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Milwaukee Mayoral Candidate Tom Barrett Wants You To Stick With Him Through Coronavirus Crisis

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Maayan Silver
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Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett speaks to supporters during his primary victory party.

Two candidates are vying for Milwaukee mayor in the upcoming Wisconsin general election: incumbent Mayor Tom Barrett and Democratic state Sen. Lena Taylor. Election Day is April 7, with the state pushing for voters to mail-in ballots or use drive-up early voting amid concerns of the coronavirus pandemic. 

>>Meet The Milwaukee Mayoral Candidates

To learn more about each candidate, we interviewed both of them. You can listen to Taylor's interview here. Below is a portion of our interview with Barrett:

What role do you think city government needs to play in the coronavirus pandemic?

Barrett describes the city government as the “frontline” in the fight against the coronavirus. Milwaukee is one of two sites in Wisconsin testing and that means the city’s health department has become responsible for responding to the cases. The city has coordinated with the state government to make sure they're receiving the assistance needed to continue testing as Milwaukee’s health department reaches capacity.

"We haven't seen anything in this country since the 1918 flu epidemic, which killed hundreds of thousands of people. And with the estimates now from Washington that this could go over 100,000 or over 200,000, we have to remain steadfast in telling people that the role they play in fighting this pandemic is to stay isolated, to stay away from other people so that we do not spread this virus, person-to-person which we know is what's happening," says Barrett.

In Milwaukee, the cases of the coronavirus have been largely in the African American community. How would you take that into consideration as you help the city grapple with this pandemic?

“Without question, the initial surge that we saw here in Milwaukee has been on the north side of the city, in neighborhoods that are primarily African American neighborhoods. And I know that the epidemiologists are going to try to figure out exactly what is the cause for that," Barrett says. "But right now, what we need to do is we need to make sure that those individuals who are showing the symptoms, that they're getting tested, that they're getting isolated, and dealing with this head-on because the fact is that the deaths that have occurred thus far have all been African Americans in the city of Milwaukee.”

What do you see as the biggest economic problems for Milwaukee going forward based on the pandemic?

Barrett sees the coronavirus pandemic as a dual crisis — a health crisis and an economic crisis. His biggest concern is that businesses are not forced to close permanently due to this crisis.

There has already been a sharp increase in workers applying for unemployment benefits, which to Barrett shows the impact this is having on workers now — and in the foreseeable future. That prompted him to work quickly to put together an initiative to gather funding from all levels of government to ensure businesses can make rent payments and keep paying employees. 

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Milwaukee mayoral candidate Tom Barrett's full interview with WUWM's Maayan Silver.

What are your top three priorities in the next four years if you're reelected?

Barrett says he has “four pillars as we move forward": 

1. Economic development. Barrett wants economic development that builds on the investment in downtown Milwaukee and moves into places across the city. He cites areas like Century City, Northridge, and the south side as places that need more support.

2. Early education. He wants to see early education programs that use city, business, and foundation resources to build on the initiatives that have already begun.

3. Health. Barrett hopes improving city health can be a short-term concern, but in the coming months, health will remain a top priority.

4. Public safety: Barrett says Milwaukee has seen a four-year decrease in homicides. But coming off of incidents like the shooting at Molson Coors, he says initiatives like the city's Blueprint for Peace remain crucial. 

What's the top reason voters should give you another four years?

"We are in an unprecedented situation, and I have literally been working around the clock to deal with the COVID-19 crisis that we face," says Barrett. "To change horses during the middle of this crisis, I think would set us back and I don't want to see that happen."

Right now, he says coronavirus is by far the number one issue. He says he's working with the county, the state, faith leaders and different ethnic groups to make sure that they're doing everything they can.

“My argument is, look: We have had some successes. Can we do more? Of course, we can do more. But what I have been committed to throughout my time in office is trying not to divide this city. I don't want to see it divided along racial lines or ethnic lines or neighborhood lines or economic lines. We are stronger when we are together. And I want us to be a strong Milwaukee. I want us to be a safe Milwaukee,” Barrett says.

What do you want to know about the 2020 elections and the DNC convention? Submit your questions below.

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Maayan Silver has been a reporter with WUWM’s News Team since 2018.