By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
In a few short weeks, the City of Milwaukee will have a new mayor. The choice is between Acting Mayor Cavalier Johnson and former Ald. Bob Donovan.
“The winner of this mayoral race will shape the future of this city for years if not decades to come,” James E. Causey, a columnist at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said.
Causey moderated the Milwaukee Press Club’s mayoral debate called “Tussle at Turner” at Turner Hall on Wednesday, March 16. The debate featured questions posed by Derrick Rose of WISN 12 News, Rich Kirchen of the Milwaukee Business Journal and Alison Dirr of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The questions focused on themes: violence and reckless driving, jobs and the economy, education and MPS, finances and pension and miscellaneous.
“We have an issue with violence in Milwaukee,” Johnson said. “It’s been a longstanding issue and something we need to get under control.”
Recently, as noted in a question posed by Dirr, Gov. Tony Evers directed funds toward the Milwaukee Police Department. Johnson said he would like to see that money go toward violence prevention and efforts to curb reckless driving.
Donovan said he thinks the money should go toward staffing the police department.
“We will not be able – in my opinion – to adequately get our public safety crisis under control until we restore the hundreds of positions to the Milwaukee Police Department,” Donovan said. “They simply cannot keep up.”
Donovan noted that he does not believe that the Office of Violence Prevention has demonstrated its work and how it is reaching its goals. He added that while he is for violence prevention, he would like to ensure that each department is using their budget effectively.
In other question, candidates were asked to describe a time they made the city safer.
One example Johnson cited was Midtown Center. As alderman he worked with private sector to turn a vacant space into a Forman Mills. The vacant space had previously been used as a site for drug dealing, Johnson said.
Donovan talked about Operation Impact – an initiative he launched with the private sector that generated funding for surveillance cameras, alley lighting and foot patrol officers.
It was very successful, he said, and an example of what working with the private sector can achieve.
Both candidates agreed that family sustaining jobs are needed in Milwaukee.
Donovan believes that the city needs to be more aggressive in reaching out to businesses outside of the region and attracting them to the city. Bringing a company from West Allis to the city doesn’t necessarily create more jobs, he said.
Johnson said he would work with M7 or Milwaukee 7 Regional Economic Development Partnership to draw companies from around the region and the country.
Rose asked the candidates what approach they would take to address the office spaces that are sitting empty since people started working at home.
“I would start with City Hall frankly,” Donovan said. “I’m told most of the aldermen never show up for work, I’m told there are so many people that aren’t at City Hall. We need to get this city moving again, we are in an endemic and we need to start getting Milwaukee working again for its citizens and its people.”
Johnson noted that he would also encourage businesses to come back. It’s a symbiotic relationship, he said, adding that Downtown workers go to get lunch, have their clothes dry cleaned and so on at other businesses in the area.
“It’s important to have workers back in the workplace,” he said, but the current setup has introduced flexibility options that should be incorporated as businesses readjust.
In the final topic of the night, the candidates addressed critical race theory and the potential breakup of Milwaukee Public Schools.
Johnson is in support of critical race theory being taught in schools. Children should be taught the true history of the United States and the treatment people of color received, he said, because that treatment continues today.
“If we’re going to have a true understanding of our history as a nation, I think it’s important to make sure its unvarnished and its there for our kids to be able to learn,” he said.
He said his experience with public schools has been generally positive. As mayor, he said he would address the external factors that impact a child’s education. If a child is hungry or has experienced trauma or has housing instability, those are things the mayor can do something about.
“Those are the things I’ll be focused on to improve educational attainment for all the kids in Milwaukee no matter where they go to school,” Johnson said.
Donovan said he doesn’t think critical race theory has a place in schools but added that that doesn’t mean he doesn’t want kids to learn history.
“We want our kids to learn the basics first and foremost, math, science and history,” Donovan said, adding that he wants history to cover it all, warts included.
Donovan said he is for school choice. If he were mayor, he would create an educational advisory committee and meet with superintendents, members of the school board and private and public schools.
He added that parents are the first educators of their children and should have a role in the education and curriculum.
The mayoral election is scheduled for Tuesday, April 5. Before then, Johnson and Donovan will debate three more times on Friday, March 18, Sunday, March 27 and Wednesday, March 30.
“This is probably one of the most important times that this city has faced in quite some time,” Causey said as the debate ended. “Exercise your right to vote and be heard.”
To watch the full debate, visit the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Facebook page at www.facebook.com/journalsentinel/. For information on your voter registration status, polling place and more go to myvote.wi.gov.