11
March
2014

Ament, Milwaukee County’s “Tight-Wad Liberal” Dies at 76

Tom Ament was as intense a political animal as they come. He was no-nonsense and stubborn. Once he embraced an idea or a policy, he was a true believer. He called himself a “tight-wad liberal” and worked hard to live up to that label.

His career was peppered with successes and in classic Ament style, ended at least partly on his terms.

Ament looked at the long game in politics. He surrounded himself with like-minded souls — pushed, lobbied and strategised in ways that he could accomplish more good than any other Milwaukee County Executive has.

Without Tom Ament, the Calatrava Art Museum would not have been built. The Milwaukee Brewers would be gone since it was Ament who championed the stadium sales tax which allowed Miller Park to be built. Parts of Milwaukee County would have been sold off, or at least been so underfunded as to languish and decay. Without Ament, the Milwaukee Public Museum would likely still be a hulk of a building in suffering disrepair instead of the destination that it is today.

Tom Ament left a lasting legacy of building effective public-private partnerships which can maintain and even improve services and access without increasing taxes to fund those facilities and programs. At his heart, Ament was proud to wear the label “tight-wad”.

Ament understood how County government worked better than anyone I have ever known. He understood the legislative side, having served as a County Supervisor as well as having been elected by his colleagues to be the Board Chairman. He understood the dynamics between the County Executive, which was effectively created to be similar to an administrative position, and how he could work with, or in some cases use, the Board to advance his agenda.

There was never a time, in the 6 years that I served with Ament, that people had any delusion that he wouldn’t strong-arm his way into getting what he wanted. Ament wanted you to believe that he was the boss. He knew how to get things done and if you crossed him there would be consequences. More than once, I was on the receiving end of his wrath. But I was not phased and as we got to know each other, we developed a mutual respect, even if we didn’t always agree.

Charm and charisma came out of Tom in social situations. He had his go-to stories that he would generously share. They were his war stories. He would flash a wry grin and share some sage wisdom, revel in old victories, and recount the bravado of other political folk he had run across over the decades.

While there are those that would wish to define Ament by the successes of his political adversaries at the end of his career, they miss the point and do not have a full understanding of his life. Although they won a battle with smear tactics, Ament was vindicated by a County lawsuit which in the end, financially benefited those same adversaries. The county bankrolled the settlement based on what Ament had said all along, and Ament was right.

Perhaps that is the epitaph that Ament would be most proud of.

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