By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — In a statement on his campaign website Friday, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett declared that the “outstanding” quality of life in Wisconsin “rests in large part on the sacrifices made each and every day by the dedicated men and women of our law-enforcement community.”
“While not enough can be done to appropriately recognize this commitment … let us come together today to express our supreme and unified appreciation for all that they do to keep Wisconsin a safe place in which to live, work, and raise a family,” Barrett wrote on the campaign site.
But while Barrett was inviting Wisconsinites to come together to recognize fallen police officers, the Democratic candidate in Wisconsin’s historic gubernatorial recall election was nowhere to be found at a Milwaukee memorial service this week. He also reportedly was not in attendance at Friday’s Wisconsin Law Enforcement Memorial Ceremony at the Capitol.
“It’s for the mayor to determine what he believes is the better thing to do or not,” said Michael Crivello, president of the Milwaukee Police Association, Local 21 IUPA AFL/CIO. “As the leader of this police association, representing 1,700 members, we would have welcomed him being there. In my opinion, it would have been better him being there.”
Barrett was scheduled to appear alongside his recall election foe, Republican Gov. Scott Walker, on Wednesday at Milwaukee’s law enforcement memorial ceremony, honoring the 61 police officers killed in the line of duty since the department’s 1855 inception.
Barrett begged out of the event. Instead, he attended a luncheon for retired United Auto Workers in Oshkosh, speaking to a room of about 50 union members, according to Newsradio 620 WTMJ in Milwaukee, which broke the story this week.
John Mercure, host of WTMJ’s Wisconsin’s Afternoon News, interviewed Barrett at an event Thursday, asking the mayor why he was not at the memorial service. Barrett said he was traveling the state, and that he could not remember where he was. He said he would get back to Mercure after consulting his schedule.
He did not, according to the radio host. Mercure said he tracked down Barrett’s travel schedule.
Wisconsin Reporter contacted Barrett’s campaign about the story, and a staff member said the mayor’s campaign manager would quickly call back.
He did not.
Barrett did not attend the statewide memorial Friday, honoring the 259 Wisconsin police officers killed in the line of duty since the state began keeping records.
Walker addressed the crowd, estimated in the hundreds, and state Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen and several state lawmakers were in attendance.
Craig Kolbeck, chairman of the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Memorial and an officer with the city of Algoma, said Barrett would not have been invited to the event, but he was welcome to attend.
Crivello said he has received text messages that expressed some concern that the mayor did not make the Milwaukee ceremony.
The union has endorsed Walker in the recall election, praising the governor’s unwavering support for safer communities.
The police association also has battled with Barrett during his eight years as mayor, criticizing the mayor for reduced staffing and what it described as Barrett’s unwillingness to work with police on issues.
Regardless, Crivello said Barrett would have been welcomed at the Milwaukee memorial.
“We wish we had his support; unfortunately we don’t,” the union chief said.
The recall campaign has been marked in part by a battle over law enforcement endorsements.
The Wisconsin Professional Police Association, the state’s largest police union, last month endorsed Barrett for governor, lauding the Barrett campaign’s “energetic, independent, and ethical approach in waging its bid to unseat Governor Scott Walker.”
Walker, the bane of public-sector unions, pushed Act 10, the bill — now law — that curbed collective bargaining for most unionized public employees. The exception, police officers and firefighters. Walker said he did not want to compromise public safety, while Democrats have called the exemption unfair.
James Palmer, the WPPA’s executive director, did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Crivello said there’s no place for politics in remembering fallen officers.
“We would like to see either party hold police memorials separate from any political agenda,” the union official said.
Honoring the fallen
Hundreds of people gathered at the Capitol on Friday afternoon to honor law enforcement officers who were killed in the line of duty.
This year, the Law Enforcement Memorial Service honored two fallen police officers:
Craig Birkholz, 28 of Fond du Lac, who died on March 20, 2011. Birkholz was shot and killed while responding to a report of sexual assault.
Frederick Samp, who was shot and killed in 1935 while trying to arrest two men suspected of stealing an automobile.
Officials say Samp previously had been overlooked, not included in the memorial of about 260 fallen law enforcers.
“A law enforcement officer is … not what somebody becomes as an occupation, it’s what somebody becomes as a person …They become a law enforcement officer 24/7, whether they are on the clock or not,” said Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen.
Marathon County Sheriff’s Deputy and firefighter Jamison Kampmeyer also was honored at the ceremony. Kampmeyer died in March in a fire in Abbey Theater near Abbotsford.
The governor said Friday’s tribute was more than remembering the fallen.
“Today, we not only remember those names and the names of others who have been added to this memorial in the past, but we say thank you,” he said. “To renew our commitment and thanks to all those; whether you wear blue or brown, whether you wear grey or white, whether you’re in uniform or whether you wear a suit, all of you who are part of law enforcement in this state, for all of you and the family and friends that support you day in and day out, on behalf of a grateful state: I want to say thank you.”