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Gwen S. Moore Biography

wisconsin milwaukee times development

1951–

Politician

Voters from Gwendolynne S. Moore's Milwaukee, Wisconsin, district elected her to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2004. A former welfare mother turned Democratic state lawmaker, Moore went to Washington as a member of the 109th U.S. Congress with several years of political experience, and became the first African American of either gender to represent Wisconsin in Congress.

The daughter of a factory worker and teacher, Moore was born in 1951 in Racine, Wisconsin, but grew up in Milwaukee. She was the eighth of nine children in her family, and attended North Division High School, where she served as student council president. During her first year at Marquette University in Milwaukee, she became pregnant, and struggled over the next several years to finish her degree and support her daughter. She received welfare and food stamps, and finally graduated in 1978 with a degree in political science. Afterward, she entered the Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) corps, a federal program launched in the 1960s that served as the domestic counterpart to the Peace Corps, a service organization that recruited young people to work in Third World countries.

Moore had two more children, but never married. In the early 1980s, she became active in community affairs and helped to establish the Cream City Community Development Credit Union in Milwaukee. Between 1985 and 1989, she worked for the city of Milwaukee as a neighborhood development specialist. She also held positions as a program and planning analyst for state agencies such as the Wisconsin Department of Employment Relations and Health and Social Services, and as a housing officer for the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority. (WHEDA). She won a seat in the Wisconsin State Assembly in 1988, and served two terms as a representative of her Milwaukee district. During that time, she gained wider recognition for speaking out about the series of heinous murders committed in her neighborhood by Jeffrey Dahmer. Moore lived just two blocks from Dahmer's apartment where remains were discovered in the summer of 1991, and she formally asked the state Attorney General to investigate the Milwaukee Police Department for ignoring complaints from citizens about Dahmer after he moved into the area, which was largely poor and a center of criminal activity after nightfall. Moore and other Milwaukee residents were particularly outraged when it was revealed that one of the victims, a 14-year-old Laotian boy, had run out onto the street from Dahmer's apartment naked and bleeding; three African American women contacted the police, and officers believed Dahmer's assertion that it was a harmless domestic dispute. "This has been a mass victimization of the community," William Celis III of the New York Times quoted Moore as saying. "We need an outside party to look at these problems."

Moore went on to serve in the Wisconsin State Senate, winning her 1992 bid as a representative of the 4th Senate District, which included parts of Milwaukee and its outlying suburbs. She became the first African-American woman ever elected to the body, and continued her advocacy for the state's poor and minority citizens. She frequently attracted media attention for her outspokenness—for example, in late 2001, when worries about terrorist activities brought some policy changes to the State Capitol building in Madison. At the lobby's security checkpoint, Moore balked at being asked to a show her photo ID when she arrived for work one day. A state police officer was called in, who recognized her and waved her through, but she called on Wisconsin's governor to rescind the new rule. "I am too often reminded Mohammed Atta had a photo ID," referring to one of the 9/11 hijackers, she said at the security checkpoint, according to Matt Pommer of the Capital Times. "This will not tell people whether I am a terrorist. This disenfranchises people who come to their Capitol."

Moore also stunned her constituents and State Senate colleagues in October of 2003 when she publicly admitted that she had been the victim of childhood sexual assault by a distant male relative. It happened several times, and later as a young woman she became the victim of acquaintance rape. She was nearly choked her to death, and filed charges against the man, but her attacker eluded conviction—at the time, there were no rape-shield laws on the books, and defense attorneys cast doubt on her allegations because she was both a single parent and welfare recipient.

Moore revealed these incidents after receiving an official reprimand during some legislative business in the Wisconsin State Senate. She was fighting for an amendment to an education bill under debate; the amendment would have specified background checks for school employees in private schools that signed on to a new school-choice program. The amendment came about after it was revealed that the founder of a private school in Milwaukee had once been convicted of rape years before. Moore wanted to eliminate the possibility that schoolchildren would come into contact with sexual-assault felons at a place that was supposed to be a safe haven for them, and brought up her own traumatization to make her point. "It would be different if it were something you could ever be cured of," she told Wisconsin State Journal reporter Phil Brinkman about the assaults. "One of the things people don't understand, they say, 'Gwen, you're 52 now. Get over it.' Many people who haven't had this experience minimize it. This is permanently disabling."

Moore was elected to U.S. Congress in the fall of 2004, beating out a Republican challenger who was an Iraq War veteran. Though the national election that same day was a close one, with 50 percent of Wisconsin voters choosing Democratic presidential contender John Kerry and 49 percent casting their vote for incumbent George W. Bush, Moore's congressional race was not. She won with 70 percent of the vote in Wisconsin's 4th Congressional District, and with that win became Wisconsin's first African-American legislator in Congress. "I will be privileged to have this shrill, hoarse voice out there in Washington, trying to bring some sanity back to America," she said in a speech to her supporters just after her landslide at the polls, according to the Capital Times of Madison, Wisconsin. "Many people are concerned about security, and I don't mean just military security. I mean job security. Health care has become a crisis."

At a Glance …

Born Gwendolynne Sophia Moore, April 18, 1951, in Racine, WI; daughter of a factory worker and a school teacher; children: Jessalyne, Ade, Sowande. Education: Marquette University, BA, 1978. Politics: Democrat.

Career: Member of Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) corps, 1970s; Wisconsin Department of Employment Relations and Health and Social Services, program-planning analyst, 1984–85; Milwaukee City Development, neighborhood development specialist, 1985–88; Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority, housing officer; served in Wisconsin State Assembly, 1988 and 1990; elected to Wisconsin State Senate, 1992, 1996, 2000; elected to U.S. House of Representatives from Wisconsin's 4th Congressional District, 2004.

Addresses: Office—219 N. Milwaukee St., Ste. 3A, Milwaukee, WI 53202.

Sources

Periodicals

Black Enterprise, June 2005, p. 290.

Capital Times (Madison, WI), November 1, 2001, p. A6; September 20, 2004, p. A6; November 3, 2004, p. C4.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 27, 1999, p. B2; June 2, 2002, p. 4.

New York Times, July 28, 1991; July 29, 1991.

Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, WI), October 25, 2003, p. A1; January 25, 2005, p. B1.

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