By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
Earlier this week, Mayor Tom Barrett signed his resignation letter on Wednesday, Dec. 22. The resignation went into effect later that day at 5 p.m.
Common Council President Cavalier Johnson assumed the role of acting mayor following Barrett’s resignation. Johnson had a swearing in ceremony at his alma mater Bay View High School on Thursday, Dec. 23.
“I want to thank the residents of the City of Milwaukee for giving me nearly 18 years of the biggest honor and privilege of my life,” Barrett said during a press conference on Wednesday, Dec. 22. “I have absolutely loved being mayor of this great city. With its challenges, with its opportunities, with its wonderful people, I have been blessed.”
Barrett had served as Milwaukee’s mayor since 2004. Earlier this year, President Joe Biden nominated him to be ambassador of Luxembourg; Congress approved this nomination last week Thursday, Dec. 16. Barrett took his oath of office in Judge Lynn Adelman’s courtroom, 517 E. Wisconsin Ave., Room 390, on Thursday, Dec. 23.
Before swearing him in, Adelman remarked on the historical significance of this moment for Milwaukee and for Barrett, while also reflecting on Barrett’s political trajectory.
“I want to thank President Biden for entrusting in me his confidence to serve him, to serve the State Department, and most importantly to serve the great citizens of the United States of America as an ambassador in Luxembourg,” Barrett said following his swearing in ceremony.
The City of Milwaukee will be preparing a special election to elect a new mayor, who will finish out Barrett’s term, which is set to end in 2024. The Common Council convened on Thursday, Dec. 23.
The council approved the motion to incorporate a special election into the upcoming spring 2022 election scheduled for Tuesday, April 5. Potential candidates have until 5 p.m. on Jan. 11, 2022 to submit their nomination papers. The 2022 spring primary is scheduled for Feb. 15, 2022.
During Wednesday’s press conference, Barrett reflected on the resurgence in investments in the heart of this city that took place during his time as mayor.
Some of these investments include Menomonee Valley, the old and new Pabst Brewery, new housing units and more. People have believed in this city, and those people have allowed this to happen, he said.
“I’m leaving this job filled with optimism for the future of this city,” Barrett said. “Because I know the people of this city and I know that they believe in themselves. What we as leaders have to do is work with individuals throughout this community to make it even greater.”
It’s been a hard but rewarding job, Barrett said. He noted that the last 21 months have been a difficult time as the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic rages on. From the pandemic to the unrest to the loss of events, it’s been incredibly difficult.
“I think in this job, you get your energy from a number of places,” he said. “And one of the places where I always got my energy was being among people…I think anybody in this job needs that personal interaction.”
Barrett said he expects to depart for Luxembourg in January. He will be working with the State Department to iron out transition and entry details. He noted that he will be keeping his current residence here in Milwaukee.
Barrett said his experience with running organizations and comfortability with interacting with people and the public will help him in his new role.
In preparation for the transition, Barrett has been giving Johnson practical pieces of advice. As acting mayor, Johnson will maintain his role as Common Council president, but he will not be able to exercise his Common Council vote.
Milwaukee has some challenges, Barrett said, and there is a level of violence that needs to be addressed in the City of Milwaukee along with economic justice and racial justice.
Still, Barrett said, Milwaukee is a place where people come to live the American dream, as evident by the number of ethnic groups here.
“I believe every one of those ethnic groups has come here because they felt that this was a place where you could live the American dream and start climbing that ladder to prosperity,” Barrett said. “Cities have been places where people come because they want a new start, they want to find jobs. That’s exciting to me and that gives me energy to see that.”
In his closing remarks, Barrett said: “I’m not running away from anything. I am so thankful to have had this honor and this experience. It’s a new chapter in life and I’m very excited about it.”
While entering the Mayor’s Office as acting mayor, Johnson said, the new mayor will have to work with the Common Council, send a message of hope to the people and work collaboratively with neighborhoods. He added that he has experience with all three.
“I’m ready to serve this city,” Johnson said. “I’m ready to be mayor.”