We don’t change mayors very often in Milwaukee. But with Mayor Tom Barrett departing to be ambassador to Luxembourg, Milwaukee will have a new mayor after the April 5 election.
There is an opportunity for fresh thinking at City Hall — thinking that ought to be informed by city residents.
To learn what’s top of mind for voters, the Ideas Lab in collaboration with WUWM 89.7-FM, Milwaukee’s NPR, and Milwaukee PBS launched the Citizens Agenda Project.
We’re asking this question:
What do you want the candidates for mayor to be talking about as they compete for your vote?
Please fill out the form below. Attention mobile users: Use this link instead.
Based on 123 responses so far, three concerns stand out: education, reckless driving and violent crime. These top concerns may change as we talk to more people — we plan extensive outreach in the coming days.
But there is little doubt that the scourge of reckless driving and car thefts has people on edge.
More than 11,500 vehicles were stolen in 2021, and 65 people died as a result of reckless driving, acting Mayor Cavalier Johnson said Wednesday.
“My son was nearly run over by a reckless driver, and my friend's elder mom was hit by one,” Nancy Peske, 59, wrote in our survey.
A 30-year-old man, wrote:
“Reckless driving is painfully evident in driving through the city, and the epidemic of cars taken for joy rides by unsupervised, bored kids, as well as general poor driving, is leading to more dangerous conditions for other drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists.”
There also are deep worries about the state of Milwaukee’s schools. The city school system, in particular, is facing considerable challenges.
“Our education system needs significant investment,” wrote Kweku TeAngelo Cargile Jr., who is 30. “This institution supports our children five days a week. To be at the bottom of the states in education is appalling.”
Violent crime is also a constant worry. Milwaukee set a record for homicides in 2021, with 205 killings reported.
A 77-year-old south side man spoke for many residents.
“I have had friends who have been carjacked and beaten up. I am a senior citizen, and I worry about this happening to me,” he wrote.
A 30-year-old man who lives on the east side agreed, writing, “I'm literally afraid for my life. Good people feel trapped in their neighborhoods. Living in the inner city is like living in a prison.”
Other concerns were raised as well — the pandemic, racism, policing, domestic violence, voting rights, housing, the city’s pension system, climate change, a lack of jobs and taxes.
“The mayor needs to declare a climate emergency,” wrote a 17-year-old girl. “(The new mayor) must make plans to make the city greener and more environmentally friendly and must pressure and demand climate justice for other areas.”
A 40-year-old woman said Milwaukee needs a city-owned, secure multifamily development for women and children fleeing abuse.
“Everyone has been collectively shrugging as women fall into poverty after leaving an abuser or they are murdered by their abuser,” she wrote.
Here are a few other responses that are representative of what we are hearing so far:
• "This entire country is in desperate need of a revamp of our educational system and needs to address the systemic racism we have continued to uphold,” wrote Margaret Butler, 28. "I want a mayor that is willing to take risks to make big changes in our city, allows us to be a frontrunner in the country of addressing inequity, and looks out for the health and safety of its citizens.”
• Cargile would also like to see the new mayor focus on COVID and housing. “COVID-19 is impacting everyone right now. To not discuss this as a priority would be ignorant," he wrote. "We are in a housing crisis. Unique ways to invest in this industry and prioritize home ownership supports is key.”
• “I have great pride in Milwaukee, however, the city will not achieve its potential while half the city remains significantly geographically and racially separated,” wrote Luke Knapp, 28. “The means by which the Milwaukee Police Department addresses crime, and the physical makeup of the city's roads and infrastructure, are key instruments of this segregation and require intensive reform for these barriers to be torn down.”
• Andrea Griff, 36, indicated that each of the 14 potential issues we suggested — everything from racism to housing rights to crime — were important to her. “Every one of these issues has affected myself or someone I love or care deeply for,” she wrote. “We as citizens and human beings deserve the right to have our voices heard. … No one expects a miracle but when we are constantly told what can and cannot be done, it tires our desire to support any candidate. … Citizens are tired but are willing to help better our lives in this city. We'll show up when they do.”
• Andrew Webber, 25, wrote: “Milwaukee is a car-dominated city with lack of robust public transit. This has led to everyone in the city needing a personal vehicle. The influx of car use for short trips through the city has caused our city to be designed around moving cars and not people.”
Please keep your comments coming. We aim to give you, the citizens of Milwaukee, a major say in what gets discussed as the candidates for mayor campaign for your votes.
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Milwaukee's citizens agenda: Residents' top concerns in mayor's race