Mandela Barnes Films Campaign Commercial at Wauwatosa West


Annabelle Wooster

Mandela Barnes films campaign commerical at Wauwatosa West.

Annabelle Wooster, Editor

Mandela Barnes, current lieutenant governor and democratic nominee for representative to the United States Senate, used Wauwatosa West to film one of his campaign commercials. While some people were excited to recognize a familiar backdrop, others questioned if the school was endorsing the candidate. 

Wisconsin Right Now is a Facebook page dedicated to “Wisconsin-focused…breaking news and some opinion.” They posted a screenshot of a list of questions that their representatives sent to the district regarding the filming of the commercial. 

One comment on the post called Barnes a “communist” who is “using public resources” to get into office and “pad [his] own union pocket.” Another comment from an alumni said that “this is sick” and questioned if they “should pay Tosa West a visit and ask some questions.”

The advertisement campaign commercial is titled “Cafeteria” and was uploaded to the Team Barnes Youtube page on August 16th and has over 4.5 thousand views. In the video, Barnes walks through the main hallway and cafeteria of Wauwatosa West while promoting his focus on a middle class tax cut. 

The commercial was filmed on Saturday, August 6th and was the first advertisement to be released by Barnes after winning the Wisconsin primaries on August 9th.

Barnes grew up in Milwaukee and is a graduate from John Marshall High School. So why choose Wauwatosa West? His campaign team says it was all in an effort to represent his background, family, and connection with the community. 

“As the son of a public school teacher and a third shift factory worker from Milwaukee, it was important to the Lt. Governor to include the Wisconsin public school system that gave him an opportunity to succeed in his campaign,” said Eryicka Wesley, Press Assistant for Barnes. 

According to NBC News, “The new ads are backed by over $1 million worth of airtime.” They are set to run on cable and local stations all across the state. 

The District’s Board Policy 7510 lays out the parameters for rental use of school buildings. 

“The non-resident fee for renting the space at Wauwatosa West is $50 per hour, and the space was used for eight (8) hours, for a total rental cost of $400,” said Superintendent, Demond Means. 

Additionally, other requirements must be met before the building is handed over. 

“The School Board may rent school facilities to responsible organizations for civic, educational, cultural, religious, political or recreational meetings at which admission may or may not be charged. Such usage will be granted only upon payment of the approved fee, demonstration of insurance coverage and upon the execution of an approved agreement form outlining the following conditions,” as stated in Board Policy 7510. 

Means also emphasized the simplicity of the rental agreement stating that no additional supplies were provided to Barnes and his team. 

“The rental did not disrupt any school-related activities, and no props were provided or made available outside of the materials that were already in the space (tables, chairs, etc.). Lunch trays, eating and serving utensils were not provided,” he said. 

Therefore, in accordance with the Wauwatosa School Board’s policy, any politician or political party can utilize one of the district’s public school buildings to film political media. 

Public schools and the promotion of political ideals has been a topic of controversy over the last decades. 

According to Martha McCarthy, the Chancellor’s Professor and Chair of Educational Leadership  and Policy Studies at Indiana University, “a New York federal district court held that in an election year, a school district could require a teacher to remove the incumbent president’s picture from her classroom or to post the opposing candidate’s picture to ensure balance.”

Additionally, public teachers have been asked to refrain from wearing political buttons for fear that students and parents may see the teachers as representative of the district’s opinion on politics. 

Kira Kirby is a senior at West. During her junior year she took place in the “We The People” American Public Policy – Special Emphasis (APPSE) class. The course is competition based and centered around civic education. During her time in the class, Kirby and her group focused heavily on the relationship between schools, students, parents, and politics. 

“Legally, if the school is open to be rented by everyone, meaning both or all candidates, there is no issue. Both sides… had the opportunity to use the school,” said Kirby in agreement with the school’s policy. 

However she also sees how this could spark controversy. 

“This may create some concerns over whether or not it now looks like the school endorses Mandela Barnes, even unofficially. A public school is a place where children are supposed to be able to come and learn uninfluenced by bias, that’s why teachers are not allowed to talk to the students about personal opinions on things like political matters or promote their own personal religious beliefs,” she further explained. 

But Kirby recognized a detail of the commercial that helps to ease concerns of promoting political bias.

“The name of the school was not mentioned in the commercial, and the message of the commercial itself is not about Tosa West… Realistically, only those that know what Tosa West looks like would recognize the setting as something other than a generic school,” Kirby said. Therefore making the situation less obvious to the general public because no named location is associated with the message of the commercial. 

Chad Mateske has been in charge of the West APPSE program for over a decade. In his opinion, a problem could spark depending on how the commercial is interpreted and recognized. 

“Is there concern [that] this makes our school and or District look like we are putting our name behind a candidate? It obviously could be taken that way despite the leaving out of obvious visually confirming signage,” he said. 

Though Mateske sees the potential for possible controversy, he agrees with Kirby.

“If the District Policy is that any candidate can rent space should they want to shoot a commercial at any of our schools, and they are open to having other candidates do the same, then I guess I don’t have a huge problem with it.  If the opposite candidate wants to reach out and do the same, they have the right to do so.”