MILWAUKEE — When Alex Lasry dropped out of the Democratic primary for Wisconsin Senate on Wednesday, he said “there is no way to victory,” something no sports franchise owner ever wants to admit. . He said he concluded he couldn’t beat Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes and urged voters to rally behind Barnes to defeat Republican incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson in November.
Lasry, 35, is the son of a billionaire owner of the Milwaukee Bucks and has his own stake valued at more than $50 million. He made the team, the 2021 NBA champion, the centerpiece of his campaign by showcasing the work he had done as a Bucks manager to help build the Fiserv Forum and provide higher salaries to unionized workers. He frequently donned Bucks zippers, vests, and other gear. He even traveled the state with the NBA trophy, drawing criticism for using it as a campaign prop.
There are plenty of former athletes and coaches who have jumped from the playing field or the sidelines to Capitol Hill: Bill Bradley, JC Watts, Tom Osborne and, most recently, Tommy Tuberville.
But it’s far less common for sports franchise owners, whose not-so-familiar faces, to inspire the same level of electoral fandom.
Some owners struggled to keep the sport out of the conversation. During his unsuccessful Republican primary campaign for the Ohio Senate, Matt Dolan, whose family owns the Cleveland Guardians, was lambasted by former President Donald J. Trump over the team’s decision to change his name Indians, which Trump mocked as a politically correct sop.
And in Georgia, Kelly Loeffler attacked the Black Lives Matter movement, infuriating members of the WNBA team she owned at the time, the Atlanta Dream, that they campaigned against her. She lost her Senate seat to Raphael Warnock, whose 2022 opponent is former NFL running back Herschel Walker.
Wisconsin Sen. Herb Kohl, a former owner of the Bucks, was one of the few team owners to travel to Washington. But he was already well known in his family’s grocery and department stores and as chairman of the state Democratic Party.
“Herb Kohl did the legwork,” said State Sen. Chris Larson, a Milwaukee County Democrat who dropped out of the primary last August and endorsed Barnes. “Lasry and his family were just trying to come in and buy this.”
Alex Lasry grew up in Manhattan as the son of hedge fund manager and Democratic fundraiser Marc Lasry. A star point guard on his high school team who continues to play basketball regularly, Alex Lasry moved to Milwaukee in 2014, after his father was part of a group that bought the Bucks that year from Kohl’s for $550. millions of dollars.
When he began his Senate bid in February 2021, Alex Lasry had to overcome skepticism that his resume was light on accomplishments and heavy on nepotism. By the end of June, he had achieved a clear second in a crowded group of longtime politicians, according to a Marquette Law School survey. He had also fielded an impressive list of supporters – including Cavalier Johnson, the mayor of Milwaukee – as well as union leaders who credited him with a strong community presence.
“I find him very easy to talk to, very down to earth,” said Daniel Bukiewicz, president of the Milwaukee Building & Construction Trades Council.
Lasry has largely self-funded his campaign, contributing $12.3 million to it, even though he initially said he would depend on grassroots support. In the second quarter of 2022, his campaign spent $6.7 million, more than his Democratic rivals combined.
It also had notable donors from the sports world, like Jerry Reinsdorf and Michael Reinsdorf of the Chicago Bulls, who were beaten by the Bucks in the playoffs this year, and Stephen Pagliuca and David Bonderman, owners of the Boston Celtics, the team that bounced the Bucks out of the playoffs. Other contributors were Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner; Jason Kidd, the Bucks coach when Lasry arrived in Milwaukee; Casey Close, a prominent sports agent; and Rachel Nichols, a former ESPN host.
On his Senate disclosure form, filed in August 2021, Lasry listed between $100 million and $273 million in assets. One investment was his partnership in Sazes Partners, a family holding company, records show.
Through Sazes, Lasry said he owns $5 million to $25 million from Sessa Capital, a private equity fund. John Petry, the founder of Sessa Capital, participated in charity poker tournaments with Marc Lasry to benefit Education Reform Now, a non-profit advocacy group.
The Lasry family’s ties to Sazes didn’t become public knowledge until he quit racing, but they could have caused a stir if they had. Sessa is the fourth shareholder in Chemours, a maker of PFASs, which have been linked to cancer and are often called “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down in water. Chemours is among companies sued for environmental contamination, including last week by Governor Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul of Wisconsin.
Asked last week about Lasry’s large family stake in a major Chemours shareholder, campaign spokeswoman Christina Freundlich said Lasry had applauded Evers and Kaul’s efforts “holding all polluters accountable.” and that he had urged Congress to establish regulations on PFAS.
No matter. Wednesday, the game was over. At a press conference outside the Fiserv Forum, Barnes praised Lasry’s campaign, saying he was leaving without making any new enemies.
That’s a remarkable achievement for a politician or a sports owner.
Kitty Bennett contributed to the research.