Wisconsin governor candidate Burke denies ex-Trek executive claim family's company fired her

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke and her brother on Wednesday rejected a claim by a former top Trek executive that she was fired from her job at the family company, calling it "character assassination" just days before an election where she's running close with GOP Gov. Scott Walker.

"It's ridiculous," Burke said in a telephone interview of the claims she was fired. "It's completely false."

Former Trek president Tom Albers told The Associated Press that Burke's role as head of Trek's overseas operations "just didn't work out. We were losing money."

Albers spoke to the AP after the allegation that Burke was fired was first reported by Wisconsin Reporter, a conservative website.

The claim that Burke was fired goes to the heart of her credentials as a successful Trek executive and comes just six days before the election.

Both Mary Burke and her brother John Burke, the current head of Trek, denied that she was fired from the job in 1993. They said Trek decided to reorganize its overseas operations, eliminating her position, at a time when she was ready to leave the company.

Albers, who worked for Trek from 1982 to 1997, said Mary Burke was fired by John Burke. Albers said he was told of the 1993 firing at the time by CEO Dick Burke, father to Mary and John Burke, who died in 2008.

Mary Burke said the claim so close to the election was politically motivated.

"It started on Day 1 on the character assassination and it's continued throughout," she said. John Burke used the same phrase in responding to the claim.

"She's a very good person who's very good for this job," John Burke said.

The accusation came the same day as a Marquette University Law School poll was released that showed Walker with a 7-point lead among likely voters, his widest of the race after months of being neck-and-neck. The poll of 1,146 voters between Oct. 23 and Sunday had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 points.

Mary Burke argues that her experience at Trek, the bike company started by her father in the 1970s, qualifies her to be governor and lead economic development and job-creation efforts for the state.

Burke worked for Trek twice, first as director of overseas operations from 1990 to 1993. She has said she left because she needed time off after holding a demanding job. She took two years off, which included three months snowboarding in Argentina. She returned to the company in 1995 in a non-managerial role and eventually led strategic planning and forecasting. She left in 2004 and then in 2005 took a job as state Commerce Department secretary, which she held for nearly three years.

John Burke said he decided to bring his sister back to the company because she had done such a good job in her first stint, increasing overseas sales from $3 million to $50 million. He said he did not have detailed financial records from that far back, but there was one year where the company had a loss.

Albers, who left Trek to take a job with its competitor Specialized Bicycles, said he had no ax to grind. Albers said he's not politically active, but campaign finance records show he gave $1,100 to Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Green in 2006. Albers said he thought he had donated $50 to Walker, but it doesn't show up in campaign records.

Albers, 73, said he only talked about the situation after first being asked by a reporter.

"I always had a lot of respect for Mary Burke," Albers said. "She was very intelligent."