MILWAUKEE — It was one of the biggest surprises of the primary election here in Milwaukee: A candidate -- many never heard of -- got more votes than the incumbent, who's filled the role for more than three decades.
The job of Milwaukee City Attorney doesn't usually get a lot of attention during the election cycle, but it's a crucial part of the city government. Ahead of April's general election, the fight to win the title is getting interesting.
It was a battle of words at the Milwaukee Bar Association between City Attorney Grant Langley, who's been in the role for 36 years, and his challenger Tearman Spencer. Spencer is a civil attorney and former safety engineer.
"Tearman Spencer has provided you with no specifics on what he's done," Langley said. "Just generalities. That's not enough."
"Mr. Langley, your philosophy is wrong," Spencer said. "It's time for change, sir."
Spencer seemingly came out of nowhere to garner the most votes in February's primary, while Langley finished second. Vincent Bobot, a former assistant city attorney, police officer, and municipal judge also ran.
Spencer has the backing of U.S. Congresswoman Gwen Moore, who showed up to watch the two square-off.
The city attorney works closely with local leaders and has a role in nearly every significant development of the city. They are protecting Milwaukee's investment in big projects like Fiserv Forum, representing public schools and the city's pension system, handling parking violations, reckless driving, and speeding tickets, along with building code violations, discrimination complaints and lawsuits against police.
"We have real issues with our police and community relationship," Spencer said. "It's going to take a great deal to make the changes to that."
"The city's attorney's office is independent and non-partisan," Langley said. "We provide legal guidance on all matters. We leave it to the leaders to make policy decisions."
The city attorney also has a role in planning for the Democratic National Convention this summer. Negotiating agreements with 2,000 police officers from around the state and country who are coming to Milwaukee to help out, and making sure they are adequately trained in First Amendment rights.