MILWAUKEE - Milwaukee Common Council President Cavalier Johnson said he won't just serve as acting mayor should Tom Barrett depart as U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg – he told FOX6 News he will run for the job in the likely special election that would follow.
"I’m prepared right now to tell you that I will run for mayor of Milwaukee," Johnson told FOX6 on Thursday, Aug. 26.
It is an election that isn't even on the books – yet. If the U.S. Senate confirms Barrett's nomination to the ambassador post, he will resign as mayor. State law says the city's Common Council president, Johnson, would become acting mayor.
"The first thing that hit me was the gravity of the job," Johnson said.
The Milwaukee Common Council can decide when to call a special election, with a vote taking place 62 to 77 days after they issue that order.
Milwaukee City Hall
Johnson is one of the first to enter what Milwaukee political observers expect to be a crowded field.
"We’ll have to see. These are conversations that literally, this is a very new moment," State Sen. Lena Taylor said of a potential run for mayor.
She lost to Barrett in the 2020 mayoral race, for a term that extends through April 2024.
State Sen. Lena Taylor
There is no waiting for Johnson, who would be the city's second African-American acting mayor, after Marvin Pratt, who lost to Barrett in the special election 17 years ago.
"I grew up in Milwaukee. Was born and raised here. I spent my formative years in 53206. Went to Milwaukee Public Schools, K-12. My family didn’t have a lot growing up, so we moved around a ton when I was a kid," Johnson said.
Big issues Johnson wants to focus on include public safety, combating reckless driving and crushing COVID-19.
"We got the best tool at our disposal to tackle COVID right now, and that’s vaccination," said Johnson.
If he becomes acting mayor, it would mean Milwaukee's acting mayor, and the county executive and county sheriff would be African American.
"Milwaukee is a place that over time, African Americans have found some success in. have found some ability to rise in," Johnson said, "But the story doesn’t stop there. When you go north and west of here, you’ll see neighborhoods that are primarily African American that have fallen on hard times."
Barrett, the mayor since 2004, could be around many more months. Right now, there's a long Senate backlog, meaning his nomination could meet a confirmation traffic jam.
"In the period between my nomination and final Senate consideration, I will continue to focus my full attention and mayoral duties," Barrett said.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has blocked ambassador confirmations in a fight over Russia policy.
"Milwaukee has one mayor at a time, and right now that mayor is Tom Barrett," said Johnson.
Milwaukee Common Council
From nomination to confirmation in 2017, the last nominee to be U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg had to wait eight months. The ambassador before that waited five months, and previous to that, in 2011, four months.
Democratic insiders think Milwaukee County Sheriff Earnell Lucas may run.
Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic told FOX6, "Just like many other parents in Milwaukee right now, I’m focused on back to school for my children. The next mayor of Milwaukee will lead us out of this pandemic and into the largest investment we have ever seen. As a mother who cares deeply about our city’s future, I’m excited to consider continuing my service to our city as a mayor for all and will have a decision soon."
Former Milwaukee Alderman Bob Donovan told FOX6 he will run, but he does not currently reside in the city. He adds he'd have to reside in the city before Election Day to hold the post he competed for and lost against Barrett in 2016.