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Mayor Cavalier Johnson shares his plans for City of Milwaukee during his second term

Cavalier Johnson, the incumbent Mayor of Milwaukee running for re-election.
Nicole Acosta
Cavalier Johnson, the incumbent Mayor of Milwaukee running for re-election.

It's inauguration day in the City of Milwaukee, where Mayor Cavalier Johnson was reelected to a second term with more than 80% of the vote. This will be the mayor's first full term in office, having previously won a special election in 20222 after the resignation of former Mayor Tom Barrett.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Reflecting on your relatively short term in office, what are the biggest lessons that you've learned?

The biggest lesson that I've learned is that this job as mayor of Milwaukee, the largest and most diverse and economically consequential community in the state of Wisconsin, the city in which roughly one in 10 Wisconsinites live, it's a it's a big job. And I knew that going in. I had served in the mayor's office beforehand for some time. But, it's a difficult, complicated, complex, but very rewarding job. It presents the opportunity to make an impact in the lives of hundreds of thousands of people who call the city of Milwaukee home. And I appreciate that and having the ability and the trust of voters, my constituents in the city of Milwaukee, to go about that business. And one thing that I have learned and learned really quickly here is that there are a lot of things that are within the mayor's control, but there are a lot of things that are outside of the mayor's control. And I have to, as mayor, understand the political reality on the ground in order to get the ball moving forward for the citizens that I serve in Milwaukee.

Now, you mentioned a bit of this, but one of the things you've been really passionate about is attracting people to the city of Milwaukee. You, in fact, I believe, have a goal of growing the city to 1,000,000 people. That number is very ambitious. What are some of the steps that you've taken to attract people to the city? You, of course, said road diets are part of that. What are some of the other things? 

Yes. So, our investment in infrastructure and people-centered infrastructure in Milwaukee are key parts of that. Another thing that I think is really important is making sure that folks have access to good-paying and family-supporting jobs. I mean, that's good for people — you can't get to 1,000,000 [residents] if you're losing people who are here too, right? It's not just attracting people. It's also making sure that we retain people here. And so, I want to make sure that we're building and growing good-paying, family-supporting jobs here to retain our talented individuals who live in the city, to attract other highly skilled, educated individuals who would come to Milwaukee with jobs at places like Fiserv, for instance, or Milwaukee Tool, for instance, and places like that. But also, as the city grows and buildings have to be erected for people to live in, whether they're luxury apartments or whether they're affordable housing elsewhere in the city, that presents an opportunity for folks in the union construction trades, which manufacturing may not be what it once was.

When you look at Milwaukee's past, we used to be one of the most immigrant-heavy cities in the United States. Once upon a time, Milwaukee was the 11th largest city in the country, and a large part of that was driven by the growth that we saw from folks who were coming to the United States for the first time. So, immigration has to play a key role in that. In fact, our population numbers were buoyed by the fact that we saw a lot of immigration coming to Milwaukee over the course of the last decade or so ... It's public safety and making sure that folks do not just think that they're safe, but that they actually feel safe in their neighborhoods.

As you look back at your shorter term in office, what were your biggest regrets? What were you not able to do?

Certainly, there are areas of public safety, for instance, as a regret. Now, this is not an area that I control with guns but I would like to see us have just some common sense approaches to gun law in the state of Wisconsin that ultimately would have a positive effect on public safety, overall, in the City of Milwaukee, right? So, for instance, I think that there is an opportunity to work in a bipartisan way with Republicans and Madison to address this issue of people coming into the City of Milwaukee. They've got their guns in their car and the guns are not secured. We know that there is a market out there, people who go and break into those cars, not to steal the money but to steal the guns and then commit crimes and hurt people and kill people ... I know that gun owners, responsible gun owners, take that seriously, they want to be responsible? Well, let's make sure if you're bringing your gun into the city, that it's properly locked up, like have it in a lock box, you have a gun lock on it, whatever the case may be, make sure your gun is secured.

For the people who are committing the actual crime of stealing the gun for other criminal purposes, then we should increase penalties on people who are doing that so that there's more accountability. That's the thing that I wish we were able to get done in this last term. We weren't able to do that, but something that I'd like to continue pushing with the legislature.

How are you going to take that regret and make change in this next term?

It's not an area that I control, but I do have a voice. I do have a megaphone. I'll continue to be an advocate for the city in our state capital and in Washington, D.C., working to make sure we move the ball on this issue of public safety. Too many people get hurt. Too many people get killed because we as a society are allowing people who should not have their hands on a gun in the first place to have easy access to them. If we stop that, imagine how many lives we could save. Just imagine how many lives would not be altered because they hadn't been shot by somebody who had not had their hands on a gun in the first place. So, those are the areas that I want to focus on and more in the legislature when they get back into session; of course, they’re out now for their own elections. But, when they come back into office next year, these are areas that I want to work on.


Joy is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
Rob is All Things Considered Host and Digital Producer.
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