The big news on the cable channels last night was the continuing battle for the Republican presidential nomination. But down the ballot in Milwaukee, amidst the unprecedented Scott Walker-inspired anti-worker fervor, a community organizer defeated a longtime Alderman in a nearly overlooked upset.
Pro-working family candidate Jose Perez challenged three-term Alderman James Witkowiak on a platform of economic fairness. A lifelong Milwaukee resident, Perez worked in real estate, economic development, and with the faith community as Executive Director of MICAH, a social justice coalition of city congregations. He took the incumbent Witkowiak to task for voting against policies working families need – and won.
“The people of District 12 went to the polls to make a change,” said Working America State Director Peter Drummond. “Yesterday, they united across demographic lines to get good representation for their families and communities.” Witkowiak used to be popular in this district, in which 49 percent of registered voters self-identify as Latino and 43 percent identify as white.
Working America supported Perez against Witkowiak—who became a symbol of candidates who take labor’s support for granted even as they undermine basic tenets of economic fairness. “Working people are tired of politicians who claim to represent their interests and then vote against minimum job requirements such as a decent wage or the ability to earn time off for maternity leave. That’s not who they want representing District 12,” Drummond said.
This victory would be significant on its own, but think about what’s going on in Wisconsin right now. After six straight months of job loss in the state, major figures like Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are standing fast with the incredibly divisive policies of Gov. Scott Walker. Since he has no evidence that his policies are good for Wisconsin, Walker is relying on millions of dollars in attack ads against workers and their unions. “There is a lot of poisonous rhetoric coming out of the right-wing noise machine,” Drummond said, “but, as evidenced yesterday, working families in District 12 know who stands with them and who doesn’t.”
So despite the endless attack ads on the airwaves, the vicious anti-worker agenda coming out of the Governor’s office, and the contentious political atmosphere in the state, this was at the end an election about bringing pro-worker leadership to a city that needs it now more than ever. “We shared our vision of Honesty, Integrity, and New Leadership for our Neighborhoods and the people of the 12th District responded clearly,” Perez wrote last night, “Tonight, we celebrate. Tomorrow, we get to work and begin bringing the leadership to City Hall that the people of the near south side truly deserve.”
The Milwaukee Area Labor Council, SEIU and We Are Milwaukee also played critical roles in this upset.