Ald. Cavalier Johnson makes his case to become Milwaukee’s next mayor

Johnson says he’ll be a ‘tireless advocate for Milwaukee’

By: - September 23, 2021 6:06 am
Ald. Cavalier Johnson speak during the Newsmaker luncheon. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

Ald. Cavalier Johnson speak during the Newsmaker luncheon. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

Cavalier Johnson, president of the Milwaukee Common Council, laid out his case for becoming Milwaukee’s next mayor at Wednesday’s newsmaker luncheon hosted by the Milwaukee Press Club and Johnson outlined his thoughts on the policies he plans to support, and what a change in leadership could mean for Milwaukee.

Johnson revealed that he has proactively reached out to Republican elected officials whose districts surround the city in what he describes as his effort to be a “tireless advocate for Milwaukee.” It’s a two-way street. While Johnson realizes building bridges could help him try to manage policies targeting the city promulgated by the Republican majority in the Legislature, he also says the GOP is curious about what will follow the departure of Mayor Tom Barrett.

Barrett has been Milwaukee’s mayor for 17 years, ever since winning his first election in 2004. After serving four terms, Barrett was nominated to be the U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg by President Joe Biden in August. Luxembourg is a sovereign, monarch-led nation about 10 times the size of the city of Milwaukee. Although Barrett’s nomination is still being finalized, Johnson was selected to become acting mayor until a special election is called. Already, Milwaukee County Sheriff Earnell Lucas has announced his intention to run for the seat and other elected officials have signaled  they’ll join the race as well.

Ald. Cavalier Johnson speak during the Newsmaker luncheon. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)
Ald. Cavalier Johnson speak during the Newsmaker luncheon. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

The next mayoral election will not take place until  Barrett’s term is finished. Until then, Johnson has set his sights on several points of policy in the city. Among the things Johnson hopes to work on as mayor, he says, are “public safety and health,” which top his list. “We have to focus on this,” he said Wednesday, “and no one’s more concerned about public safety in the city than the parents of young children.” Johnson points to reckless driving, rising homicide rates, and access to firearms as major issues the city must address Taking neighborhood walks with community members and networking with block-watch captains has given Johnson insights into these problems, he says.

Johnson hopes to increase the number of civilian employees in the police department in order to increase the number of sworn officers on the street, he added. And, Johnson added, “We also have to recognize that police can’t do this job alone. They can’t. They’re not a social service agency.” Using reckless driving as an example, Johnson noted that enforcement needs to be coupled with better engineered streets. Another issue  Johnson emphasized  on Wednesday was  jobs.

“We just haven’t had the transformation on jobs that we’ve needed to in this community,” he said. “40 years we’ve been waiting for a silver bullet approach for large-scale manufacturing to return to Milwaukee.”

The days of family-supporting jobs in large-scale, heavy industrial manufacturing that sustained entire communities are gone, said Johnson. But for certain neighborhoods, he suggested, “it’s got to be green jobs, it’s got to be tech jobs.”.

He added, “access to family-supporting jobs is key to safe and stable neighborhoods.” Johnson emphasized that “we want our residents to be stable and not transient. We need access to better jobs with better wages.” By encouraging youth employment and education in the trades, developing collaborations with businesses and raising wages, Johnson hopes to nourish many neglected Milwaukee communities. “Milwaukee is also the economic engine of our state,” said Johnson. “That’s not disputed, everybody knows it. So as goes Milwaukee, so does the entire state.”

It’s a message Johnson aims to bring to both sides of the aisle in the Capitol. “It’s actually pretty heartening that Republicans in the Legislature have reached out to me when news broke about the mayor potentially going on this ambassadorship,” said Johnson. “And they’re excited about the possibility of us being able to work more closely together.”

Drawing from his own lived experience growing up in Milwaukee, Johnson also points to housing access as a critical issue. He supports building a new facility in Milwaukee to house incarcerated juveniles closer to home. Funding for the new facility didn’t make it into  the state budget .

When asked about his views on tackling systemic racism in one of America’s most segregated city’s Johnson said, “We’ve been working to address that in the city.” He pointed to the creation of an Office of Equity Inclusion to address some of those issues.

Johnson highlighted the lack of minority business leadership in a city with a high minority population. He also pointed to some proposed policies put forward by the Common Council to remedy issues of police violence.

He said he hopes to focus on COVID-19 vaccine messaging to low-income communities as Milwaukee  experiences another uptick in cases. Ultimately, Johnson sees Milwaukee as home, and he hopes to use the mayor’s seat as a vehicle to improve it.


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Isiah Holmes
Isiah Holmes

Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Holmes' video work dates back to his high school days at Wauwatosa East High, when he made a documentary about the local police department. Since then, his writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, the Progressive Magazine, Al Jazeera, and other outlets. He was also featured in the 2018 documentary The Chase Key, and was the recipient of the Sierra Club Great Waters Group 2021 Environmental Hero of the Year award.