Milwaukee County Executive Dad
Judith Berger | May 31, 2014, midnight
County Executive Chris Abele is many things: a public servant, a business man, a philanthropist, a son, a husband and a father. “I came to fatherhood later than most,” he said of the role he most cherishes. At 47, Abele performs his many responsibilities well, but being Daddy to his three daughters brings him the most joy. He and his wife Miriam are the parents to Lauren, 5, Kate, 2, and 16-month-old Olivia.
The role of politician seems most uncomfortable for him. A self-described fiscal conservative and social liberal, Abele ran a bipartisan campaign when he entered politics in 2010. He felt he could bring two sides together to push down the county’s huge debt and increasing deficits. In the hyper-partisan environment, some things were more of an issue than he thought. “There are times I get frustrated with the politics,” he said. “I wish we could work on what we have agreed upon and move on from there.”
So why enter the fray? “I’ve never been one to complain about something without trying to do something about it,” Abele said. “When I thought about running for county executive, I asked friends to talk me off the cliff.” Abele was elected Milwaukee’s county executive in a special election in April 2011. His good counsel knew there was something in him that would be well suited for the job.
Abele is a Wisconsin transplant. After attedning Lawrence University in Appleton, the Massachusetts’ native moved to Milwaukee and started a medical waste company with a friend. “I grew to like Milwaukee. One time when I was flying back to the city, I remember looking out of the window feeling like I was coming home.”
Although Abele’s father, John, didn’t expect his son to enter the successful family business, he did ask him to run the family’s philanthropic organization – The Argosy Foundation. “I told him I would under three conditions: I loved Milwaukee and wanted to move the offices here; I didn’t want to give up my business; and I wanted an arts, education and human rights focus for the foundation,” the younger Abele remembered. He currently serves as a trustee for the foundation.
There is great pride in Abele’s voice when he speaks of his father. “He built a company that has 33,000 employees worldwide. He envisions what could be and takes nothing for granted. There is no pretense about him. He taught us not to expect things to change without our effort,” Abele said of his upbringing with his brother and sister.
For more than two decades Abele has been a highly successful business owner - he currently runs a growing real estate company, CSA Commercial, and venture fund, CSA Partners. Through CSA Partners, Abele is spending $10 million of his own money to fund investing in early stage, high growth, companies in the Midwest, with particular focus in Wisconsin.
In the past 10 years, the majority of Abele’s time has been in non-profit work. Abele’s daughters have given him a sense of urgency to make the world a better place. It is not lost on him that he is so committed to women’s issues. “I see women’s issues as human issues,” he said. “Women have a great impact on society – it’s no longer an issue of when or by how much. Women are far better lending-risk than men. They earn their degrees at much higher rates than men and they are more likely to vote.” Abele walks the talk. He hired the first woman chief of staff in the county’s history. “Not because she’s a woman. It’s because she is the best qualified.” He also instituted a harassment training program for county employees.
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