Bloomberg Fails to Oust Pro-Gun Sheriff in Milwaukee
National attention descended on the local Milwaukee Sheriff’s primary race this week when former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg pledged $150,000 to campaign against incumbent David Clarke’s reelection because of his pro-gun position. Bloomberg, a virulent anti-gun activist, saw an opportunity to advance gun control at a local level and intervened in an attempt to make an otherwise small affair become a talking point in the ongoing gun debate across the country. Clarke narrowly won re-election, striking a blow to Bloomberg and other gun ownership opponents.
Sheriff David Clarke Supports Gun Ownership
Milwaukee Sherriff David Clarke drew the attention, and ire, of Bloomberg for his remarks supporting gun ownership. Clarke encouraged residents to arm themselves for the purpose of lawful self-defense, disseminating his message in radio ads such as the following:
I’m Sheriff David Clarke, and I want to talk to you about something personal: Your safety. It’s no a longer a spectator sport. I need you in the game. But are you ready? With officers laid off and furloughed, simply calling 911 and waiting is no longer your best option. You could beg for mercy from a violent criminal, hide under the bed or you can fight back. But are you prepared? Consider taking a certified safety course in handling of firearms, so you can defend yourself until we get there. You have a duty to protect yourself and your family. We’re partners now. Can I count on you?
Under a 2011 law, Wisconsin residents are permitted to carry concealed handguns providing they pass a gun safety class and obtain the necessary permits. Sheriff Clarke, speaking at an NRA meeting, promoted the use of responsible gun ownership and directly questioned Michael Blooomberg’s anti-gun position by pointing out several incidents in which armed citizens saved lives or prevented crime.
Michael Bloomberg Donates to Remove Pro-Gun Sheriff
Mr. Bloomberg’s Independence USA super PAC spent more than $150,000 on television advertisements criticizing Sheriff Clarke’s pro-gun ownership position. In a report by the Wall Street Journal, the action was explained: “Mr. Bloomberg’s spokesman, Howard Wolfson, said Monday that the former mayor decided to get involved in the race because it was an opportunity to influence law enforcement policy on the local level. ‘The issue of guns is ones that (Mr. Bloomberg) cares an awful lot about and there’s a very clear contrast on that issue in this race,’ Mr. Wolfson said.”
Sheriff Clarke’s opponent, Milwaukee Police Lieutenant Chris Moews, supports gun control and challenged Clarke’s position on firearm legislation. Mr. Bloomberg’s contribution, which did not directly support Moews, focused targeted attacks against Clarke, bringing gun control to the forefront of the race. In response to the attacks on Sheriff Clarke’s position on gun ownership, local chapters of the NRA and even former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson, a Republican, encouraged donations and support for the conservative Democrat. Clarke’s position on Bloomberg’s efforts was simple: “I trust the voters. The voters can’t be bought.”
In a tight race, Clarke retained his position by a 52 – 48% vote. The result, a referendum of sorts to advocates of gun ownership, demonstrated that Bloomberg’s substantial influence has its limits – echoing a lesson learned in similar situations last year.
Bloomberg’s Involvement in Gun Control Politics
Although Mr. Bloomberg has not funded television advertising in a local race, his efforts to support gun control legislation at the local level is not new. In 2013, the former NYC mayor suffered a string of defeats across the country after spending millions of dollars to support gun restriction. Bloomberg donated over $350,000 to a Colorado committee which unsuccessfully attempted to oppose a recall of two state senators who were ultimately ousted for promoting stricter gun regulation. Additionally, Mr. Bloomberg has been unsuccessful in encouraging state legislators in Nevada, Washington, and Oregon to adopt laws requiring rigorous background checks on gun ownership.
Bloomberg’s efforts are not entirely in vain, however. He can claim victory in Virginia, where he donated more than $1.5 million to support the successful gubernatorial campaign of Democrat Terry McAuliffe, and other gun control candidates for state legislature in Illinois and California have defeated pro-gun opponents with the former mayor’s support. It is hardly uncommon for a wealthy political activist to use his position and resources to influence elections, and it seems that Mr. Bloomberg’s efforts will shine an ongoing spotlight on gun control at the state and, in Sheriff Clarke’s case, local levels of government.