Kovac vs. Flaherty Delineating the Differences On Tuesday February 19, voters of the Third District braved the cold to choose two Riverwest residents to vie for the opportunity to lead arguably the city’s most politically active and economically important district. The 761-vote margin between them doesn’t allow either firsttime candidate to claim a clear majority that will lead to easy victory this April. Kovac, who trailed Flaherty in the primary, is especially optimistic after winning the endorsement of fourth-place candidate Sura Faraj. For Patrick Flaherty and Nik Kovac the coming months will showcase the traits it takes to be elected Third District alderman. At first glance Flaherty and Kovac appear cut from similar cloth. They are both admitted progressives and both support more transparency in government, grassroots neighborhood-oriented organizing, and the desire to protect the Milwaukee River watershed from unsustainable and detrimental development. But for each candidate, this is the time when differences are most important, as they each try to communicate what makes them the clear choice as leader of this community. In Flaherty’s eyes his track record speaks to his experience as a proven leader and nonprofit manager who has already dealt with pushing legislation through the Common Council. “Mostly our difference is around track records. I’m proud of the ideas I’ve put forward. I passed legislation through the Common Council four different times. I’ve worked with state legislators. I’ve hit the ground running as a strong progressive advocate for the East Side,” Flaherty said. Kovac’s stake in this race was apparent before the incumbent dropped out. He thinks his boldness in the face of uncertainty is one major difference people need to know. “If I could pick one thing [that separates us], it would be that I entered the race before D’Amato dropped out. I knew this district could be better represented, and I was willing to take the risk and put my faith in the democratic process and force change before change was certain,” Kovac said. Regarding his opponent’s perceived advantage in leadership experience and on the job know-how, Kovac points to his journalism background in Milwaukee and New York as an asset that speaks for itself. It’s the main reason he feels he’s best to address the many concerns of city residents – he’s covered them, studied them, written about them, and believes he can see new ways to approach them. “I think there’s no substitute for the experience I’ve had as a community journalist. I spent every day of my life for the last several years in Milwaukee and New York talking to politicians, developers, neighbors, nonprofit advocates, transit advocates, advocates for the elderly, advocates for social justice. As a newspaper editor I cover everything, you name it, I’ve covered it and I know how it works,” Kovac said. Flaherty meanwhile touts his prior experience as not from the perspective of a seasoned politician, but of a veteran community leader, activist, and most importantly a 13-year homeowner and resident. Specifically, Flaherty feels his non-profit management jobs first at the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin, and then as Director of Center Advocates and director of public relations at the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, equip him best to handle the job. “My experience is beyond the political realm. My background is in nonprofits. I have always been about making government more responsible to people through things like helping set up youth programs or non-violence projects. That’s not to say Nik can’t, but at least people have seen me in action right here in Milwaukee,” Flaherty said. Touchy Subject One noteworthy difference of opinion addressed by both candidates as an example of what separates them is the East Village conservation overlay district. Designed to allow owners to initiate programs to revitalize and preserve the character of their neighborhood, the overlay pitted East Village residents squarely against business owners and other non-resident groups. Today, two years since its approval, the overlay is still discussed and the breach not rebuilt. Flaherty believes that while it’s not the greatest, the district serves a purpose and helps a community protect itself. “The East Village wanted to protect itself from out-of-scale development and over several years passed an overlay, and I don’t think it’s perfect but it’s a protection and it’s my understanding Nik supports repealing that,” Flaherty said. In Kovac’s words the rhetoric about what the overlay was intended to do is just that, empty promises hitched to a hasty and flawed piece of legislation that ultimately fails to preserve an important link with Milwaukee’s working-class past. “This rhetoric that you’re hearing from Patrick and you’ll hear from the incumbent about what the overlay was intended to do misunderstands the way city government works. Talking about how that’s going to stop out-of-context development; it hasn’t stopped it,” Kovac said. Kovac believes he’s no stranger to issues related to historic preservation. Kovac is an active board member of Historic Milwaukee and touts himself as quite attuned with those inside the circles of Milwaukee’s historical preservation community. He recalled that at a recent meeting the East Village was mentioned numerous times with regard to the overlay. “It’s a well-known and thorny issue and I don’t think anyone in historic preservation is happy about how it turned out. It’s not working the way it’s written up…. I think that’s the one thing both sides agree on, that it doesn’t work the way it is now,” Kovac said. He added, “I certainly have been much more involved in issues of historic preservation than Patrick has.” To rebut this, Flaherty isn’t about to let the issue rest. He has said that he would look at revisiting it and broker a compromise because at the end of the day we all have to live in the neighborhood. In his words this “scorched earth policy” that’s made neighbors enemies must change. Favorite Sons Looking to the future, each candidate believes they know what the people are looking for. Flaherty says the polls show what Riverwest is looking for, and Kovac says he intends to win the trust of residents. “I was really honored that I won Riverwest, and I’d certainly be honored to have the neighborhood behind a Riverwester for an April 1 election,” Flaherty said. “I think in the end people vote for someone they trust and know more than they vote for endorsements and machine politics as usual,” Kovac said. In the end, the only certainty in this election is that the next Third District alderman will come from Riverwest.