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State Sen. Lena Taylor Announces Bid For Milwaukee Mayor

Marti Mikkelson
Outside of her home, Democratic state Sen. Lena Taylor announces her bid for Milwaukee Mayor.

The field of candidates for Milwaukee Mayor got a little more crowded Tuesday, as Democratic state Sen. Lena Taylor threw her hat into the ring. That brings the number of declared candidates to three. Taylor’s bid sets up a potential challenge against long-time Mayor Tom Barrett.

Taylor made the announcement outside her home at 15th Street and W. Capitol Drive in 53206, Milwaukee’s most poverty-stricken ZIP code. She says she wants to take Milwaukee back to the great city it was when she was growing up.

“There was opportunity back in that Milwaukee. My father worked at A.O. Smith, and yes, I know those companies left. But there’s other innovative ways that you can bring revenue to a city. And when you invest in schools — so you can walk to an E. L. Philipp like I did or walk to a Rufus King like I did — then you sow in your children and you sow in youth. When you sow in youth, you get me,” Taylor says.

She considers Barrett a friend, but says the city is at a crossroads. Taylor says she’s tired of high rates of black unemployment and black male incarceration in the city, and it’s time for new leadership. She says development is focused too much on downtown and if elected, she would invest more money in neighborhoods. Taylor says she would also address jobs and mental health issues.

“In my Milwaukee, I have the vision to create health and wealth. In my Milwaukee, we address trauma, and we collaborate," she says.

Taylor says she’ll join forces with "anyone that is willing,” and touted her ability to work with Republicans in the Legislature as well as fellow Democrats.  She supports school choice – an issue that Democrats typically oppose. 

She's also known for controversies, such as an incident last year in which she berated a bank teller and was cited for disorderly conduct. Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Schilling then removed her from the Joint Finance committee, following an investigation into a dispute involving Taylor and a staff member.

Taylor said Tuesday that “Schilling was wrong” for taking her off Joint Finance. As for the bank teller incident, she says there were “two sides to that story.”

Taylor has served in the state Legislature since 2003.  She ran for Milwaukee County executive in 2008, but lost to the incumbent at the time, Republican Scott Walker.

Barrett is serving his fourth, four-year term. He handily turned back a challenge from Alderman Bob Donovan in 2016. Although Barrett hasn’t formally announced whether he’ll run again in 2020, he does have more than $800,000 in his campaign fund.

Council President Ashanti Hamilton filed papers to run for mayor late last year but hasn’t formally announced a bid yet. Alderman Tony Zielinski has formally declared his bid. He says he’s excited about the race and thinks additional candidates will get in.

“I think more people will probably run because we have a mayor that has misplaced priorities that has resulted in unsafe streets and one of the highest poverty rates in the entire country," Zielinski says.

Zielinski believes poverty and public safety are the two biggest issues facing the city. He says if elected, he’ll invest more money in schools, something he thinks would go a long way toward solving those issues.

“Education reverses poverty and crime. It’s high time the city recognizes that and starts working with MPS so that we can graduate more students," he says. "When we graduate more students, we’ll see that the poverty rate will go down and we’ll see that the crime rate will go down as well.”

Barrett did not return WUWM's calls for comment. He recently touted the leadership of Police Chief Alfonso Morales, saying that homicides and non-fatal shootings are down for the second year in a row.

A third hopeful, Paul Rasky, has also declared his candidacy. That means a primary for mayor would be held Feb. 18, with the general election scheduled for April 7 — the same day as Wisconsin’s presidential primary.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.
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