In the final weeks of the Wisconsin Senate race, Democratic candidate Russ Feingold attacked an unlikely target: a Milwaukee-based anti-poverty program that his opponent helped start.
"It's not enough to pick people up in a van and send them away a couple hours and have them come back exhausted at the end of the day," Feingold said of the Joseph Project, a faith-based career placement program that helps Milwaukee area residents with job training. "That doesn't make a community."
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Feingold, a former Wisconsin senator trying to regain his old seat, was asked about the Joseph Project–which was started with the help of his Republican opponent, incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson–in a recent radio interview.
The Johnson campaign responded to Feingold's attack by releasing a new digital ad highlighting the importance of the Joseph Project and what it has done to better people's lives. The ad features testimonials from project participants as well as Pastor Jerome Smith, who partnered with Johnson to start the program.
The Johnson campaign released a statement from Pastor Smith about Feingold's attacks:
It is unfortunate that some people don't really seem to understand the needs of our community. The folks we work with love the Joseph Project, and I love the fact that it provides hope and opportunity for folks in our community who had been left to believe that all that was available to them was minimum wage, temp jobs, government programs, or crime. This is about giving people the dignity of work–that's something no political attack can take away.
One program participant named Michael appears in the ad and talks about how the Joseph Project has affected his own life.
"Here I am working a factory making good money, supporting my family, my friends, giving back to my community. Everything I hoped for and wished for, I'm doing it," Michael says in the newly released ad.
The Joseph Project partners with a local African-American church, which also helps transport individuals to jobs in areas outside Milwaukee, the National Review Online reported.
The Joseph Project–operated by Smith, Johnson, and Johnson's staff with no government funding–has recruited and trained close to 200 impoverished people in Milwaukee. Bridging the gap between open manufacturing jobs and unemployed people looking for opportunity, the project connected these individuals with employers and transported them to and from their jobs every day an hour away in Sheboygan. As of early September, the project had expanded from Milwaukee to a second location in Madison.
"Senator Feingold is not only denigrating the Joseph Project–he's denigrating the dozens of hard-working people in Milwaukee and Madison who have taken these jobs and are trying to break cycles of poverty and improve their communities," Johnson said in a statement Tuesday.
Johnson also called for Feingold to formally apologize to those individuals who have participated in the Joseph Project.