by saying, “He (Stone) ran a hard race and I have a new respect for anybody the makes public service their goal in life. I will enthusiastically take any opportunity I can to work with Representative Stone on anything that can advance the interest of this county.”
The county and city have had difficulties working together over the past several years. “It’s time for a new approach…it’s time to stop working apart and time to start working together,” Abele said, about the lack of cooperation between the two political entities. “I don’t see the Mayor as a political competitor, I see him as a partner and a friend,” said Abele about Barrett.
Although not present from the onset of the party, Larson made an appearance later in the evening.
“This is a step in the right direction…” he said. When asked about how much he thought the current Budget Bill issues affected the outcome of this race, Larson said, “I think people are frustrated with the current situation in Wisconsin and the results tonight show that.”
Milwaukee County as a Business
Abele compared the county to a business at one point in his acceptance speech when he said, “We need to change the culture in Milwaukee; and like any business, hold our staff accountable when they under-perform and reward them when they delivery.”
Abele answered the question of how it will be to work with the Milwaukee Common Council knowing that they have had difficulties working with each other in the past, “You don’t have to agree with people, you just have to sit down and work with them,” said Abele.
Some supporters at the party expressed voting in the county executive race was more a matter of picking the lesser of two evils.
Clay Ecklund, a Milwaukee County Employee, said, “He’s not Jeff Stone,” when asked what made Abele an attractive candidate for County Executive.
Ecklund also said that he likes Abele’s philanthropy background. Ecklund said, “If Abele can run a business, why can’t he run the county?” Ecklund has worked for the county for over 15 years. Ecklund said, “Milwaukee seems to elect officials to office that end up staying in office for several terms.” Ecklund has seen only four mayors in Milwaukee since he was old enough to pay attention.
The current proprietors, the Haertels bought the brewery over a decade ago and struggled getting the business off the ground. The current staff of the brewery initially helped get the business rolling by donating their time to the Haertels and their new business. The have managed to keep all the original woodwork in place. The upstairs contains all the original office furniture that the Best family used when they started the business many decades ago.
Eventually the Haertels want to turn the old office area of the brewery into a bed and breakfast, making the brewery a place people can come to stay at while on vacation in the Milwaukee area.