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Bowen, Pratt face off in race for Milwaukee's District 1 Common Council seat

a sidewalk sign says "EARLY VOTE HERE." Behind it, mostly Black voters stand in a line.
Scott Olson
Getty Images North America
People wait in line outside a polling place at the start of early voting on October 25, 2022 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Residents of Milwaukee's District 1 haven’t had a representative on the Common Council for more than six months. Last August, former alderperson Ashanti Hamilton left when Mayor Cavalier Johnson appointed him to lead the Office of Violence Prevention.

Andrea Pratt is running for the open seat. “I believe that given the situation — that we haven’t had a representative in six months — we need somebody who already knows about the first district and the city,” said Pratt, who grew up in the district and lives in its Rufus King neighborhood.

Pratt touts her 25-year-long career as a public servant, and says it equipped her with connections and a deep understanding of city politics. Currently, she serves the city’s Office of Equity and Inclusion as an equal rights specialist. Before that, she worked for the Common Council, serving the 1st District, and Milwaukee Public Schools.

Headshot of a black woman with a long bob and pearl necklace smiling at the camera.
Courtesy of Andrea Pratt
Andrea Pratt touts her 25-year-long career as a public servant.

Pratt runs against former Democratic state representative David Bowen. He was elected to the Assembly in 2014 and served four terms. Before that, Bowen was a Milwaukee County Board supervisor. He’s campaigning on his experience building bi-partisan consensus in the Legislature’s divided political climate.

“I have been there defending our neighbors, defending our residents, defending our neighborhoods,” said Bowen, who grew up on Milwaukee's north side and lives in the district's Rufus King neighborhood. “This is a chance for me to use that decade of experience for the benefit of Milwaukee.”

After February’s crowded primary, Pratt won 34.2% of the vote. Bowen followed close behind with 32.9% — a margin of just 38 votes.

Both candidates agree the district needs strong leadership, as the city faces critical challenges. There’s the impending fiscal crisis, a $100 million hole in the city budget, once federal pandemic relief funds dry up.

Bowen said the challenge calls for compromise. “We know that there is a huge contingent of the Republican caucus that sees enough value in Milwaukee to have their convention here,” he said. “That should be used to find the compromise that we need.”

Pratt said she is also ready to seek partners. The city’s financial troubles are “something I’m ready to look at and come up with some creative and innovative solutions,” she said. “Solutions that may involve sharing of resources between municipalities and between county and city.”

The city also faces mounting violent crime and reckless driving, both top priorities for the candidates. They say they’d invest in infrastructure to curb the problem.

A black man with a beard stands in a dark blue suit and smiles at the camera. He stands next to a vertical sign that says "MILWAUKEE"
Courtesy of David Bowen
David Bowen is a former Democratic state representative. He's campaigning on his decade of experience at the state and county level.

Pratt added she would focus on student drivers. “We have to take a multi-layered approach, which would involve education around driving — beef[ing] up driver’s education and the accessibility of it for students,” she said.

David Bowen said the situation also demands a more fundamental solution. “We need to make sure there is a new, community-wide strategy of changing the mindset about how we care for each other,” he said. “How we need to hold the better interests of the well-being for all members of our community to a higher regard.”

Another top issue for Pratt is improving quality of life for residents, from functioning streetlights and potholes to vacant lots and illegal dumping. In the Rufus King and Thurston Woods neighborhoods, she said, antiquated streetlights often go out.

“It’s not like new circuits, where one house can be affected and the rest of the block [is fine] — no, here, the circuits are so old,” Pratt said. “If one is affected, our whole neighborhood is dark.”

A big priority for David Bowen is creating opportunities for jobs and housing. He’d seek partnerships with the tech sector to bring more remote work options to the district.

“It comes down to how we invest in high-growth areas of the economy,” he said. “So jobs can be abundant. But not just any jobs, jobs that can sustain families.”

He wants to return Milwaukee to what it once was: a city where Black people can thrive.

The mother of four daughters, Pratt said she’s running as a natural extension of a life steeped in public service. As a child, she watched her father, Marvin Pratt, serve as the District 1 alderman, and later, as acting mayor, the first Black person in that office. Her mother worked for the Milwaukee Public Library system, while her grandmother worked for the post office, Pratt added.

“This was definitely a leap of faith for me to do this,” she said. “To come from the background to the foreground, and to bring this knowledge that I have that I know will be beneficial to the district.”

The son of Jamaican immigrants, Bowen said he felt called to use his experience in state and county politics to serve the city at this critical moment. “There’s no better time than now for us to be able to work together and put our city and District 1 onto a new path,” he said.

Pratt is endorsed by her former opponent Zandra Bailey, state representative Supreme Moore Omokunde, and the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association. Bowen has endorsements from current alderpersons Jonathan Brostoff and Marina Dimitrijevic, county supervisors Willie Johnson and Sequanna Taylor, and state senator Chris Larson.

Election Day is on April 4. Voters in Districts 5 and 9 will also elect new representatives.

Need help learning how to vote on April 4? Our voter guide has the information you need on the voting process and how to participate.


Lina is a WUWM news reporter.
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