Last updated on April 15th, 2022 at 01:24 pm
Editor’s note: In a ceremony today at the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, Cavalier Johnson was sworn in as Milwaukee’s 45th mayor and the first elected African American mayor in the city’s history. The following are the remarks he gave in his inaugural address.
Thank you, Dominique. It’s your love, your grace and your boundless patience – patience I have tested – that have allowed me to stand on this stage. Yes, with a beautiful family and a smile on my face, I am indebted to you more than you’ll ever know. While my name appears in the history books, your name will ring constantly in my heart and mind. My dear, thank you.
Senator Baldwin, Governor Evers, Congresswoman Moore, County Executive Crowley, Chairwoman Nicholson, thank you for the kind words and for sharing this day with me. Bishop Daniels, Makda Fessahaye, Jim Owczarski, and Carolyn Neumann, I so appreciate your contributions to this ceremony.
Today, we open a new chapter in Milwaukee’s history. We open it with appreciation of the significance of this moment. This is a generational transition and a departure from Milwaukee’s long custom of deriving executive leadership only from men of European background. We are a diverse city. I embrace that diversity and the change that has arrived in Milwaukee.
I am also humbled – humbled by the support voters across Milwaukee have provided. From every district – from every ward – people cast ballots for me. Yes, I will always have a special place in my heart for my now-former aldermanic district and the people who elected and reelected me to the Common Council. Now, I extend my loyalty and appreciation to residents city-wide – from south to north, east to west. I proudly accept my role as mayor of every corner of our great city.
I am honored to have my family here today. To my wife and my children, Oliver, Bella and Madison, a special thank you. And thanks to so many others who have helped to make my election possible. I see many of you here in the audience, and I want all of you to know how appreciative I am.
To our hosts this morning, Harley-Davidson and the Harley-Davidson Museum, again, thank you. This company’s long history in Milwaukee, and its iconic brand, so closely identified with this city, are reasons I selected this site for my inauguration. There are other reasons, too. We are along a major waterway – and water is why this city was founded here. We are at a location that is neither north nor south; it’s at a bridge between the two. And, we are on a parcel of land that was redeveloped, remarkably, from a barren public works yard, transformed to an amazing entertainment and tourist destination.
We will see transformation throughout Milwaukee in the coming years. I’m not talking just about landmarks and high-rise buildings. I’m talking about the addition of good paying jobs, new investments in city neighborhoods, improvements in public infrastructure, and a transformation in spirit – a sense of optimism that we can solve problems, we can build on Milwaukee’s quality of life, and we can give our children and grandchildren a future that we will all be proud of.
So, how do we get there? We start with partnerships. The work ahead will be more successful, more productive, when we work together. That means finding common interests between city government and community groups, reinforcing relationships that can advance projects, bringing businesses together to help remedy our biggest challenges. It’s that and so much more.
With every major challenge Milwaukee faces, whether it’s a matter of safety, a government fiscal issue, or a concern about Milwaukee’s children, cooperation is the best path forward.
This is particularly true as we address public safety. No one in Milwaukee wants violence erupting in their neighborhood. No one wants reckless drivers careening through traffic.
The Milwaukee Police Department plays a critical role in making the city safer. I want that department to be sufficiently staffed, and I want officers to be in the community providing effective, respectful and constitutional community policing.
I also want police officers to know, they are not alone. The city’s Office of Violence Prevention joins the work to increase public safety with a focus on prevention and intervention. The criminal justice system, including prosecutors, courts and corrections, must function well. I also expect residents in Milwaukee to realize their roles and take active steps to improve safety.
If we are to make our city safer, we all need to do more. And an excellent example of that is the Milwaukee Fire Department. Yes, they are superb at extinguishing fires, but they have incorporated work to prevent death and damage from fires. They are excellent at responding to medical emergencies, but they are also in the community preventing medical emergencies.
Our Department of Public Works is redesigning streets to constrain reckless driving. We’re changing the rules and confiscating unregistered vehicles used by those who brazenly ignore traffic safety.
As much as we would want simple solutions to our public safety challenges, the solutions, in fact, are more complicated. The homicide numbers this year are unacceptably alarming. I have spoken to close family members of murder victims, and I have seen the impacts of killings – the senselessness and finality.
Loss and grief affect people across Milwaukee. I believe that, together, we can reduce homicide deaths. And an important step is to toughen laws to keep guns away from people who should not have them in the first place. We need our partners in state government to work with us to make gun safety a priority.
In some serious crime categories, the trends are improving. Compared to last year, robbery, burglary, and rape are down double-digit percentages in the first months of 2022. Aggravated assaults and car thefts are down, too. Let’s build on those trends. If we can reduce these crimes, I am confident we can bring homicide numbers down, too.
I strongly believe the most important ingredient needed for neighborhood stability, safety, and hope is a strong economy. That means good jobs, good pay, and increased opportunity. I want fewer evictions and more homeownership; I want less hunger and more hope; I want a reduction in trauma and an increase in school attendance. All of this can occur with a stronger economy.
City government, itself, is not creating new, well-paying jobs, but we can be a partner. I look at Century City – the area from 27th and Townsend Streets to 35th Street and Capitol Drive – and I see opportunity. Let’s work together to create good jobs there. And let’s bring new opportunities for workers to Havenwoods, the Menomonee Valley, and around the airport.
With the right private sector proposals, my administration will deploy the financing tools we have to get deals done and make new employment a reality across our city.
Downtown development is wonderful, and I want that to continue. Even so, my priority is investment – buildings and jobs – in city neighborhoods. We have not seen enough of that.
And I will continue my efforts to make sure hardworking people are paid a fair wage. I am not asking the private sector to do anything we, at city government haven’t done. $15 per hour is a minimum for city workers. It’s the minimum wage we insisted Milwaukee Tool pay at its new office at 5th and Michigan Streets. It’s what the new, $62 million Milwaukee Athletic Club is paying, as well. And all employers should be paying at least $15 an hour. Fair wages – dollars in people’s pockets – make our neighborhoods stable. Stability leads to healthier neighborhoods. And, healthier neighborhoods are safer neighborhoods.
All levels of government must be more than plodding bureaucracies. I will not allow that at City Hall. My approach will bring goals, accountability, and results to the work of municipal government. Routinely, I will be out from behind my desk – at city departments and in the field. I am not a micromanager. I am, however, a listener, a planner, and a champion for positive change.
Positive change – I know that’s what my colleagues on the Common Council want for Milwaukee, too. I look forward to working with them to make that change happen.
There are many good people working in the ranks of city government. They are knowledgeable and conscientious. I will be bolstering their ranks; as vacancies occur, we are filling them with top-notch additions.
I have very little patience for the dishonest accusations, baseless innuendos, and outright threats leveled at city workers. Whether the targets are health officials dealing with the COVID pandemic or election workers operating with accuracy and integrity, I will vigorously defend them. Disingenuous, politically motivated falsehoods are wrong, and together, we need to stand against such bullying.
As I have pledged, I am taking steps to prevent the impending fiscal problems looming for city government. Milwaukee is extraordinarily constrained when it comes to raising tax revenue. Think about this: when retail prices rise and sales increase, the State of Wisconsin collects more sales tax revenue. When salaries increase and capital gains are realized, the state collects more income tax. In contrast, the city of Milwaukee’s only tax revenue is the property tax which does not bring in more revenue as real estate prices go up.
Compounding the problem, state shared revenue – a major source of funds to pay for city operations – is stuck at levels from 20 years ago. Milwaukee is not alone, the system for funding local government is broken in Wisconsin. I have heard that from mayors from other parts of the state.
We must have sufficient revenue to pay for the salaries, pensions, equipment, and material needed to provide the basic services our residents expect and deserve.
The only way to solve this problem is to work collaboratively with leaders in Madison to get Milwaukee’s fiscal house in order. I have initiated those discussions, and I am hopeful legislative leaders will join in a solution.
Neighboring municipalities in Milwaukee County and in our adjacent counties know, this city’s vibrancy in important to them. When our economy is strong, our city is safe, and quality of life is high, the entire region benefits. Wisconsin benefits.
Without this city, there’s no Major League Baseball in Wisconsin, and no NBA world champion Bucks. Think of this: We may live in a politically competitive purple state, but there is no way the national Republican party would even consider a convention in Wisconsin without Milwaukee. Milwaukee is good for the state, economically and culturally. Our city is a tremendous value-add for the entire state of Wisconsin.
I was raised in Milwaukee neighborhoods with some of the deepest challenges that exist here. My family moved frequently; we were far from wealthy; crime and violence were never far away; for most of my early education, it was a different school each year.
What I had was people who cared. It was my father who told me early on to “get off the block.” At first, I thought that advice was literal – that I needed to travel a couple of blocks away. But as I got older I understood, he was speaking figuratively, that I needed to see and experience more. I followed that advice.
And I followed my mother’s advice; “Never give up,” she said.
I had guidance from people at the YMCA who gave me opportunities and instilled a passion for service. That’s where Y president Jack Lund encouraged me not to chase dollars, but, instead, to chase purpose in life. That’s where my friend Victor showed me that wherever you’re from, however you look or speak, we can come together.
I had teachers, including Carolyn Neumann, who taught, encouraged, and nurtured me so that I had a foundation and confidence to go forward.
Two weeks ago, I proudly stood with Mentor Greater Milwaukee at an event to enroll city employees as mentors. I know, first hand, how important mentors can be, because, in my childhood, caring adults helped guide me to greater achievements.
I think about those experiences when I meet young Milwaukee residents – children who looked like me when I was that age. I want them to realize what’s possible. I want them to fulfill their potential. We all make mistakes, but far too often, a young person’s bad choices and difficult circumstances derail success in life.
I want all young people in Milwaukee to know they could be medical professionals, business executives, or skilled tradespeople. They could be entrepreneurs, artists, or educators. And, yes, they could be mayor.
My perspective on this city is shaped by my background, and through that I will bring approaches and solutions to the mayor’s office that others – people with a more traditional outlook – have not previously offered.
As I raised my hand and swore to perform my duties, I did so with a solemn commitment to the people of Milwaukee. I will lead this city with my full energy, with the highest level of integrity, and with an unwavering focus on building a better, stronger, and safer city.