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Car thefts, COVID-19, and Milwaukee's economy: Acting Mayor Cavalier Johnson lays out priorities for his time in office

Cavalier Johnson oath
Chuck Quirmbach
Acting Mayor Cavalier Johnson (left) is sworn in by Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Carolina Stark (right).

For the first time in nearly two decades, Milwaukee has a new mayor. Milwaukee Common Council President and 2nd Ward Alderman Cavalier Johnson is the acting mayor of the city and he has a lot of problems to tackle with a possibly short time to do it.

Acting Mayor Johnson lays out his priorities while in office and explains how he plans to handle some of Milwaukee's most pressing issues, including car thefts, reckless driving, the spike of COVID-19 infections, and the city's economic future.

What is your plan to deal with the epidemic of car thefts?

"Folks, have been watching the things that I've been working on in the past couple of weeks here. We put out a plan to tackle the issue of reckless driving. We also put out a plan to address broader issues around public safety in Milwaukee. To tackle the issue, more pointedly talk about car thefts...some of the things that we talked about in the previous plans [are] including prevention, education, and traffic enforcement, [which] will be key to working on these issues. There have been opportunities in the past where folks have been able [to go to] police district stations where they could get clubs for their vehicles," says Johnson. "Something that's critically important to know...the Common Council has also been putting pressure on manufacturers of vehicles that are more likely to be stolen. To provide fixes for those vehicles [like] Hyundai's, [which are] rather so easily taken from owners in the street."

How will you ensure that police and judges, those who are enforcing these laws, take this crime seriously?

"I know for certain that the chief of police takes these crimes seriously. That Chief Norman has from day number one, even as Acting Chief, has made a point to make sure that community engagement is part of the direction of the Milwaukee Police Department under his leadership. When doing that, he's able to see and understand directly from the people who are negatively impacted by this [car theft]...And I would hope as well that the individuals that we collectively, in this community, elect as judges are the ones who have to hand down penalties to people who steal these vehicles," says Johnson. "I'm not saying that, there's a one size fits all sort of punishment that's handed down by this, but let's make sure right, that if somebody is time, and time again, violating the law— that somebody is time and again, driving recklessly, in our community, or time and again, stealing people's vehicles, that they're held to account," says Johnson.

What would you say are your other priorities right now as Acting Mayor?

Johnson says, "Issues around public safety, issues around reckless driving, issues around making sure that high-quality masks are available to residents across our entire city. We've already given out over half a million high-quality N95 masks. There'll be more that are being distributed now. We'll continue to do that. Then working to have an economic foundation for residents in our city to build true prosperity in their neighborhoods as well."

The City of Milwaukee has the mask advisory, but we haven't seen another mask mandate. Why is that?

"The Commissioner of Health has reasonably and with strong reason, [believes] that if health officials such as herself, were to go and implement a masking mandate, [it could be] challenged in the courts. [She is] not wanting to lose her power, to be effective, in case there's some other some other outbreak...I think it's she has taken the pragmatic approach to not put us in a position where she would be powerless in her ability to stop the spread of other diseases, and instead said that if we were to move forward on something, then [it] come through the legislative process, which is more protected," says Johnson. "Now, a potential for that is coming back because the legislative branch, the Common Council, has taken that up. And so that's something that is actively in front of us now at the city."

On the issue of Wisconsin's shared state revenue: We've cut services here while we're really giving the rest of the state a lot more money than we're getting back. Do you intend to address that?

"One-hundred percent, absolutely...We [Milwaukee] are a net exporter, not a drain, we're a net exporter of tax revenue to the state. And so we're not asking for, you know, extra. We're not asking for more, we're just asking for what's fair, we're just asking for what's what's right," says Johnson. "As our shared revenue has been decreasing, the cost for our city services has increased, including police costs. So we are receiving about $111 million less than what we should, as shared revenue, rising at the rate it should have been and was indexed for inflation. But policing costs have increased by about $115 million. So there's no way for us to adequately pay for those services and other services unless the state steps in and actually becomes our true partners."

Joy Powers hosts and produces Lake Effect. She joined WUWM in 2016.
Kobe Brown is WUWM's Eric Von fellow.
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