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Wisconsin's presidential primary and spring general election is April 2, 2024. Here's a guide on Milwaukee-area candidates and information on how to vote.

Milwaukee mayoral primary heads to final hours before Tuesday's vote

Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson speaks to news reporters at an early vote event on February 13, 2024.
Chuck Quirmbach
Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson speaks to news reporters at an early vote event on February 13, 2024.

Voters in the city of Milwaukee Tuesday will narrow a field of mayoral candidates from three to two. Incumbent Mayor Cavalier Johnson faces Pastor David King, and community activist Ieshuh Griffin.

Cavalier Johnson became acting mayor late in 2021 when Mayor Tom Barrett left to be U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg. A few months later, Johnson easily defeated Bob Donovan in a special election, and became Milwaukee’s first elected Black mayor. Johnson is now trying for his first four-year term in the non-partisan office.

As an incumbent, Johnson draws media attention without much problem. Last week, it was to promote early voting in this year’s election.

“Look, the important thing is to make sure we have opportunities to vote early, " Johnson emphasized before going inside the city’s new early vote site in the Midtown area and casting a ballot for himself.

When he came back outside, Johnson told WUWM why he thinks he deserves a full term as mayor.

“I want to continue serving on as mayor because I think we laid a great foundation over the last two years. I said when I first ran for mayor that I wanted to build a city that was safer, stronger and more prosperous for everybody. I feel like we’re doing that," Johnson says.

Reckless driving remains a problem in Milwaukee and many other communities. Johnson recently announced a plan to slow drivers on about 50 more city streets.

Homicides in Milwaukee went up in 2022, then dropped 20% last year. Most types of crime in the city went down in 2023, but robbery increased 7%.

Milwaukee’s unemployment rate is close to the statewide average of about 3%, though analysts say the jobless figure is typically higher in predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods.

Milwaukee mayoral candidate David King poses for a photo, prior to a meet and greet event on Milwaukee's south side.
Chuck Quirmbach
Milwaukee mayoral candidate David King poses for a photo, prior to a meet and greet event on Milwaukee's south side.

One of Johnson’s challengers, David King, says conditions in the city are not good enough. King, founder of a community assistance group called Wisconsin God Squad, sees a bigger role for churches.

“If you get the churches involved with dealing with mental illness, drugs, it helps reduce crime automatically," King says.

King has run as a Republican for several state offices, coming up short. One of his sharpest criticisms of the mayor, who is a Democrat, is the 2% city sales tax that began this year as part of a shared revenue deal Johnson reached with GOP state lawmakers and Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers.

King says combined with the state sales tax and recently-increased Milwaukee County tax, many non-food purchases in the city are taxed at 7.9%.

“I’m saying that putting the sales tax up high, and if I’m already struggling financially, I’m going to go where I can get it cheaper," King says.

Johnson says the city sales tax will help solve a decades-old pension problem that threatened city finances and services.

“Now, we’re not in that position. The budget I proposed for 2024 actually adds police, actually adds to the fire department [and] keeps our libraries open in the city of Milwaukee. And, I think that’s the sort of future Milwaukeeans want," Johnson says.

Milwaukee mayoral candidate Ieshuh Griffin.
Photo supplied by Ieshuh Griffin.
Milwaukee mayoral candidate Ieshuh Griffin.

Johnson’s other challenger in Tuesday’s primary, Ieshuh Griffin, is currently also running for city alderperson and Milwaukee County executive. Griffin ran for mayor two years ago and has returned with what she calls her Poor People’s Piece of the Pie Campaign.

“I’m saying everyone has eaten off the poor people in the community. I’m the only one advocating for the poor," Griffin tells WUWM.

Griffin says parts of the city lack adequate health care and services for people who are physically abused. To reduce unemployment in high poverty areas, Griffin has a city hiring plan.

“Every week, I would have 18-25 year-olds, then 26-47, the next week 48 and over. And the fourth week, I would integrate these different agencies because I want people to know it’s their office," Griffin says.

Johnson says to help low-income residents, he’s continued a summer youth jobs program and backs an alliance to end childhood hunger. He says he’s committed to seeing more affordable housing and providing shelters for the un-housed.

Political analysts say it would be a huge shock if the better-funded incumbent isn’t the top vote-getter on Tuesday. Johnson is favored to win in April too.

Maybe during a four-year term, one of the three mayoral candidates could win over local resident Fred Hannah. But at the same early vote site where Johnson cast his ballot last week, Hannah says he wrote in a name. Hannah contends the Black community is underserved.

“In regards to education, training, economic opportunity, I'm just saying the current leadership is just not necessarily progressing at the speed that I would expect," Hannah says.

There’s no early voting on Monday, Feb. 19. Polls open Tuesday at 7 a.m.

How to vote, who the candidates are and what's at stake.

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