Saturday, April 20, 2024
Saturday, April 20, 2024

Milwaukee Press Club 'Excellence in Wisconsin Journalism' 2020 & 2021 Award Winners

Remembrances of My Cousin Glenda Cleveland


Glenda Cleveland never expected to be thrust into the worldwide spotlight for doing the right thing. In some sense, she was a victim of Dahmer’s evil, but she was also a voice for his victims.

I was about to leave the gas station when my phone rang. My first inclination was not to answer it, until this quiet inner voice said, “Take the call, it’s urgent.”

It was my cousin in Memphis. He always has some funny one liner before you even have the chance to say hello. Before I could utter hello, he said, “I have some bad news. Glenda passed away. She was found in her apartment.” I knew my cousin was serious. The ominous depth of his voice was something I had never heard before. Stunned, like boxer knocked onto the mat by his opponent. I was not prepared for this news.

As I sat in my car processing this new reality, all I could think about was there would be no more warm hugs and hearing her call me her pretty girl.

Glenda cleveland

No more hearing her infectious laughter.

She was gone.

I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye and tell her what she meant to me.

Before she was known to the world as Glenda Cleveland, she born Glenda Faye Smith, on February 16, 1955, in Carthage, Miss., the youngest daughter to Sullivan and Louise Smith. Uncle Sullivan was my father’s older brother. He was a farmer and was also a teacher in a Black public school near Carthage.

Glenda’s childhood was difficult. She grew up in a five-room house that she shared with her parents and nine other siblings. The house lacked indoor plumbing and heating, and was warmed by a fireplace in the living room that offered little refuge from the sneaky frosty central Mississippi winters. My uncle struggled with mental health challenges throughout his life but managed to provide for his family, while instilling a strong work ethic, integrity, and Christian values.

Glenda cleveland

Glenda was extremely intelligent and excelled in school. After graduating from high school, she briefly attended Tougaloo College, but left before earning a degree to become a mother to her only daughter Sandra, whom she named after a sister that passed away from an illness at a young age.

There were times that her parents and older siblings expressed disappointment in her not completing her college education. One of her older sisters had completed her Doctorate degree in Psychology, and another sister earned a business degree and worked in an executive level management position for a leading auto manufacturer. Glenda lived her life on her own terms, and prioritized being a good mother and provider to her daughter.

While Glenda was much older than me, the imprint that she left on my life will never be forgotten.

Glenda cleveland

As I reflect on the personal interactions that I had with her, I can still hear her voice.

Even though she migrated to Milwaukee shortly after her daughter was born, she still had had a delicate voice tinged with a southern accent. I frequently spent the night at Glenda’s house. Her daughter Sandra, and I were the same age. Glenda loved completing difficult crossword puzzles. She was also a voracious reader and could hold a conversation with the most intellectual or the most common individuals.

I was about 10 years old at the time and Glenda came to our house for a barbeque. It was a sweltering summer day. I was out riding my bike with the neighbor kid next door. We had an altercation over a boy that we both liked and it almost became physical had Glenda not intervened.

My mom was in the house busy preparing side dishes to go with the barbecue.

She yelled, “He will never like you because you’re ugly.”

I left my porch, and opened the gate about to go over to her house. Hearing the commotion, Glenda walked to the front. “Allyson, come here please,” she said with a pleading urgency.

With fists clenched, I was about halfway between my gate and the girl’s porch. Glenda appealed again, “Al, please come back here.”

I felt the slightly firm touch of her slender hands on my shoulders, and I turned around and walked back to my yard with her. As we sat on my porch in the shade from the unmercifully sun, she calmly said, “Allyson, don’t ever let people dim your light. They are just words and not who you are. You’re beautiful. People’s opinions don’t define you or your life.”

As a pre-teen, my friends and I loved experimenting with make-up. I thought denim blue eyeshadow, and red lipstick were the greatest color combination. I remember Glenda looking at my garish concoction; she never criticized or made me feel self-conscious, which would have shattered my burgeoning ego.

She opened her purse and retrieved this beautiful chocolate brown lipstick that she was wearing. “I bet this color would look even better than the one that you have on. Let’s take a look,” Glenda said excitedly.

She ushered me into the bathroom, and grabbed some tissue that was on the counter. She placed a generous amount of Vaseline on the tissue that was nearby. She tenderly wiped away the hideous red lipstick that was smeared on my lips. She then uncapped the lipstick and delicately rubbed it on my lips, expressing satisfaction by nodding her head. She said, with her mellow southern twang, “Start in the middle when applying lipstick, and smash your lips together. Then blot with tissue, and reapply, and smash your lips together again.” She then gave me a handheld mirror for me to look while admiring the transformation, “That looks so beautiful on you. You’re such a pretty girl. You don’t need much.”

To this day, it wasn’t only the lesson that she taught, but the affectionate way that she directed me.

Glenda was the most beautiful person inside and outside. She met people where they were at without judgment or criticism. Her kind heart and gracious nature was genuine.

I remember her saying that she stayed in contact with the family of Konerak Sinthasomphone, and even attended a family member’s wedding.

Glenda never expected to be thrust into the worldwide spotlight for doing the right thing.
In some sense, she was a victim of Dahmer’s evil, but she was also a voice for his victims.

She was also a forgiving person who never harbored malice or resentment toward anyone, including the officers who were so dismissive of her concerns that tragic night.

She was hurt that her pleas were ignored, and believed that they needed to be held accountable for their inaction to stop Dahmer’s reign of terror. I believe if she was alive today, she would be disappointed in how good law enforcement officers are being treated, while still wanting the ones who abuse their authority to be held accountable.

Glenda’s life after Dahmer’s conviction and imprisonment was also difficult. She endured the loss of her oldest sister, Valeria Flowers, and a nephew in a tragic house fire. She also dealt with a major surgery and some health issues, but I never expected her to die so young at 56 years old.

I never got the chance to tell her that I loved her and to express my gratitude for the life lessons that she so patiently taught me. She definitely made this world a better place during her time here, and even today.

I have not been able to watch the Netflix series about that dark and grisly chapter in Milwaukee’s history because all my family wanted to do was move forward from that bleak time and live a normal life. It would be a betrayal to them and to the victims of Dahmer if I watched it. The publicity reignited from the series has restarted my grieving process for my cousin.

I hope that the one lesson people can learn from this series and apply to their own lives is how to be compassionate, kind, and to stand up for what you believe, even if it seems the odds are not in your favor, and that you may be standing alone.

Dear cousin, thank you for accepting me.

Rest in Peace, Glenda.

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Rep. Janel Brandtjen: Threats to WEC Chief Don’t Help

(The Center Square) – One of the biggest critics of Wisconsin’s election administrator says no one should be threatening her and says threats don’t help fix election integrity issues.

State Rep. Janel Brandtjen, R-Menomonee Falls, on Tuesday offered her thoughts after the Wisconsin Elections Commission confirmed elections administrator Meagan Wolfe is receiving extra security protection.

"Threatening Administrator Meagan Wolfe, or any election official, is unacceptable and counterproductive. Venting frustrations on individuals like Wolfe, clerks, or poll workers is not only illegal but also harmful to rebuilding trust in our elections,” Brandtjen said. “Threats only undermine our republic and empower the courts and media. It's essential to address any concerns about election processes through legal channels. Threats have no place in our democracy.”

Brandtjen has been one of Wisconsin’s loudest critics of Wolfe. She led hearings as far back as 2021 into Wolfe’s role in the 2020 election. Brandtjen also led the push to get Wolfe removed from the Elections Commission.

“Wolfe’s term has indeed expired, and according to Wisconsin Statutes 15.61(1)(b)1, she should be removed, but Republicans are too worried about the press or too compromised to follow existing law.” Brandtjen said.

The Wisconsin Elections Commission on Monday clarified that Wolfe is receiving extra security but refused to offer any details.

“The Wisconsin Elections Commission has had productive conversations about safety and security with state leadership, including the governor’s office, which is tasked with approving security measures for state government officials,” WEC spokesperson Riley Vetterkind said in a statement. “Those conversations have resulted in additional security measures being approved for Administrator Wolfe and the WEC when the need arises.”

Brandtjen on Tuesday blamed Wisconsin Republicans, and once again blamed Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, for Wolfe’s continued time on the Elections Commission.

“It's disappointing that Sen. Dan Knodl and Rep. Scott Krug, chairs of the election committees, have not exercised their investigative and subpoena powers. This inaction has allowed the neglect of essential laws, such as providing ballots to individuals declared incompetent, lack of checks in military ballot requests, an insecure online system, and improper guidance on voting for homeless individuals without proper documentation,” she said. “The Legislature, particularly Speaker Vos' control, is responsible for the frustration caused by election irregularities due to their inaction.”

Wisconsin’s local election managers have reported an uptick in threats and angry rhetoric since the 2020 election, and some local election offices have taken extra precautions. But there haven’t been any cases in Wisconsin where someone has acted on an election threat.

Wisconsin’s Largest Business Group Sues Over Evers’ 400-year School Funding Veto

(The Center Square) – There is now a legal challenge to Gov. Tony Evers’ 400-year school funding veto.

The WMC Litigation Center on Monday asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to take up their challenge to the governor’s summer veto that increased per-pupil funding for the next four centuries.

“At issue is Gov. Evers’ use of the so-called ‘Vanna White’ or ‘pick-a-letter’ veto,” the group said in a statement. “The governor creatively eliminated specific numbers in a portion of the budget bill that was meant to increase the property tax levy limit for school districts in the 2023-24 and 2024-25 fiscal years. By striking individual digits, the levy limit would instead be increased from the years 2023 to 2425 – or four centuries into the future.”

The WMC Litigation Center is an affiliate of Wisconsin Manufactures & Commerce (WMC), the combined state chamber and manufacturers’ association.

Litigation Center Executive Director Scott Rosenow said while Wisconsin’s governor has an incredibly powerful veto pen, there are limits.

“No Wisconsin governor has the authority to strike individual letters or digits to form a new word or number, except when reducing appropriations,” Rosenow said. “This action is not only unconstitutional on its face, but it is undemocratic because this specific partial veto allows school districts to raise property taxes for the next 400 years without voter approval.”

Wisconsin lawmakers and voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1990 that put limits on the governor’s veto power.

Rosenow and the WMC Litigation Center say the governor’s veto goes beyond those limits.

The legal challenge also raises the constitutional issue that all state spending has to originate with, and be approved by, the legislature.

“In no uncertain terms, 402 years is not less than or part of the two-year duration approved by the Legislature – it is far more,” concluded Rosenow. “The governor overstepped his authority with this partial veto, at the expense of taxpayers, and we believe oversight by the Court is necessary.”

The WMC Litigation Center is asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to take the case as quickly as possible.

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Trump's First Criminal Trial

Five Key Questions Ahead of Trump’s First Criminal Trial

Jury selection is set to begin Monday in the first-ever criminal trial of a former U.S. president.

Former President Donald Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts related to charges he paid hush money to adult film actress Stormy Daniels through a lawyer and covered it up as a legal expense before being elected president.

Trump has attempted to delay the start of the New York state trial several times, including three longshot tactics judges rejected this week.

What charges does Trump face in the New York hush money case?

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has charged Trump with 34 counts of falsifying business records related to money paid to Daniels and another woman, former Playboy model Karen McDougal. Bragg has alleged Trump broke New York law when he falsified with the intent to commit or conceal another crime.

Prosecutors allege Trump falsified internal records kept by his company, hiding the true nature of payments that involve Daniels ($130,000), McDougal ($150,000), and Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen ($420,000). Prosecutors allege the money was logged as legal expenses, not reimbursements. Both Cohen and Daniels are expected to testify.

Cohen is expected to be a key witness in the trial. Daniels has said she expects to testify.

Former Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., Bragg's predecessor, did not bring the case to trial.

What happens on Monday?

Prosecutors, defense attorneys and Donald Trump are expected to be present when the trial before Judge Juan Merchan gets started Monday. The first step will be picking a jury, a process that could take a week or more depending on how things progress. The trial is expected to last six to eight weeks.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys will select 12 jurors and six alternates from a pool of potentially hundreds of people. Each juror will answer 42 questions designed to determine if they can be impartial in the high-profile trial of a polarizing former president. The jurors will remain anonymous because of security concerns.

Once a jury is seated, it's on to opening statements where prosecutors and defense attorneys will get to address the jury about what they plan to show during the trial.

What is Trump's defense to the charges?

Trump has maintained he did nothing wrong and has accused Bragg of bringing a politically motivated case involving conduct in 2016 during a presidential election year as Trump faces incumbent Joe Biden in a rematch of the 2020 election.

Trump has spoken out against the judge, the district attorney and other involved in the case repeatedly. Trump's comments prompted a gag order from the judge who said Trump can't talk publicly about certain people involved in the case and their families.

"The White House Thugs should not be allowed to have these dangerous and unfair Biden Trials during my campaign for President. All of them, civil and criminal, could have been brought more than three years ago. It is an illegal attack on a Political Opponent. It is Communism at its worst, and Election Interference at its Best. No such thing has ever happened in our Country before," Trump wrote on his social media platform Truth Social this week. "On Monday I will be forced to sit, GAGGED, before a HIGHLY CONFLICTED & CORRUPT JUDGE, whose hatred for me has no bounds. All of these New York and D.C. 'Judges' and Prosecutors have the same MINDSET. Nobody but this Soros Prosecutor, Alvin Bragg, wanted to take this ridiculous case. All legal scholars say it is a sham. BIDEN'S DOJ IS RUNNING THE CASE. Just think of it, these animals want to put the former President of the United States (who got more votes than any sitting President!), & the PARTY'S REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE, IN JAIL, for doing absolutely nothing wrong. It is a RUSH TO THE FINISH. SO UNFAIR!"

Will Trump take the stand?

That's not clear yet. Trump said last month that he'd be willing to testify at trial if needed.

Could Trump go to jail?

It's too earlier to tell what will happen if Trump is convicted. Under New York state law, falsifying business records in the first degree is a Class E felony that carries a maximum sentence of four years in prison.

Trump's age and lack of any prior criminal convictions could work in his favor at sentencing if he's convicted. His attacks on the judge could have the opposite effect at sentencing. Before sentencing, the judge would look at sentencing guidelines, recommendations from prosecutors and any other pre-sentence reports.

In late March, Trump said that he wasn't worried about a conviction when asked if he thought a conviction could hurt his chances of returning to the White House.

"It could also make me more popular because the people know it's a scam," he said. "It's a Biden trial, there is no trial, there's a Biden trial."

Whatever happens during the trial, Trump will be protected by the U.S. Secret Service.

Even if convicted and sentenced to jail, Trump could continue his campaign to re-take the White House.

"The Constitution does not bar felons from serving as President," said Richard Hasen, professor of law and political science at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Trump could not pardon himself from any state charges, Hasen said.

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(The Center Square) – Wisconsin’s next supreme court race could be even more contentious and even more expensive than the last one.

Liberal Justice Anne Walsh Bradley on Thursday surprised the state when she announced she will not run for re-election next year.

"My decision has not come lightly. It is made after careful consideration and reflection. I know I can do the job and do it well. I know I can win re-election, should I run. But it's just time to pass the torch, bring fresh perspectives to the court," Walsh Bradley said in a statement.

She is one of Wisconsin’s longest serving justices, serving her third 10-year term on the court.

“In the 177-year history of the court, only four justices have served longer than my length of service,” she wrote.

Walsh Bradley’s decision means the next election will be open.

Former Republican attorney general, and current Waukesha County judge, Brad Schimel has already jumped into the race. There aren’t any declared Democrats yet.

Schimel on Thursday said Walsh Bradley’s decision isn’t changing anything for him.

“From the beginning of my campaign, I made it clear that I’m not just running against one person, I’m running against this Court’s leftist majority,” Schimel said. “I wish Justice Ann Walsh Bradley well in retirement after decades of public service. I look forward to continuing the fight to bring integrity and respect for the Constitution back to the Supreme Court of Wisconsin.”

Wisconsin’s last race for the supreme court, in April of 2023, set records for spending. The race between Justice Janet Protasiewicz and former Justice Dan Kelly cost more than $56 million. That makes the 2023 Wisconsin race the most expensive judicial race in American history. Many court observers and politicos in Wisconsin say the 2025 race could be just as expensive, or even more expensive.

Protasiewicz’s victory flipped the Wisconsin Supreme Court to a 4-3 liberal majority for the first time in 15 years.

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