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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Steve Kraeger, the $50,000 man

by folkbum

I'ma be up front about this part: Jason Haas is a friend of mine, I have donated to and volunteered for his campaign this spring already. Steve Kraeger is his opponent running for Milwaukee County Supervisor district 14, Chris Larson's old seat. This is the district I live in, so I am doubly invested in the outcome.

Earlier this week, Dan Cody reported that Kraeger loaned his campaign $50,000. As Dan noted, the job of county supervisor only pays about that much in a year, so how he will pay himself back is a reasonable question. And where that money came from, too.

Which got me thinking: There aren't a lot of people in my neck of the woods who seem like they're sitting on big piles of cash for a campaign. Some parts of the county, sure, people are wealthier and healthier and might just have that kind of dough. But around here? Especially down around the part of the district where Kraeger lives, where the houses are half the size of mine (and I sure don't have $50,000 lying around)?

At about the same time, this email (no link to its source, unfortunately) showed up in my mailbox:
City tax records show Kraeger has a sweet deal on his property taxes. His house at [address redacted, though, come on, you have google and can probably figure it out if you want to check this math] has seen a remarkable plunge in assessed value. The city of Milwaukee tax assessor valued the house at $104,600 in 2005. Now, it's valued at $26,100. [. . .] The house is now valued at less than the land on which it is built: $26,100 vs. $59,600.
This seemed unpossible to me. It still kind of does. But what do you know? I check the records myself and here's what Kraeger's assessments look like:

Well, you might be thinking, maybe his neighborhood is just in a real slump. Sadly, no. Take a look at the assessment history for the house right next door to Kraeger's, a house of literally the same 905 square feet, same everything:

If the neighborhood were in a slump, everyone would be affected. But clearly not this neighbor. Not any of the others on Kraeger's block, either, where none of the houses are valued at less than $57,000, with a total property value of no less than $122,000.

I don't want to speculate how or why Kraeger's valuation is so much lower; google street view sure doesn't suggest any reason (and I haven't driven by--look him up on google and the City of Milwaukee website? Sure! Drive by? Stalker!). And even though it was this story this morning that reminded me to write about this, there's no reason to think he's cheating in any way. At any rate, Kraeger has loaned his campaign an amount equal to twice the value of the house he lives in.

Okay, okay. Kraeger is a small businessman. Maybe he's got other assets. It's true! He runs a one-man trucking company. Presumably, he's the one man. But the company address is on the same block as his house (not the same house, oddly, and not one the city shows as owned by Kraeger), and check out its estimated annual sales:

Not that the internet is always right about everything, but this suggests that what Kraeger loaned himself is more than he makes in a year. (One caveat: a good semi tractor-trailer could actually be worth something like $50k or $70k, so if he borrowed against that asset, that's a possible source of the loan.)

And remember, this campaign is just three years after his last one for this exact same seat--a campaign that I'm sure was not free then--and less than a year after an unsuccessful run at State Rep. Chris Sinicki's seat.

And as for what the money bought? Well, I got a robocall from him this week. But Kraeger's literature is legendary for its cheapness--densely worded 8.5 x 11 Kinkos-copied screeds. I saw a few stuck in doors when I was out knocking on them for Jason last weekend. Those don't cost $50,000, people. (He also did not spend it on his website, apparently.)

So I guess what I'm saying is, I'm befuddled. I am lost for words here (cue irony siren). Kraeger does not seem like the kind of man who has or could spend an extra $50,000 on his campaign. Yet there it is.

Can anyone offer a plausible reason why?

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