Tainted Wisconsin Boss Appointed to University Board

Gregory Gracz, Milwaukee Prof’l Fire Fighters Ass’n president, was one of three new members to the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents appointed by Wis. Gov. Tommy G. Thompson (R) on Sep. 3. Board appointees require confirmation by the Democrat-controlled state Senate. If approved, Gracz will serve a seven-year term, replacing Bradley DeBraska, president of the Milwaukee Police Ass’n.

In 1992, Gracz ran unsuccessfully against Milwaukee Mayor John O. Norquist amid allegations of sexual harassment of a female Racine firefighter. He also has been convicted of drunken driving three times since 1985. The last time, in May 1996, he pled guilty to driving while intoxicated and was fined $750 and sentenced to 75 days in the House of Correction with release privileges. Gracz’s driver’s license was revoked for 15 months, and he was ordered to pay court costs and assessments totaling about $250.

Thompson considered the drunken driving convictions and sexual harassment allegations when appointing Gracz, said Kevin Keane, the governor’s executive assistant. “We certainly don’t condone anything like that,” Keane said. “But the governor felt it was important to keep union representation on the board, and Mr. Gracz was recommended by a number of union leaders from around Milwaukee.”

Not surprisingly the appointment has been challenged. Leaders of two UW student groups and a feminist caucus have raised concerns about the union boss. The groups fear his past actions might send the wrong message to students. Adam Klaus, chairman of the Associated Students of Madison, the student government at UW-Madison, said the group has long wanted the board to be more accountable to the state electorate and the students and workers within the UW System. ”To appoint a regent such as Mr. Gracz, who has an extensive drunken-driving history, in a time when the UW is working hard to solve the problem of binge drinking, is a perfect example of how out of touch Thompson and the board are with the real needs of the university community,” Klaus said. Michelle Diggles, president of the United Council of UW Students, which includes 24 campuses, raised similar concerns about Gracz’s drunken-driving convictions.

The Feminist Caucus of the American Humanist Association called on Thompson to withdraw the union boss’ nomination. “Your nomination sends a message that repeat drunken driving will be rewarded, thus undermining any steps the University of Wisconsin might take to discourage responsible drinking,” caucus co-chairwoman Annie Laurie Gaylor wrote to Thompson. But Thompson spokesman Keane defended Gracz, saying the union chief deserves a second chance. [Milwaukee J. Sent. 9/4/99; Wis. State J. 9/10/99]

Liberal Wis. newspapers have also come out against the union boss. The Capital Times in Madison ran a Sep. 11 editorial titled, “Gracz Pick is a Joke.” Likewise, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Sept. 15 editorial headline read “Is Gracz the best choice for UW Board of Regents?”

Liberals bashing union bosses. Cats and dogs living together. Mass hysteria. It leads to the friendly suggestion: Gov. Thompson, you would be better served by avoiding corrupt union bosses altogether.