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Yet more than a month ahead of the April 5, 2016 mayoral election, it was Barrett who leveled a double-barreled personal attack on his challenger, Milwaukee Ald. Bob Donovan.
After being targeted himself by radio advertisements from an outside group, Barrett responded by airing two radio ads hitting Donovan.
In a city that is heavily Democratic, Barrett essentially uses Republican as a dirty word.
"Donovan’s run as a Republican time and again," a female narrator says partway into the ad. "And Donovan sided with Scott Walker and the Republicans in the state Legislature when they’ve tried to hurt Milwaukee."
The ad closes with: "Republican Donovan -- Donald Trump erratic behavior, Scott Walker ideas. He’d be a disaster for Milwaukee."
Mayor and aldermen are nonpartisan offices in Milwaukee. And though Donovan is generally considered conservative, he hasn't readily been identified with a political party.
So let’s check both parts of Barrett’s claim:
Has Donovan run "time and again" as a Republican and is he a Republican now?
Even many people familiar with Milwaukee politics don't know that in 1982 and 1983, Donovan ran as a Republican for a Milwaukee seat in the state Assembly. Both times, he was unopposed in the GOP primary and lost to the Democratic candidate in the general election.
Donovan was a 26-year-old shift foreman for Milwaukee Solvay Coke in 1982 when he made his first run for public office. He was chairman of the South Side Republican Club. The Milwaukee Sentinel editorial board recommended Donovan, saying he "has a zest for public office that seems missing" in first-term incumbent Joe Czarnezki, but Czarnezki won.
Czarnezki then went on to win a state Senate seat, causing the need for a special election in 1983 to fill the Assembly slot. Donovan lost that race Peggy Krusick. At that time, Donovan was still chairman of the local GOP club and worked as a security guard at Southridge mall.
As alderman, Donovan has reached out to Walker and state Republican lawmakers, particularly when it comes to clashing with Barrett over issues such as crime in Milwaukee. And he announced his mayoral run on conservative talk radio.
On the other hand, we could not find that Donovan has made any contributions to any state candidates -- of either party.
And Barrett’s campaign couldn’t cite any evidence that Donovan currently is a Republican -- instead pointing to a November 2013 profile and arguing Donovan simply wants to avoid the label to maintain his ability to win in Milwaukee.
"I ran as a Republican in Milwaukee County," Donovan told Milwaukee Magazine. "That will give you an indication of how incredibly naive politically I was at the time."
The article also said Donovan "eventually conceded that being labeled a Republican could count against him in some voters’ eyes, even in a nonpartisan race." But it also quotes Donovan as saying he was no longer a Republican, and instead calling himself "a proud nonpartisan."
And it quotes a Milwaukee County GOP spokesman as saying he had never seen the alderman at any Republican event in the past 20 years.
Schumacher said Donovan "wouldn’t shy away from ‘conservative,’" as a label, but he is independent and not beholden to either party.
Barrett says "Republican Bob Donovan" has "run as a Republican time and again."
Donovan identifies as a conservative, but there’s no evidence he is currently a Republican, or a member of any party. The "time and again" is accurate if perhaps misleading, in that Donovan twice ran as a Republican for the state Assembly in the 1980s.
For a statement that is partially accurate, our rating is Half True.
Interview, Tom Barrett campaign spokeswoman Gillian Drummond, March 8, 2016
Interview, Ald. Bob Donovan campaign spokesman Steve Schumacher, March 8, 2016
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, audio of Tom Barrett campaign ad
PolitiFact Wisconsin, "Milwaukee County executive candidate Chris Abele says he’s not partisan (Mostly False)," Jan. 13, 2011
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