Milwaukee Mayoral candidates debate at Marquette

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Photo by Josh Meitz

Bob Donovan (left) and Cavalier Johnson (right) stand at their podiums.

For the first time in nearly 20 years, former Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett is not on the ballot. This is the first mayoral election without an incumbent on ballot since 2004 and the race is on to see who will replace Barrett. With the April 5 election approaching, the candidates met on March 27 for a debate co-hosted by Marquette University and TMJ4. The two candidates, former alderman Bob Donovan and acting Mayor Cavalier Johnson, met in Varsity Theater to discuss citywide issues and the future of Milwaukee.

Milwaukee has seen a rise in gun violence since the beginning of 2022, with 50 homicides in the year so far, 26 more than last year at this time. Johnson said improving communication with the state government to the local city could address the issue.

“In my first 100 days of mayor, I will go to Madison. I will have those conversation that I have been talking about throughout this campaign. It’s so important that we rebuild the relationship the city of Milwaukee has with the state government,” Johnson said.

Donovan said his solution was to bolster the police department and fill previously eliminated positions. He said creating transparency in the police system and addressing the atmosphere of crime with the courts and judges would create a rapport between police and community.

When looking for solutions to mental health and awareness, both agreed in implementing response teams to help community members.

Unemployment in the city of Milwaukee is at 4.8%. Questions about revitalizing neighborhoods for job development in areas such as Northridge Mall were one of the topics up for debate.

“Getting the right kind of people around the table and fashioning some solutions that we can move forward with … identify the problems and let’s fashion some solutions. I’ve been disappointed over the years in our department of city developments’ ability to really go out and attract business from other regions to come to the city of Milwaukee,” Donovan said.

Affordable housing was also discussed as point of interest. Sixty percent of Milwaukee’s residents are renters and half of renters are rent burdened, meaning rent takes up 30% or more of their income. Both sides mentioned the idea of working with developers to build affordable housing.

Donovan said the solution to evictions is increasing relations and communications between landlords and tenants.

Johnson focused on the monetary side of the issue, saying that utilizing funds for building more affordable housing could be a solution. He notes a $10 million investment in tackling the issue of affordable housing inside and outside of downtown.

“Families should not be spending more than 30% of their earnings on housing. But in city of Milwaukee because we have so many people who are underpaid in the jobs they have, we see people spending a lot more on that for housing and that is something we have to correct and why I continue to talk about the need to have true families supporting opportunities in the city,” Johnson said.

When debating on enhancing education in Milwaukee, Donovan talked about taking an active role and appointing someone in a higher position where they will work for the city and report back for the best approaches on education development. Johnson said he would work to improve the living conditions of the students outside of the classroom, helping address hunger and stress and trauma.

When addressing civic engagement, the primary election had a turnout of roughly 22%, the candidates were asked how they would get more folks interested. Johnson said he is encouraging the people of Milwaukee to get out there and engage and express themselves in the democratic process.

Donovan advocated for ensuring schools teach civics to the youth.

“At a much earlier age they learn about our government, the importance of getting involved not only in voting, but also of what it means to be a good citizen I think it is so important for our young people to be receiving that type of education…and as they get out to the voting age they want to have their voices be heard,” Donovan said.

Riley McAdams, a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences and Milwaukee resident, said it was a great opportunity for students to get involved and informed regarding local politics.

“Education and focusing on the sides of Milwaukee which have been abandoned and ignored is really big … those are something that is really important to me and the reckless driving and crime. Improving the living standards and affordable housing which as a Marquette student I’ve had to start dealing with because I’m looking for a place to live so that is another aspect,” McAdams said.

This story was written by Connor Baldwin. He can be reached at connor.baldwin@marquette.edu