Wisconsinite Poised to Make History

Posted September 15, 2004 at 6:13pm

Barring a major shift in Milwaukee-area voting patterns, state Sen. Gwen Moore (D) is poised to become Wisconsin’s first black Member of Congress.

Moore, backed by EMILY’s List, America Coming Together and other activist groups, scored a decisive primary victory Tuesday over former Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Matt Flynn and fellow state Sen. Tim Carpenter (D).

Moore captured 64 percent of the vote compared to Flynn’s 25 percent and the under-funded Carpenter’s 10 percent.

As the result of an upset on the Republican side, she faces underdog Gerald H. Boyle Nov. 2 in this heavily-Democratic district.

Despite Flynn winning the support of outgoing Rep. Jerry Kleczka (D), the former welfare mother cruised to victory.

“We had an old African proverb working for us that, together, the ants eat the elephant,” the 53-year-old Moore told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Shelia Payton, Moore’s campaign spokeswoman, said Moore needed help from outside groups because she was personally the least wealthy of all five candidates, Democratic and Republican.

According to Moore’s biography, she began college at Marquette University as “an expectant mother dependent on welfare to put food on the table” when she was 18.

She worked her way through school and graduated with a B.A. in political science.

Since then, Moore’s professional life has been dedicated to helping others, Payton said.

She served in the volunteer VISTA program and then helped her community combat red-lining — the illegal banking industry practice of refusing to lend in minority communities — by paving the way for the formation of a credit union in her neighborhood.

She then went to work in the city’s planning department as a neighborhood development specialist and eventually landed in the state’s housing development agency.

By 1989 she was elected to the state House and moved up to the Senate in 1992.

Her story, and the public’s perception of her as a “people’s champion” helps 4th district voters relate to Moore and ultimately will propel her to Congress, Payton said.

While unable to say which committees Moore would like to serve on in the House, Payton said Moore’s top issues are spurring job growth, expanding health care coverage and providing quality education.

Moore has said that although she would enter Congress a freshman, she already has established contacts through her work as a member of the National Conference of State Legislatures and her past collaboration with Members. Moore already has expressed interest in joining the Congressional Black Caucus, the Women’s Caucus and the Progressive Caucus.

The only person standing in her way is Boyle, an attorney who was not expected to win the GOP primary. Boyle is the son and law partner of Gerald Boyle, a Milwaukee attorney who gained national prominence by defending the late Jeffrey Dahmer, the cannibalist serial killer who was convicted and later murdered in prison.