MILWAUKEE — As the people of Milwaukee get ready to vote for a new mayor, the former mayor shares some of his insights on everything from the the crisis in Ukraine to the pandemic.
Former Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett is now the U.S. Ambassador of Luxembourg. He has had the new role since February.
“I never expected that I would come here, and in a very serious and somber note, within a month, having really the most major war in Europe since 1945 and that's very serious,” said Barrett.
Luxembourg has been an outspoken critic of Russia and has supported the NATO sanctions against them, despite the country having strong economic ties to Russia. It has been reported Russian President Vladimir Putin has been calling Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel during this crisis. He has taken at least two phone calls from Putin in the last two weeks.
“The Prime Minister here now has had several conversations with Putin and and really has been in a situation where he can bring a message from Zelenskyy to Putin directly and there's not many people who have been doing that,” said Barrett. “Luxembourg is in a unique situation where the lines of communication are still open, and so we certainly have been letting him know and letting his staff know exactly the information we're receiving from Washington in terms of State Department efforts in Department of Defense efforts.”
While Barrett works on diplomacy on a world stage, he reflected that he faced his own tough political negotiations as Milwaukee's former mayor.
Barrett admits he was often at odds with the legislators in Madison. His advice for his successor is to get the state lawmakers to help Milwaukee, specifically with the city's increasing homicide rate.
“It clearly involves having an adequate size police department and that means getting assistance from Madison so that we can continue to fund the police department. That remains a major, major issue for whoever wins this election, is to have better ties with Madison and I hope they can do better than I did because I clearly had my challenges,” said Barrett.
He says although he is not supporting one candidate over another, he is watching the election.
“As I said, when I took this position, they took me out of politics. I'm not involved in the election. But you bet your life I'm watching everything I can because I love the city and I want the city to do very, very well,” said Barrett.
When it comes to COVID-19, Barrett says Luxembourg and Europe are seeing an explosion of cases. He recently recovered from a mild case of COVID-19 after testing positive for the virus for the first time on St. Patrick’s Day.
“The irony was when the whole thing started back in 2020, the first really major step we took was on March 16, 2020 when I announced that all the bars would be closed on St. Patrick’s Day, the day before,” said Barrett. “I got my comeuppance, two years later to the day, I get it."
The former mayor also joked that when he left Milwaukee, people told him to take his street car with him. He wants everyone to know there is a beautiful street car in Luxembourg.