By Mary Spicuzza
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett easily won re-election Tuesday after a bitter and personal race, overcoming a challenge from Ald. Bob Donovan.
"I'll continue to do what I've always done, work with all parts of the community -- the north side, south side, east side, west side -- and make sure I am listening to the concerns of all people," Barrett said at his election night party at La Perla Mexican Restaurant. "We're stronger when we work together."
Barrett beat Donovan 70% to 30%, with all of the precincts reporting.
Barrett, whose party featured salsa music and plenty of margaritas, drank a cola and wiped his brow with a washcloth as he stood under bright lights at the packed restaurant.
The mayor said that in his fourth term, he wants to focus more on bringing community leaders and the private sector together. And he said he plans to continue pushing to fight poverty in the city.
Much of the debate between Barrett, 62, and Donovan, 59, centered on public safety, jobs and education.
Barrett touted his record in expanding development downtown, improving employment numbers, fighting to recover from the city's foreclosure crisis, reducing infant mortality and building job training programs. Donovan, who was first elected to represent the city's south side on the Common Council in 2000, argued that the city needed new leadership, repeatedly citing Milwaukee's recent spike in homicides and its recent rash of car thefts. He accused the mayor of lacking urgency in working toward solutions.
Some of the sharpest clashes between the pair arose over race relations in the city.
Throughout the campaign, Donovan accused Barrett of resorting to dirty politics, and especially bristled when Barrett repeatedly brought up a statement the alderman had released in 2011 following a violent incident near State Fair Park. Donovan linked the episode to "a deteriorating African-American culture in our city."
Barrett, noting that 40% of the city's population is African-American, argued that Milwaukee needed a mayor who would unite -- not divide -- the city.
For months, the mayor far outraised Donovan, and he dominated the airwaves when it came to TV and radio advertisements. Barrett painted Donovan as someone with Republican Gov. Scott Walker's ideas and GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump's erratic behavior -- a not-so-subtle reference to the alderman's legal problems over the years.
Some of Barrett's ads specifically cited a pair of incidents involving Donovan, including a 2007 clash in which a constituent accused Donovan of cursing him out and trying to slap him in front of the man's 6-year-old niece. The man previously had two other people file restraining orders against him and had been urging Donovan to help him take on a problem property next to his house.
Barrett also cited an issue dating back to 2005, when the alderman was charged by federal authorities with misdemeanor fraud after being accused of failing to disclose his financial ties to a nonprofit community group. He founded the group, the Milwaukee Alliance, after being elected to the Common Council, and his wife worked there. Federal prosecutors dropped the charge after they discovered that Donovan had disclosed his links to the alliance in a letter to city ethics officials in 2002. As part of the deal to dismiss the criminal complaint, Donovan agreed to pay a $2,500 "penalty" to the city, play no role in providing money to the alliance, and have no association with a nonprofit receiving federal funds for two years.
Donovan released only a pair of radio advertisements -- although Barrett was targeted by a secretive group led by GOP operative Craig Peterson, Milwaukeeans for Self-Governance, which attacked the mayor's record on everything from crime to plans for a streetcar.
The alderman ran on a law-and-order platform and won the endorsement of the city's police and fire unions.
"I want to thank all of you here tonight. We sent a message to this community, and although apparently we lost the mayor's race, we put the mayor on notice," Donovan said at his election night party at McKiernan's Tavern on S. 37th St. "We got the message out that we are going to continue the fight on public safety. We're going to continue the fight to get jobs back in Milwaukee. And we're going to continue the fight to improve our education."
Barrett was first elected mayor in April 2004. He was re-elected with more than 70% of the vote in both 2008 and 2012.
While he cruised to re-election as mayor in 2012, that same year he lost to Walker in a historic recall race.
Although Barrett has been in office for nearly 12 years, that's still less than half the time that Milwaukee's longest-serving mayor, Henry Maier, spent in office. Maier was mayor for 28 years, from 1960 to 1988.
Karen Herzog and Allison Dikanovic of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.
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