By Alison Dirr, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel | Published Nov. 20, 2019
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett struck a unifying tone Wednesday as he announced he's seeking re-election to a fifth term in office.
It was widely anticipated that he would run again, the only question being when he would officially enter the race.
“I am more optimistic now than I have ever been about the future of our city,” Barrett said during his announcement event at the Sherman Phoenix development in the Sherman Park neighborhood.
Barrett, who was first elected in 2004, said he wants to focus on bringing more jobs, housing and early education to the city in a fifth term.
He said the city has faced challenges from the recession, hostility from Republicans in state government, racism, segregation, poverty and the loss of manufacturing jobs.
But, he said, a lot of work has been done to revitalize the city.
He said Milwaukee's future starts with housing, and he highlighted his 10,000 Homes Initiative that aims to increase affordable housing availability in the city by building or improving 10,000 housing units in 10 years.
"If you think about the next four years, think about neighborhoods, think about how we're going to take that incredible renaissance that's occurred in the heart of the city, and we want it to continue, we want it to continue in the heart of the city, but we want even more jobs in the neighborhoods," he said.
He also touted his efforts to bring family-supporting jobs to the city, citing the ultimately failed attempt to bring Strauss Brands meat processing operation in the Century City business park.
“That’s what this city is all about, it’s about family-supporting jobs,” Barrett said.
He said afterward that he feels the city has made "tremendous progress" but that there's a lot more to do.
"I know that there's too much poverty, I know that there are really the challenges we have because of racism, because of segregation and I want to be involved in addressing those issues because I think that we can really make some strong, strong progress," he said.
Earlier this year the city was selected to host the 2020 Democratic National Convention, which is expected to bring 50,000 people and an international spotlight to the city. The DNC will be the first major-party convention in the city's history.
Barrett enters the campaign in a strong financial position. His July campaign finance reports indicated he had more than $800,000 cash on hand, far outpacing his challengers.
Barrett was re-elected in 2008, 2012 and 2016 with 70% or more of the vote.
His top two challengers, south side Ald. Tony Zielinski and State Sen. Lena Taylor, have sharply criticized his record.
Zielinski filed papers in 2017 to challenge Barrett in the April 2020 election.
He criticizes Barrett for his advocacy for the city's streetcar, dubbed The Hop, which has been in motion for a little more than a year and which Barrett has been seeking to expand.
Zielinski says it's a waste of money at a time when the city is facing financial challenges and an example of Barrett's misplaced priorities that have allowed poverty to pervade the community.
"Instead of focusing on issues like poverty, crime, pot holes, fiscal responsibility and lead the mayor is fixated on the streetcar," Zielinski said in a statement Wednesday.
In the July campaign finance reports, Zielinski reported having $572,337 cash on hand, having raised $594,066. The sum includes $300,000 he lent his campaign.
Taylor announced in early September that she would be challenging Barrett for the seat.
In making her announcement, she criticized what she sees as inaction by Barrett’s administration to address the city's issues, which she said denies equal access and opportunity. She pointed to the city's continued racial segregation and a drop in homeownership among black residents.
Al Williams, chief strategist for Taylor's campaign, on Wednesday said he hoped that voters and the media would hold Barrett accountable for disparities in the city, including it being considered one of the worst cities in the country for African Americans and its high incarceration rate.
"Tom's time is up," Williams said.
Taylor had about $2,200 cash on hand, according to her July campaign finance report. That includes an outstanding balance of about $35,500 she's loaned to her campaign.
Common Council President Ashanti Hamilton, who had been weighing a mayoral run, announced in mid-September that he would not be a contender.
Other candidates who have filed papers to run are Paul Rasky, Tremell Noble, Daniel Crowley, David King, Ramone Williams and Theresa Garner.
The spring primary is Feb. 18 and the general election is April 7.