Chris Abele’s career has been defined by his lifetime of service to Milwaukee County. A dedicated public servant, successful entrepreneur, and engaged philanthropist, Chris Abele pours his heart and soul into the community he loves – Milwaukee.
Public Servant and 21st Century Democrat
Elected as County Executive with an overwhelming 61% of the vote in a special election in 2011 and re-elected in 2012 and 2016, he has prioritized providing important, effective, and efficient services to Milwaukee County residents.
When the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel endorsed Chris Abele in 2011, they said he could be a game changer for Milwaukee County. 6 years later, they have been proven right and Chris has delivered for Milwaukee Count residents.
Chris gets things done for Milwaukee’s hardworking working families. Chris Abele’s record of fighting for Milwaukee includes:
- Holding the line on property taxes
- Championing major economic development projects downtown and across the county to create good paying jobs
- Expanding bus service without raising fares
- Creating training opportunities and family supporting jobs through UpLift MKE
- Adding services and improving outcomes without raising taxes so working families and seniors on fixed incomes can make ends meet
- Signing a $15 living wage ordinance
Chris Abele is not your typical politician. While politicians in Washington and Madison continually kick the can down the road, Chris is not afraid to deal with difficult problems and make hard choices, even if it means paying a political price or upsetting members of his own political party. That’s why he moved swiftly to reform the mental health system in Milwaukee County when he was first elected. His reforms produced real results for patients: since 2010, there has been a 30% reduction in Psychiatric inpatient admissions, a 25% reduction in emergency room visits, and a 57% increase in the number of people using the outpatient Access Clinic.
His “can do” attitude is why Milwaukee County has a more efficient and impactful government and achieved so many “firsts” during his tenure, including:
- Eliminating the waiting list for Section 8 Housing for the first time in over a decade
- Eliminating the waiting list for disability services for the first time in thirty years
- Making Milwaukee County the first in the nation to partner with District Attorneys and United States Marshalls to track down parents who don’t pay their child support but have the means to do so
- Setting all-time records for child support services, continually increasing the number of people served in Milwaukee County
- Led the nation in Affordable Care Act sign ups to won the Obama White House Healthy Communities Challenge
Chris’ believes that government belongs to you – the people – and that is why he has fought to make Milwaukee County government more resourceful and empowering to allow people to make a difference in their communities. His bold reforms of county government have made the county more efficient, and he’s taken power away from the bloated county bureaucracy and put it back in the hands of the taxpayers. Despite the opposition of powerful special interest groups, Chris successfully led the push to reform county government and the County’s infamous pension backdrop benefit. His reforms helped achieve a bond credit rating upgrade for the first time in years and helped balance the budget.
As a lifelong Democrat, Chris believes that government should work to improve people’s lives, address systemic issues such as Milwaukee’s concerning racial disparities, and ensure every Milwaukee County resident can get ahead. His fiscal responsibility and strategic belt tightening has allowed for the county to make smart, long-term investments in progressive priorities that matter, including ending chronic homelessness, environmental programs, county parks, substantial criminal justice reform, and other important programs.
These investments have produced real results. During Chris’ first year, the Milwaukee County Heating Assistance Program reduced waiting times for low income residents and increased the number of people served by more than 17,000 across the County. In 2014, Chris drew a line in the sand and declared his intention to end chronic homelessness in Milwaukee County – which Milwaukee County is currently on pace to do by 2018.
Chris is a strong advocate of criminal justice reform. He believes we must move beyond issuing the most severe sentences just for the sake of being “tough on crime.” We must be smart on crime to better serve taxpayers, keep our communities safe, and find better ways to reduce Milwaukee County’s racial disparities within the criminal justice system. That is why the Milwaukee County House of Corrections has implemented revolutionary reforms and developed innovative programs, including working with inmates to develop job skills and improve their resumes and job interview skills. The House of Corrections offers classes so inmates can earn their GEDs and find jobs upon leaving the House of Correction.
As a leader in the Democratic Party, Chris knows it is his responsibility to demonstrate that government can empower people and help them flourish. Chris fights for his values every day – and governs to prove our ideas can make real, positive impacts on people’s lives.
While Chris has been a lifelong supporter of Democrats and liberal causes, he is also focused on bringing civility back to politics. Milwaukee County residents know that political victories and labels are not as important as getting things done, and that is why Chris has embraced this attitude as County Executive. He’s worked with Democrats and Republicans to put taxpayers first and empower county employees to better serve their community.
It is this kind of attitude that has made Chris a leader on local bipartisan initiatives as well. During his tenure, the Department of Child Support Services has become a national leader for serving their community. In 2015, Milwaukee was one of only three counties to receive the ‘Pathways to Responsible Fatherhood Grant’ from the federal government to enhance services. While Milwaukee County has lead the way in cracking down on men who try to skirt their responsibilities as fathers, the County has also increased other programs to support low-income fathers, including helping more than 6,000 dads get help with job training so they can support their families.
Business Leader and Job Creator
Chris developed his reputation for getting things done through his successful business career. In 1996, Chris co-founded SteriLogic Waste Systems, which serves hospitals and medical clinics in managing sharps waste. He served as CEO from 1996 through 2004 before transition from CEO to Chairman to focus on additional philanthropic efforts. In 2001, he founded CSA Commercial, a Milwaukee-based real estate and development company. Since 2013, Abele has invested more than $10 million into the Milwaukee community through his venture capital fund, CSA Partners.
In 2015, Chris Abele launched his largest and boldest project – Ward4 – to foster a new spirit of entrepreneurship in Milwaukee and enhance our growing startup community. Ward4 is a lighthouse for innovation and is a destination for entrepreneurs, startups, investors, and other technologists. In two short years, Ward4 now hosts more than fifty companies and is responsible for more than fifteen hundred new jobs – all without a dime of taxpayer money. Ward4 is a 38,000 square-foot complex which includes a co-working space to foster new ideas, innovation, and collaboration.
In a short time, Ward4 has become the place for entrepreneurs to gather in Milwaukee and is helping to define Milwaukee’s business culture. It has become a hub for business and community leaders alike to host events, share ideas, and discuss important local topics. Members include Bright Cellars, Big Cloud Analytics, devCodeCamp, EatStreet, gener8tor, Scanalytics, Startup Milwaukee, The Commons, and many, many more growing companies. Ward4 also partners with the Wisconsin Veterans Chamber of Commerce and Wisconsin LGBT Chamber of Commerce to support their missions.
Chris’ experience creating jobs in Milwaukee and Southeastern Wisconsin in the private sector has helped him as County Executive as well. After taking office, Chris created the Department of Economic Development which has since oversaw numerous important development projects, including the development of the long-time vacant Park East land, which thanks to the leadership of the Milwaukee Bucks, Chris, and other county and state leaders, is now a growing and vibrant part of our community.
A lifetime of service and giving back to his community
Chris believes in giving back and is also a dedicated personal philanthropist. Prior to his election, Chris served for seven years as CEO of the Milwaukee-based Argosy Foundation, where he remains a trustee. The foundation aims to support leaders and organizations that employ creative and entrepreneurial approaches to solving systemic problems. Over the past two decades, his philanthropic and volunteer work has included serving on 31 local, national and international non-profit boards. The complete list can be found below.
Chris knows there are many ways to bring positive change to Milwaukee and advance his values beyond his public service and business investments. In 2015, Chris personally helped finance free tuition at MATC for 1,000 lower-income Milwaukee area youth, and in 2017, donated an additional $500,000 to the MATC Promise Program to allow the college to serve even more people, tuition free. The gift is earmarked specifically for adults in the 53206 ZIP code, the poorest zip code in the city of Milwaukee. The Promise Program enables more adults to finish their degrees and get put on a path toward family-sustaining employment and career advancement.
When Chris gets involved with an organization, he doesn’t do it for the title or simply to serve on a board, he gets involved to make a difference. He has a record of accomplishment that is rarely achieved, and that’s why dozens of organizations have sought his leadership over the past few decades.
One of those organizations was Women for Women International. During Chris’ tenure as Chair of their board of directors, Women for Women International underwent a massive transformation that produced incredible results for the organization and the people they serve. Their work in war-ravaged countries, helping women act on their good ideas through micro-lending, earned them the prestigious Hilton Humanitarian Award. They were the first women’s organization to earn this award and one of the youngest organizations ever to have received it.
He is particularly invested in the Boys & Girls Clubs. He volunteers with and has personally donated more than $5 million to the Boys and Girls Clubs so kids in Milwaukee Public Schools have a safe place to grow. In addition to serving on their national board, Chris is also the recipient of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Milwaukee “Most Valuable Person” award.
Chris also has a passion for the arts. In addition to serving as Chair for the Royal Shakespeare organization for four years, he is also a past Chair of the Milwaukee Symphony Board of Directors as well as a major contributor. In 2008, Chris founded the Milwaukee Film Festival which has rapidly grown into one of the largest film festivals in the nation (even larger than Chicago’s film festival).
Chris Abele is a major donor and investor in liberal social causes in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and across the country.
Boys & Girls Club of Greater Milwaukee: Abele was invited to join the 85 member board in 2001, has served as board chairman from 2004-08. On May 3, 2010 Abele was the recipient of the groups Most Valuable Person Award for “his outstanding community involvement and service to the children of Milwaukee.” He co-chaired the Perfect Match Campaign which raised $59 million and the Decade of Hope Campaign which raised $70 million for the organization.
Boys & Girls Clubs of America: Abele currently serves on the Board of Governors and Chairs the Finance Committee
Carr Center for Human Rights Policy: Abele currently sits on the advisory board of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, a research center located at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University
Patrick and Beatrice Haggerty Museum of Art
League of American Orchestras: Abele served on the board of directors, where he held positions on the campaign cabinet and executive committee
Marcus Center: Abele served on the board of directors, and is previous board chair. While on the board, Abele led various fundraising efforts, and spearheaded the Center’s external lighting project
Medical College of Wisconsin: Abele previously served on the Board of Trustees.
Milwaukee Area Technical College Board Appointment Committee: Abele currently serves as Board Chair
Milwaukee Art Museum: Abele currently serves on the board of directors, and had previously held positions on the Education Committee, and currently serves on the Anniversary Committee to commemorate the museums 125th anniversary.
Milwaukee Film Festival: Abele is the founder, former Board Chair, and current board member.
Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design: Trustee
Milwaukee Shakespeare: Abele was co-founder and former trustee of Milwaukee Shakespeare.
Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra: Abele currently serves as the chairman of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra Board of Directors
National Association of Health Education Centers: Board Member, former Chair
Physicians for Human Rights: Former Trustee
Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin: Abele is a former Board Member of the organization, and currently serves on their honorary board. He has been involved with the organization since 1997.
Public Policy Forum: Former Trustee
River Revitalization Foundation: Abele served on the Board of Directors, and previously held the position of Board Chair.
Royal Shakespeare Company America: Abele served on the Board of Directors, and previously held the position of Chair.
Visit Milwaukee: Abele served on the Board of Directors.
Wisconsin Covenant Foundation: Abele was appointed by former Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle to serve on the Board of Directors (Scholarship Fund)
Women for Women International: Abele served on the Board of Directors, and previously held the position of Board Chairman.
Awards and Honors
Boys and Girls Clubs of Milwaukee “Most Valuable Person”
Public Policy Forum “Charles McNeer Civic Leadership Award
United Performing Arts Fund “Partner in the Arts Award
Governor’s Award in Support of the Arts
Boys & Girls Club of America “National Foundation Award”
Shepherd Express “Milwaukeean of the Year”
Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin “Children’s Hero Award”
Saint Francis Center “Children’s Service Award”
Marcus Center “Corporate Citizen Award”
Riverwalk Association “Gertie Award”
Milwaukee Business Journal “40 under 40”
Milwaukee Business Journal “Power Broker”