By Matt Martinez
Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service
This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on fifteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee. Visit milwaukeenns.org.
Mayoral candidate Cavalier Johnson said Monday that he will focus on “family-supporting jobs” and economic development to address the root causes of problems besetting Milwaukee.
In a wide-ranging, hour-long interview with the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, covering topics of interest to central city neighborhoods, Johnson, 35, said he wanted to increase the number of jobs in the city that would be able to provide households with a stable income. He also wants to develop more industries and opportunities in the city.
“I want to grow the city. … I don’t think that we should be nibbling around the edges trying to get to 600,000 people again,” he said. “We should be trying to grow to a million people or more. But the only way we’re going do that is by making sure that we have a stronger city, a safer city and a city that provides economic prosperity for everybody that lives here.”
Johnson, who served as Common Council president before becoming acting mayor after the departure of then-Mayor Tom Barrett, said he wanted to see growth in several industries, including the tech industry.
Given what he described as the city’s “manufacturing know-how and burning desire to have access to family-supporting work,” he said he believes Milwaukee would also be an ideal choice for national efforts toward green energy production, including building wind turbines and solar panels.
“When the president of the United States talks about building back better and transitioning our economy over into a more green economy, I can’t think of a place better than Milwaukee to be a flagship for that,” Johnson said.
Citing transportation as one of the biggest barriers to employment, Johnson said he will work with local leaders to establish a regional transit system that would get people to where the jobs are, which are often in the suburbs.
Johnson also said he would aim to increase access to apprenticeships for students and get more people involved in the trades.
Views on education, housing, health and public safety
Johnson acknowledged the mayor does not have a direct impact on education. He hoped, however, to make quality-of-life improvements to ensure that kids can get the best education possible.
“If a kid enters a classroom and they’re hungry, that’s something that a mayor can do something about,” Johnson said. “If a kid enters a classroom and they’ve got instability in their life and they’re moving around because their parents don’t have access to a family-supporting job … if a kid lives in a neighborhood where there’s violence and trauma that affects their learning, that’s something that a mayor can do something about.”
Johnson cited the Office of Early Childhood Initiatives, an office that he helped create as a co-chair of the Early Education Task Force, as one way to improve outcomes in the city.
This includes strategies for more day care. He used himself as an example of the difficulty in getting high-quality day care for his children.
“At the time, I was the second-highest ranking official in city government, and I can’t afford high-quality day care for my kids,” Johnson said.
On housing, Johnson touted recently established inter-agency housing policies that were meant to align the goals of separate housing agencies.
Johnson said he believes funding from the American Rescue Plan Act was invested wisely into the city, and he hopes to see sustained improvements to housing because of it.
Specifically, he touted the $43 million investment into various affordable housing programs in the city.
Regarding ways to combat homelessness, Johnson said he favors putting those who are homeless into permanent housing first.
When asked about lead exposure in the city, Johnson said the city’s 70,000 lead laterals, or pipes containing trace amounts of lead, were a huge issue.
Johnson noted the importance of lead-removal efforts being focused on more than just replacing lead pipes, as exposure can also occur in paint and soil around homes. He also said he viewed lead abatement as a potential source for job opportunities.
Johnson said he believes violence prevention is a public health issue and supports the work of the Office of Violence Prevention. He said he will commit another $5 million to the office if elected mayor to help the department implement the Blueprint for Peace.
Johnson acknowledged the need for improvement in community-police relations. He said that’s why he supported current police chief Jeffrey Norman, who was implementing policing policies that were “fair, constitutional and centered on community policing,” he said.
Previously, Johnson worked to get the “eight can’t wait” policies implemented at the Milwaukee Police Department. These are policies for officers to follow that dramatically reduce the likelihood of a fatal encounter for those interacting with the police.
These policies include comprehensive reporting, a duty to intervene, banning chokeholds and strangleholds, banning gunshots aimed at moving vehicles, requiring a use-of-force continuum, requiring a verbal warning before firing a gun, attempting de-escalation and using all possible alternatives before shooting.
On the issue of reckless driving, Johnson said he wanted to expand access to driver’s education classes and find ways to reduce the rates of recklessness on the road via police intervention such as the Traffic Safety Unit and infrastructure changes.
“When the social norms around driving deteriorate, that’s how you get to the environment that we have now in terms of reckless driving,” Johnson said.
Johnson also said he wanted to see “people-centered traffic improvements” from the Department of Public Works, including concrete-protected bike lanes and extended curbs to deter reckless driving.
“I think it will help more people not just to feel safer behind the wheel but will encourage more people to walk or bike or skateboard or scooter,” he said.
Johnson, 35, pointed to his experience as a Black man who grew up in homes around the city, including the 53206 ZIP code, which includes some of the city’s poorest and most troubled neighborhoods.
“I’ll bring those experiences to bear in the mayor’s office because I lived them, and I’m living them now,” he said. “It will help me to govern in such a way that will help to lift those neighborhoods, the neighborhoods that I grew up in and spent my formative years in the neighborhoods that need the most help in the city.”
Johnson will face Bob Donovan during the special election April 5.