- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 8, 2002

MADISON, Wis. — A conservative black preacher is the front-runner here in the heart of liberalism to challenge the countrys only openly lesbian congresswoman in the fall election.

The political contest is expected to pit Republican Ron Greer against incumbent Democrat Tammy Baldwin — and its personal.

Mr. Greer, also a former firefighter, was fired after 18 years for questioning the hiring of a new chief — a lesbian he said was not as qualified as white males in the city department.

Mr. Greer said he was labeled quickly as anti-homosexual and Miss Baldwin, then a state legislator, wrote an open letter to the media demanding that he be fired.

"We have a history," Mr. Greer said.

"I was very public about saying it was wrong and it became a hate crime," Mr. Greer said of the hiring.

Mr. Greer said his criticism resulted in numerous death threats, and a service at the Trinity Evangelical Church was invaded by more than 400 homosexual-rights activists "shouting, swearing, screaming, 'Bring back the lions and St. Peter was gay. They threw rocks at the window and urinated on the floor," Mr. Greer said.

Those events prompted Mr. Greer to enter the 1998 Republican primary, and he came in second in a field of five candidates.Miss Baldwin was first elected in 1996, and had close contests since: 53 percent to 47 percent over Republican Josephine Musserin 1998, and 51 percent to 49 percent over Republican John Sharpless in 2000.

Many Wisconsin Republicans now say Mr. Greer is their best weapon to oust Miss Baldwin, but he first must defeat a white businessman, Phil Alfonsi, in Tuesdays primary.

Mr. Alfonsi looks and speaks like a congressman, Republicans say, but a renegade like Mr. Greer, who has wide name recognition and a support base, is their best chance to defeat Miss Baldwin. Mr. Alfonsi, who began campaigning in January, four months before Mr. Greer entered the race, disagreed.

"He does have name recognition and a base from the well-known fireman flap. Its a loyal base, but its small," Mr. Alfonsi said.

"He is well-known, but the problem is what he is well-known for," Mr. Alfonsi said. "Ron is controversial and unnecessarily confrontational. Whats needed is someone who represents the majority of voters, and I think Im that person."The two Republican candidates have maintained a cordial campaign, addressing one another politely at numerous forums and debates and focusing their criticisms on Miss Baldwin.

"Ron and I are both Christians. We do not have any hostility towards one another," Mr. Alfonsi said after a recent forum.Miss Baldwin has refrained from discussing either candidate until after the primary, focusing instead on her pet issues of health care and economic revitalization of the area.

"Im sure that after September 10, they will engage in debate. Until then, I dont think she is going to comment on what they say," said Karin Johanson, Miss Baldwins campaign manager.

Both men say the differences between their politics and Miss Baldwin are stark.

Mr. Alfonsi is a fiscal conservative; Mr. Greer is a social conservative who also rejects heavy public spending. "Its not a solution. Its insulting and irritating, done by guilty phony white liberals, and Tammy does it constantly," Mr. Greer said."Its puzzling to see black folks vote for and support these folks, and disturbing to see black leaders pimping these folks to follow the failed policies of a failed party."

Mr. Greer is direct in his views, which he backs with his own personal stories of growing up in rough ghettos and his incarceration as a Marine in 1975 for striking a white officer. It was during his 18 months of hard labor in Fort Leavenworth, Kan., that the 19-year-old Mr. Greer turned to God. He continues to work for the Prison Fellowship Ministries and has been endorsed by its chairman, Chuck Colson, who has served seven months in prison for a conviction relating to the Watergate scandal.

Mr. Greer says that Republicans on Capitol Hill should not be shying away from their conservative agenda.Mr. Alfonsi is focusing on the economy, national defense and Miss Baldwin.

"She represents the far left but portrays herself as a middle-of-the road moderate, and nothing could be farther from the truth," Mr. Alfonsi said.

The city of Madison, a college town considered the Berkeley of the Midwest, is sharply divided with the surrounding conservative counties in the sprawling 2nd Congressional District.

"Tammy Baldwin is very much about symbolism over substance, much like the city she springs forth from: five miles of liberalism surrounded on all sides by reality," said Chris Lato, spokesman for the Wisconsin Republican Party.Miss Baldwin clearly is winning the fund-raising battle. She reported Aug. 21 that her campaign had raised more than $900,000 with $470,000 cash on hand. Mr. Alfonsi has raised $50,000 with just over $500 on hand.

Mr. Greer did not file for the latest period, but his July report, one month into the race, showed $20,000 had been raised but he was $500 in the red.

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