Political Heroes of ’21

It’s annual list time! We’ll fill much of this week between Christmas and New Years with our lists of favorite stuff from the year almost gone by. Let’s start with our favorite pols countdown.

10. Tom Barrett. Milwaukee’s long-time, likable mayor doesn’t get — and may never get– the credit he deserves for managing the state’s biggest city. There’s no question he improved the place on every level (though he took over for John Norquist, who also made great strides), and he got robbed of the chance to bask a little bit when the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee was all but cancelled. He deserves to finish a fine career as Ambassador to Luxembourg.

9. Tony Evers. Tony Evers? Really? Haven’t I been pretty hard on the guy this year, calling him out for crummy appointments to the PSC and for signing a thoroughly Republican budget? Didn’t I go so far as to call for a primary challenge for him? Well, yeah, guilty on all counts — and apologetic for none of it. And yet… there’s no doubt that he’s a good human being with the best interests of the state at heart. And, here’s the main thing: the low-key Evers is not Scott Walker. He’s won statewide several times and there’s a fair chance he’ll do it again next year. I still think Democrats deserved to at least have a choice in the primary as an opportunity to hash out the direction of the party, but Evers almost certainly would have been that choice.

Republican Lisa Murkowski had the guts to vote to impeach Trump and then announce that she’ll run for reelection.

8. Lisa Murkowski. Honorable mention goes to Richard Burr, Bill Cassidy, Susan Collins, Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse and Pat Toomey. These are the GOP Seven, the seven Republican senators with the courage to vote to impeach Donald Trump. They all had to deal with vicious attacks from Trump and his minions, but Alaska’s Murkowski is the only one who faces reelection next year.

7. Adam Kinzinger. The Illinois congressman also had the guts to vote for impeachment and he’s been an outspoken critic of Trump on other matters. He accepted a position on the House special committee investigating the Insurrection. Illinois statehouse Democrats thanked him by redistricting him into oblivion, though in truth it’s not clear he would have survived a Republican primary in any event. Let’s hope he finds new political life somewhere.

6. Liz Cheney. She’s done everything Kinzinger has done, but she represents Wyoming, the state that went for Trump by the widest margin. I may not agree with her on many issues, but this woman’s got one strong backbone.

5. Kathy Bernier. The Republican state senator from Chippewa Falls is one of the few in her party to speak out against the phony “investigation” into last year’s election being conducted by the clownish Michael Gableman. She called Gableman’s antics a “charade.” That’s slander against the fine 1963 film starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, but Bernier’s probably too young to remember it.

4. Eric Adams. New York’s new mayor, set to take office in a few days, ran on a no-nonsense anti-crime agenda, and he won in Black and Hispanic neighborhoods. In fact, the only borough in which he lost was Manhattan. He sent a clear message to Democratic liberal elites that the party can’t ignore the basics.

3. London Breed. San Francisco’s mayor is standing up to her own liberal base. She’s had it with crime, smash and grab mob robberies, homelessness and open air drug dealing. She’s cracking down, hiring more cops and even declaring an emergency in the notorious Tenderloin district. On either liberal coast, she and Adams represent hope for Democrats.

2. Dick Wagner. This is a lifetime achievement award because the former Dane County Board Chair passed away suddenly on December 13th at 78. He didn’t do anything exceptional this year, which in itself was exceptional. His list of community leadership and volunteer stints over a half century is mind boggling and he was an historian, writing a much-needed history of Wisconsin’s gay community. Maybe most importantly, he was a mentor to the likes of Tammy Baldwin and Mark Pocan, who carry on his legacy of decency and political smarts.

And, drum roll please, the pol of the year is….

Joe Biden. He didn’t have a perfect year. I thought his worst mistake was to withdraw from Afghanistan at all, and the execution was disastrous. But look who he isn’t? We replaced a man who is the most complete collection of awful human traits ever to be combined in one human being with a good and decent man who has the best interests of our country at heart. Sure, disagree with him on policy if you want, but tell me he’s not a better man than the guy he replaced.

Tomorrow, a category with keen competition — worst pols of the year.

Welcome to the 311th day of consecutive posts here at YSDA. Thanks for reading!


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

One thought on “Political Heroes of ’21

  1. Tom Barrett “There’s no question he improved the place on every level”.

    Being a Milwaukee resident I was surprised by this statement. I don’t have time for in-depth research so I just quickly looked up the poverty rate in 2004 when he took office vs now. It’s essentially the same at about 25%. So then I did a quick look at the graph of the crime index calculated at city data dot com and it seems like it’s a bit worse now than 2004, certainly not a no-question improvement.

    I know not to pin those two observations completely on Barrett – these are complex problems, and there would be better ways to analyze this question in more detail that could narrow down the Mayoral-office-holder-effect but I have no time or desire to even try to do that. But I’m having a hard time even imagining in what objective measure things have improved for a regular Milwaukee resident. I’ve lived here this entire period and nothing jumps out to me as a major improvement except a whole bunch bunch bunch of of downtown development. But is that a unique Mayoral effect for Milwaukee or are other similar cities experiencing similar downtown development? I don’t know.

    What do you mean by your assessment?


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