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Milwaukee's 7 mayoral candidates outline their top priorities

Milwaukeeans have a major decision to make this month. Seven candidates are running to fill the remaining two years of former Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett's term. The primary is Tuesday, Feb. 15 (you can register to vote here), and the two candidates who receive the most votes will go on to face each other in the general election on April 5.

Those seven mayoral candidates are, in alphabetical order, Alder Marina Dimitrijevic, former Alder Bob Donovan, activist Ieshuh Griffin, Milwaukee Common Council President and Acting Mayor Cavalier Johnson, Milwaukee County Sheriff Earnell Lucas, businessman Michael Sampson and Wisconsin State Senator Lena Taylor.

We asked each of the candidates what their top priorities as mayor would be, and requested that each respond in 200 words or less. You can read their unedited responses below.

Marina Dimitrijevic

My top priority as Mayor would be to keep Milwaukee safe. That means safe from rising crime and reckless driving, and safe from the global pandemic which continues to disrupt our lives. The status quo just isn’t working for too much of Milwaukee. As Mayor, I would reimagine how we use our public safety resources to address the root causes of crime and violence such as homelessness, housing inequality, and joblessness. On Day 1 of my Administration, I would move to rapidly accelerate implementation of Milwaukee’s “Blueprint for Peace”, a comprehensive, citywide plan focused on violence prevention and crime reduction. I would also replace the officers we’ve lost during the pandemic due to resignation and retirement with new officers trained in community policing and violence interruption. 

Keeping Milwaukee safe also means safe from COVID-19. I would implement smart policies around vaccines and masking that are based in science, not politics, so we can keep our kids in their classrooms and businesses open and thriving. I’m ready to make the bold changes we need to reshape Milwaukee into a place where everyone can thrive. It’s time for a change, and I’m ready to lead on Day 1.

Bob Donovan

Although I feel there are 3 major issues that need to be addressed ASAP, I would have to say that public safety is at the top of my list. The number one job of local government is to provide safe streets and safe neighborhoods and if we fail, nothing else can flourish. My second priority would be to fill the leadership void that we have had in this City for years, and the third would be to tackle our growing fiscal crisis.

Ieshuh Griffin

My top priority as Mayor would be the people. The needs of the people and the progression and unification of the people of Milwaukee. I believe when the people are put front and center and brought in on the decision making process that ultimately affects them, the City of Milwaukee can began to heal and rebuild. Milwaukee can be a top tier city if we eradicated the burdens we place in the people of Milwaukee. Burdens such as discrimination, disparate treatment, inequality as well as but not limited to continuous failed government.

Cavalier Johnson

My first priority as Mayor right now is making our city safer. 

Creating a path to broad prosperity requires addressing residents’ immediate concerns about safety and security. Lack of family-supporting jobs has brought about generational poverty, which has led to a culture of violence and recklessness in this City. The increased access to guns has compounded the issue, leading to rising rates of homicides. We must all step up: on the block, in the ranks of law enforcement, and at the State level. We must not allow anyone to encourage this violence any longer, whether it be through simple neglect or lack of partnership. This affects us all. 

Only by dealing with our crime rate can we begin to truly unlock the full potential of this City. We need to reject the status quo, and imagine a Milwaukee that is the shining beacon of the Midwest. My administration has a ‘get to YES’ spirit, restoring a vitality in this City by making intentional decisions with quality of life for City residents being top of mind. Milwaukeeans deserve the best. We can replicate the successes we’ve had downtown, in the Menomonee Valley, and Bay View in every neighborhood of the City. 

Earnell Lucas

Crime and disorder are the most important issues facing Milwaukee. From our citizens to our businesses to visitors and tourists, we all want to be safe.

I am uniquely qualified and experienced to regain security in our city. As Milwaukee County Sheriff, I have been at the forefront of proactive policing efforts on our expressways and in our parks. On my watch, we built an investigative bureau from scratch to take on the challenges of homicide, gun violence, and human trafficking. I will do the same as your mayor.

Together we can do two things at once – invest properly in the Milwaukee Police Department so that we have enough detectives to raise our homicide clearance rate and enough officers to respond immediately to calls for service. We can do this while also addressing social justice issues and changing the way in which people and police interact.

Michael Sampson

My top priority as mayor in week 1 is to make sure that Milwaukee is ready for the next wave of Covid. This includes hospital help, more testing sites, more free masks from the Federal Government and the best education and awareness on vaccines that we can offer.

Lena Taylor

The City budget has to be the number one priority. While it is necessary to address public safety and all the many facets it contains, without adequate resources we are hamstrung. This impact could be felt as soon as next year if predictions are correct. We can’t talk about increased police officers, mental health services, economic development, and growing our city, without getting a handle on the pension problems and budget challenges we are facing. More than 60 U.S. cities have had difficulty paying their bills and at least 10 have filed bankruptcy.

We have to look at the 12 or so recommendations from the Pension Crisis Task Force. Tough choices lie ahead that include unpopular options. This is where budgeting and fiscal management experience matter. While we dig our way out, we have to chart a pathway forward. We need income growth for residents, increased homeownership, fairer shared revenue, and new income streams. While not exhaustive, it’s a start. As anyone who has ever managed a household knows, a solid budget and fiscal health are big determinants of your quality of life.