By Ed Willing After months of conjecture over the political future of Milwaukee County’s embattled sheriff, firebrand David Clarke took to Vicki McKenna’s WISN 1130 show to announce that he’s accepting a job offer as Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, under four star retired-General John Kelly. One of his duties, according to Clarke will be taking complaints about the department and relaying them up top.
If announced and confirmed by the Senate, Clarke would be the 11th deputy to serve in the role since it’s inception in 2003, currently occupied by Elaine Duke, who just got the job April 10. The position is not just a physical promotion, but he goes from $132,000 to a 185,000/yr salary.
WHAT YOU’RE GETTING
After a few quiet years following his appointment as sheriff in 2002, Clarke, 60, first came to prominence about five to six years ago as a vocal defender of police and sheriff departments. In 2013, Clarke’s department put out a PSA on gun safety for homeowners that encouraged them not to be victims, and learn how to defend their homes “until we get there.” I wrote about it then, admiring the bravery it took for an elected officer to make such a bold, common sense statement we could all agree with. Running as a conservative Democrat since 2002, he famously stared down the Michael Bloomberg-financed efforts of the Democratic Party establishment in the 2014 primary, beating challenger Chris Moews 52 to 48% for his fourth term. Clarke runs as a [fake] Democrat in Milwaukee because he feels it provides him the best political opportunity to win elections.
Locally, in Wisconsin though, he has been a bit of a celebrity in conservative circles for many years with his tough on crime nature. It has not, however been without it’s share of drama. While Clarke is famous here for his stance on crime, his positions on other political issues is not fully known. What gets him headlines is more his style than philosophical substance. He is likely the most divisive, immature political figure in America today, outside of the president himself.
For instance, in 2014 he got into a battle with the County Executive, Chris Abele over his budget proposal to eliminate 68 jobs and $12 million and shift many responsibilities over to the city police departments. This political disagreement quickly escalated after Clarke threw out insults that echoed what we’d see two years later with Donald trump, calling Abele, a “vindictive little man,” suggesting “he should be drug-tested,” and accusing him in print of “penis envy.” When talking about his colleagues in local government, he frequently quipped, “who’s not to dislike?” Some conservatives fell in love with it. Clarke wasn’t particularly tight with spending, and occasionally drew criticism for his handling of the budget and administration of the department. The condition of the local jails came to more prominence during this time as well.
Wisconsin is not historically known for such brash behavior among our elected politicians (see: Governor Scott Walker), so this raised his profile quite a bit, and landed him interviews on outlets like Alex Jones’ Infowars, and few spots on FoxNews, where he is now a regular contributor. As the riots broke out in Ferguson, Mo, Baltimore, MD and elsewhere, conservative media was all to happy to get a black conservative sheriff on TV to defend the honor of the cops. With the sitting president and attorney general also being black men, it gave conservative media a superhero to stand up against what seemed to be a bias for disorder and weak enforcement. When riots broke out here in Milwaukee, he again was brought on TV to discuss the issues plaguing America’s cities, but as he blamed liberals for our riots, he was strangely absent from our own community. We took his advice mostly from watching TV. Oh, his deputies did close a county park for a while. It took a judge to reopen it.
With the introduction of Donald trump in the Republican primary in 2015, and Clarke’s endorsement of him, the horses were off. Complaints began to appear in Wisconsin that the sheriff was on TV and traveling to cable news studios in New York more than he was focused on his own job. Alas, he made $220,000 last year in speaking fees, gifts and other income related to his new persona, more than doubling his income as our sheriff.
As someone who personally voted for Clarke and defended him for the first few years, I was unhappy to watch conditions change my opinion of him. He routinely got into needless public fights, name-calling his opponents with childish ferocity, and he seemed to be less interested in the department than picking battles just to fight someone. The last year though, things went from bad to worse as Clarke seemed to take cues from then-candidate Donald trump and became, arguably unhinged.
Suddenly, a brash personality that rubbed people the wrong way became an angry one that worked overtime to intimidate them. You might say, David Clarke is the stereotypical trump supporter. And that’s not hyperbole. The depth of his terrible behavior is vast, but I’ll try to provide a few examples here.
“The last time Tom Barrett showed up at a crime scene he got his ass kicked by a drunk, tire-iron-wielding man who beat him within inches of his life,” Clarke said in the lengthy post. “The milquetoast mayor trying to play cop foolishly thought he could simply talk the man who beat him senseless into backing down. Bet he won’t try that again!”
He was referencing a 2009 incident when Mayor Barrett answered the calls of an older woman trying to protect her 1 year old granddaughter during an argument with a man. Barrett tried to calm him down, and when that failed, tried to call the police and was badly beaten by the man and hospitalized for it. The event spurred nearly universal admiration for the character of Barrett, even among his political opponents for helping a woman and child. Not with Clarke. He wasn’t done, finishing his post with a picture of an injured Barrett, and a threat:
“If you had to call for help, who would you rather see show up, me or timid Tom?” Clarke asked. “Time to crawl back into your hole Tom, unless you want some more of this because I have some.”
I am sad to say that many of my fellow Wisconsin conservatives found this to be amusing, and rooted him on, simply because Barrett was a [true] Democrat that we all opposed.
In another shocking instance of incivility, Sheriff Clarke got into a quasi-physical altercation during a returning from Dallas, TX. The undisputed account was that while walking to the back of the plane, a 24-year-old Milwaukee resident passed the sheriff. He thought he recognized him, but wasn’t sure without his famous Stetson cowboy hat. So, he had the audacity to ask if he was indeed David Clarke. Clarke acknowledged that he was. According to the complaint: “I shook my head as I was moving on to my seat near the back of the plane. From behind, he asked if I had a problem. I shook my head ‘no’ again and continued to my seat.”
Once they landed, the sheriff used the power of his position to have his deputies detain Black, question him for an extended amount of time about his behavior (what behavior?), then escort him off the airport grounds.
Black filed a complaint against Clarke, the details of which are astounding. In response to the immediate local outcry, the Sheriff doubled down on his abusive behavior on the plane and in the airport, going once again to the official Facebook page of the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department to taunt and physically threaten the complainant:
He didn’t stop this incredibly petty attack, however, continuing to go to the official department Facebook with foul, threatening language, too crass to print here. But, it did include this meme:
Keep in mind, this is a sitting elected official, a law enforcement officer, and sheriff of one of America’s largest counties, posting on Facebook like a high school bully.
His Twitter account is worse, where he openly uses profanity, sexually-charged epithets, and the occasional attempt at irony with reverse-racism. His faux-machismo has even made international news. I will not post them here out of respect.
The level of discord and distrust in conservative circles is fairly high now in Wisconsin, with 65% of Milwaukee residents saying Clarke has a negative impact on our community, and some asking Governor Walker to step in and relieve the sheriff of his duties. [The governor will appoint his replacement, if confirmed for his new job.] The feelers Clarke put out considering a Senate run never really took off. So, it’s no surprise that he set his sights on D.C. In fact, the cynical side of me wonders if the blessed Cheesehead Triangle between Gov. Walker, Speaker Paul Ryan and White House CoS Reince Preibus didn’t work this out on a conference call to relieve Wisconsin of some electoral baggage.
Frankly, I’m stuck between being relieved he’ll be gone from Wisconsin, and regret that our venerable institutions, filled with respectable, decorated and experienced men and women will now have to deal with someone of this low character. If a fist fight breaks out on the floor of the Pentagon someday, just google “Clarke,” and the chances are high that he was involved.
The role of deputy has traditionally been filled by someone with strong law enforcement or military experience. Since the first appointment of Gordon England, himself a reputable businessman, and former Secretary of the Navy, office holders have been mostly quiet, dutiful appointees. However, that will likely change with the expected confirmation of Clarke. Gen. John Kelly, a heavily decorated war hero has his work cut out for him learning how to balance the duties of the job with a man who is more interested in getting to his next TV spot or cussing out those who disagree with him on Facebook and Twitter. The sheriff is also no more qualified for the position than about 700,000 other LEO’s across the U.S. – this has to be nothing more than a political favor. Frankly, I’m curious to see how Clarke’s hubris fits into a subservient role under Kelly. He’ll want to play spokesman, rather than manager. I hope it works out well for the department, but I’m not holding my breath.
This man is our next Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. God help us.
[Note: I’m awaiting my own public (and private) thrashing for this “hit piece,” but I’m willing to accept it for the sake of my fellow Americans knowing what they’re getting. Godspeed.]