Business leaders share their vision for Milwaukee’s next mayor with Barrett departure pending

Common Council president Cavalier Johnson will serve as acting mayor once Barrett leaves

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett

Last updated on August 31st, 2021 at 02:15 pm

Local business leaders are sharing the areas they hope Milwaukee’s next mayor will focus on, in the wake of the news that sitting Mayor Tom Barrett could be headed to Luxembourg. The issues they brought up in interviews with BizTimes Milwaukee include: taxes, housing, education and infrastructure investments.

President Joe Biden announced yesterday he was nominating Barrett as the next ambassador to Luxembourg.

“I am honored by the president’s actions and humbled by the trust President Biden has placed in me,” Barrett told reporters in a brief press conference yesterday.

It could be months before Barrett’s nomination is confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Once Barrett departs, Common Council President Cavalier Johnson will serve as acting mayor until a special election determines who will finish out the remainder of the current term.

“We will continue to work closely with the mayor during this time of transition,” Johnson said in a statement released yesterday afternoon. “Until he decides to step down he will remain in that position, and the business at City Hall will continue.”

Johnson did not respond to multiple requests for additional comment.

Tim Sheehy, president of Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce congratulated Barrett and said he looked forward to working with Johnson.

Cavalier Johnson
Cavalier Johnson

“We look forward to continuing our work to improve metro Milwaukee as a place to invest capital, grow business and create jobs with the respected leader of the Common Council, Cavalier Johnson, in his new role as acting mayor,” said Tim Sheehy, president of MMAC.

Tracy Johnson, president and chief executive officer of the Commercial Association of Realtors Wisconsin, said she’s optimistic that as acting mayor, Cavalier Johnson will “continue his outstanding communication and rapport with the business and commercial real estate community.”

She added that Cavalier “Chevy” Johnson has been a receptive and pragmatic partner. In particular, she noted his work to get a $20 million incentive deal with Milwaukee Tool across the finish line. The Brookfield-based company is receiving city financing assistance for its expansion into a downtown Milwaukee office building.

“He’s got the support of the Common Council in his role as president, so I expect we will see that carry over in his ability to make substantive changes on issues that impact economic development including safety, security and education concerns in our city,” Tracy Johnson said in an email. “Chevy has an excellent relationship with the county executive and has been vocal in his support of a local sales tax option that would also create much needed property tax relief. We have so much opportunity here in our city — and I look forward to continuing our work together.”

Juli Kaufmann, a Milwaukee-based developer and entrepreneur and president of Fix Development LLC, said she was excited about Cavalier Johnson serving as acting mayor.

“I’m excited to be led by a young, Black mayor bringing new energy and ideas,” she said in an email.

Kaufmann said she hopes the next administration prioritizes issues of climate change and racial equity.

“Milwaukee should leverage our strong natural resource assets together with new federal infrastructure funding to radically transform our environmental priorities, starting with transportation systems to reduce carbon impacts and increase resiliency,” she said. “At the same time, we must innovate across our neighborhood Main Streets with radical economic plans that turn historic inequities into opportunities for transformation.”

Jim Villa, CEO of NAIOP Wisconsin, a group representing real estate developers, owners and investors, said the election of a new mayor will be a key event for the city’s future. This is due to the longevity Milwaukee’s mayors have traditionally had in office.

“Our (commercial real estate industry) hope is that the next mayor brings an understanding and appreciation for the economic impact real estate development contributes to the city,” Villa said in an email. “I think the next mayor is going to have to think big, take some risks, and work to capitalize on so many positive things happening here while also fulfilling our collective commitment to make sure every resident, regardless of their zip code, sees the growth and opportunity.”

Que El-Amin, co-founder of entrepreneurship group Young Enterprising Society and principal of Milwaukee-based developer Scott Crawford Inc., listed a number of priorities he thinks the next mayor should have.

“The next mayor of Milwaukee must have a successful past of growth, a team of problem solvers for housing, technology and education along with a vision for Milwaukee in the information age,” he said in an email.

Matt Cordio, a startup advocate and founder of Skills Pipeline Group LLC, listed what he views as Barrett’s failures as he prepares to leave office.

“Tom Barrett’s legacy will be defined by rising crime, declining population, and his inability to rally the public and private sectors to address the city’s struggles with segregation, poverty, talent attraction, an unsustainable financial future, and a failing public school system,” Cordio said in an email.

He added, “My hope is the people of Milwaukee elect a mayor with a vision for the future who uses the mayor’s office to convene public and private sector leaders to foster new innovative partnerships that leverage technology and innovative thinking to address the city’s major issues. Milwaukee’s next mayor needs to work with MPS (Milwaukee Public Schools) and Milwaukee’s private charter schools to fix the failing public school system and implement a policy agenda that leads to the creation of more innovative startups, jobs, wealth, and economic prosperity in every Milwaukee neighborhood.”

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Alex Zank covers commercial and residential real estate for BizTimes. Alex previously worked for Farm Equipment magazine and also covered statewide construction news at The Daily Reporter. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where he studied journalism, political science and economics. Having grown up in rural western Wisconsin, Alex loves all things outdoors, including camping, hiking, four-wheeling and hunting.

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