A Historic Win: Tearman Spencer Is Milwaukee's First Black City Attorney

May 1, 2020

The Milwaukee city attorney’s race doesn’t always get a lot of attention. But this year, in an upset, Tearman Spencer beat out long-time incumbent Grant Langley, who was in office for 36 years. Spencer ran on the platform of change and made history by being elected as Milwaukee’s first black city attorney.

In a three-part series, WUWM is bringing conversations from each of the candidates who made history in Milwaukee’s spring election. This is part three: Milwaukee City Attorney Tearman Spencer.

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Spencer was bedridden with COVID-19 for much of the final weeks of his campaign. When asked about his health during the race he said he started to get sick back in January, with what he thinks was his first bout of the coronavirus.

“That took me down for about three weeks and then I got about a week's reprieve. And then it happened again, same symptoms, same onset, and another three weeks, but we fought through it, we kept moving. And then for the third time when it happened, that one, it was devastating and knocked me down,” he says.

Spencer credits the early start to his campaign for the ability to maintain a certain degree of momentum. But says even during the period when he was sick, he never stopped campaigning. Now, Spencer says he’s feeling a lot better than he was.

“I'm not 100%, but I'm pretty close,” Spencer says, adding that he's taking a test to determine if he no longer has the virus. “After I do that, get the results, I hope to be out running again with the same vigor that we had during the campaign.”

When Spencer reflects on his historic win as Milwaukee’s first black city attorney, he credits the people who came out and voted for him and recognized the need for change.

“I think it's really important to know that the city attorney's office was in desperate need of reshaping amelioration and changing the story of what's been occurring," he says. "I think it was the opportune time for me to come in and to run on the premise of change.”

The city attorney is the legal representative for the mayor, Common Council, department heads and employees of Milwaukee. From day one, Spencer wants to focus on making the office of the city attorney more transparent.

“I think when they call now, and not during the pandemic, but when you call [the office] on issues, you're not able to talk to someone. You get these recordings. I think we have to be more available,” he says.

The city attorney's office is currently closed as the judicial system has ground to a halt because of COVID-19. But Spencer says he's been actively working on his transition to the new position.

"Rest assured I have not been sitting on my laurels. I have made requisite contacts. I have consultants lined up. So, when we do get in the office, we will hit the office and hit the floor running," Spencer says.