And the Winners Are

Published May 1, 1999

While reform candidates rarely have the upper hand in elections with low voter turnout, that was not the case in Milwaukee’s recent school board election. Only 16 percent of Milwaukee voters went to the polls, yet reformers handily beat status quo candidates backed by the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association. Milwaukee voters elected the following candidates to represent their interests on the Milwaukee School Board for the next four years:

John Gardner

Although once a union organizer, incumbent city-wide board member John Gardner was the teacher union’s number one target for defeat in favor of challenger Theadoll Taylor, a retired principal from the Milwaukee Public Schools. Despite attacks against him in television ads and fliers, Gardner easily defeated Taylor by a 60-40 margin.

Donald Werra

Focusing on a school safety theme, former police captain Donald Werra defeated incumbent school board president Joe Fisher in a tight race.

Jeff Spence

Challenger Jeff Spence, an administrative specialist for the city’s sewerage district, easily defeated incumbent Sandra Small.

Ken Johnson

In what the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel called “one of the most aggressive grass-roots campaigns in the city,” journeyman electrician Ken Johnson defeated incumbent Leon Todd.

Joe Dannecker

Running for an open seat, attorney Joe Dannecker defeated economist Stephen Latin-Kasper.

Other winners were Mayor John O. Norquist, who supported the five winning candidates, and Milwaukee business leaders, most of whom also supported the reform candidates and donated to their campaigns. According to Tim Sheehy of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, business leaders “decided we couldn’t get good employees with only 44 percent of high school students graduating.”