In-Depth: What to know about Milwaukee's special mayoral election

Posted at 4:58 PM, Dec 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-23 06:42:55-05

MILWAUKEE — Tom Barrett is now officially a former mayor of Milwaukee after submitting his resignation Wednesday in order to be sworn-in as the new U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg.

While Common Council President Cavalier Johnson becomes acting mayor in the interim, this development sets up a special election next year.

Milwaukee’s Common Council is meeting Thursday to ensure the special mayoral election coincides with the previously scheduled spring primary and general elections. That means candidates will have just two and a half weeks to get enough signatures to make it on the February ballots.

Milwaukee Election Commission Executive Director Claire Woodall-Vogg says candidates can start circulating nomination papers as soon as Thursday. They will need at least 1,500 signatures from Milwaukee residents to become eligible.

“In a normal election for a spring election, they can start circulating as early as December 1 and then the nomination signatures are due January 4, so it’s definitely a shorter time period by about half, but still plenty of time, we hope, for candidates to gather those signatures,” Woodall-Vogg said.

Candidates have until Jan. 11 to submit their nomination papers. Candidates who meet the requirements will appear on the Feb. 15 spring primary ballot in Milwaukee. So far, eight candidates have informed the city of their intention to run.

Candidates for Milwaukee Mayor

"After the February election, only the top two vote-getters will then advance to the April 5 election and then we will have our new mayor once we go through the April 5 election from those two choices,” Woodall-Vogg said.

Since Barrett was able to get confirmed by the U.S. Senate for his ambassadorship and resign as Milwaukee mayor before a key deadline of Dec. 28, Woodall-Vogg says the costs for this special election won’t be substantial.

"At least it was already a scheduled election that we had budgeted for,” she said. “We will increase the number of early voting sites which is a larger cost, but otherwise we will only see staffing costs associated with early voting and staffing those polling places with a few more workers than we normally would."

Marquette Law School Poll Director Charles Franklin says the short timeline favors candidates who have funding and resources in place to help them get enough signatures in support and launch a compelling campaign.

"For candidates who already have a campaign organization, have run races in the past, maybe have been looking ahead to this race since at least Mayor Barrett's nomination was announced, those folks may be able to hit the ground running a little better, but they absolutely have to have to hit the ground running,” Franklin said.

TMJ4 News reached out to all eight mayoral candidates to get their reaction to this expedited process. Here are the responses we received by late Wednesday afternoon:

Michael Sampson:

“I feel confident that it is attainable but it will be a sprint. With Covid once again spiking and flu season upon us it would be nice to see an electronic format presented to collect signatures instead of having to go door to door to gather. All the candidates will have to be creative while trying to keep themselves and other people safe.”

Sheila Conley-Patterson:

“I will be available and able to collect more than 1,500 signatures being that I am a native of Milwaukee. I have knowledge of many people, places, and events in the urban areas.”

Earnell Lucas:

"Our campaign wants to ensure that the process of electing the next mayor of Milwaukee is fair, equitable, and transparent. Given the expedited nature of this election, the upcoming holidays, and concerns about COVID, it is important that candidates have ample time to collect and verify the signatures required to appear on the ballot. For candidates to do that, the Common Council should move to schedule the election as soon as possible. Once they do, we are ready to move forward."

Bob Donovan:

“Securing 1,500 signatures in that short of time, especially around the holidays, is indeed a challenge, bit it is a challenge we will rise to and overcome no different than winning this election and governing the great City of Milwaukee.”

Cavalier Johnson:

“After almost 18 years, Milwaukee has the opportunity to elect a new mayor, and they will now do so in what is essentially a “snap” election. We are less than two months from the primary election date, but Cavalier Johnson has been preparing for this moment for months and is ready to serve as acting mayor beginning at 5 pm today. Cavalier has a broad base of support, with volunteers in every neighborhood in the city, and we’re ready to get the signatures. He’s also more than ready to make the case to Milwaukee voters why they should elect him Mayor to fill the remaining term. Voters want a leader who’s ready to make our families safer, to make Milwaukee stronger, and to bring us all together. Cavalier Johnson is that leader.”

Marina Dimitrijevic:

"Our campaign is fortunate to have strong grassroots support from across the city. We're ready to meet the ambitious timeline to collect signatures."

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