EXCLUSIVE: Oshkosh mayor shares details of her troubled past

From a foster child traded for a cigarette lighter, serving time in court and jail, to a state Assembly candidate with a Master's degree
Published: Oct. 6, 2022 at 9:56 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

OSHKOSH, Wis. (WBAY) - For the first time ever, Oshkosh Mayor Lori Palmeri is sharing details about a troubled past and how she turned her life around after growing up in foster care, serving jail time, and surviving abusive relationships.

Now she’s running for state Assembly, but she told Action 2 News she wants to clear up all of the rumors and allegations circling her campaign.

Palmeri is no stranger to the public spotlight. She was re-elected as Oshkosh mayor last year to serve a second, two-year term.

However, it wasn’t until she filed to run for state Assembly as a Democrat -- for the District 54 seat currently held by Gordon Hintz, who’s retiring -- that her past came back and could be an issue with voters.

In her first sit-down interview on the issue of her troubled past, Palmeri told us she wanted people to know what led up to a life that’s changed dramatically over the past 17 years.

“Sometimes leaders need to lean into their vulnerabilities in order to aspire others,” she said.

She talked about how she grew up in the foster care system, bouncing from one place to another.

“Prior to foster care, there was a point where I was traded for a silver lighter case,” she said. “I grew up pretty transient. My family was riddled with family violence, and like I said, relocation, periods of homelessness.”

Palmeri ended up getting pregnant at the age of 15, dropped out of high school, and married at a young age.

“I ended up getting my GED later on, and I as a young adult had a series of unhealthy relationships.... I made some bad choices and I paid consequences dearly.”

This included numerous run-ins with the legal system and law enforcement.

“I had a bad-check charge from 2002 -- I think it was 2002 -- and an operating after revocation from multiple speeding tickets over a five-year period that resulted in a habitual traffic offender.”

The driving after revocation charge even resulted in a six-day jail sentence that Palmeri served in Outagamie County.

“It was also very difficult because at the time my second grandchild was born that same week and I didn’t have the opportunity to go see her right away.”

Many of the allegations have come up in opposition research and push polling that has gone on in the Oshkosh area.

This also includes questions about her taxes, bankruptcy, and a false Social Security number, which she says was a one-digit mistake made on a DMV application or an occupational license.

“So this tax thing is completely false. I owe no taxes. I’m not behind on my taxes. There’s a classification on CCAP [the Wisconsin court system website] that appears to be that but is not.”

The bankruptcy dates back to 2005, and Palmeri says it was due to some medical expenses not covered by insurance.

“It takes me back to a time that was extremely difficult,” Palmeri said. “It does. Sometimes that seems like a blur, but I think I was a statistic in many situations that was not projected to do well.”

A more recent check of court records online shows that Palmeri was taken to court in 2016 for a medical expense, which was settled.

We’ve interviewed Palmeri many times as mayor and, before that, a city council member. In this interview, unlike the others, she was nervous and emotional.

“It’s tough,” she explained, “but I’m doing this for people. I’m not running from anything. I’m running for something now.”

Palmeri also said she’s no longer the same person -- and that education saved her life. Today she has both a Bachelor and a Master’s degree.

“As a grandmother, I went back -- a young grandmother, of course -- to enroll in school and pick up where I left off with a GED and move into a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. I chose Oshkosh as a family, a place to reunify my family and put down roots, made some better choices.”

“Giving back feels really good,” Palmeri said. “I could not have come through those things had I not had services like Harbor House, public financial aid for going to school, and some of the support services. I didn’t have the family support as a young adult.”