Wisconsin family business Trek Bicycle Corporation has been pulled into the political crossfire of the US midterm elections, after a family member running for governor has come under attack about her tenure at the manufacturer.
Mary Burke, 55, is running on the Democratic ticket for the north-central state, with her success as a second-gen executive at Trek being central to her campaign.
But less than a week out from elections, two former employees, both with connections to the Republican Party, have claimed her father, who has since passed away, fired her due to poor performance.
Her brother, John Burke, now company president, has hit back at the accusations against his sister, saying they are untrue, and describing them as “character assassination”.
Their father, Richard Burke, founded Trek in the 1970s, when he was 17 years old. Today the Wisconsin-headquartered company has estimated revenues of $800 million (€635 million).
Burke was director of European operations from 1990 to 1993. According to her campaign website, she established sales and distribution operations in seven countries during this time, helping increase sales from $3 million to $50 million.
But former Trek human resources director Gary Ellerman, chair of a local chapter of the Republication Party, told conservative website Wisconsin Reporter that Burke was a disaster for the company.
A Trek spokesperson has said in a statement to local media it was in fact Ellerman who was fired from the company, not Burke, and described the remarks as politically motivated.
A former president of the company, Tom Albers, has also said Burke was fired. Albers left the company in 1997 to make way for second-gen John Burke to take the helm, and joined competitor Specialized Bikes.
Albers has donated to former Republication Party nominees on a small scale, just upwards of $1,000, campaign finance records show.
John Burke says his sister’s competence in the family business was the reason he urged her to return to Trek Bicycles in 1995. Burke stayed for a decade during this second stint for the family business, and eventually became head of strategic planning and forecasting.
In 2005, after leaving the family business, she became state commerce secretary.
Burke is challenging Republican Party incumbent Scott Walker, a preacher’s son, who has been in politics for two decades.
Besides fiscal responsibility, job creation and support for small business and entrepreneurs, Burke supports same-sex marriage and the legalisation of medical marijuana.