In a decisive victory with over 70% of the projected vote, incumbent Cavalier Johnson defeated Robert Donovan in Milwaukee’s special mayoral election Tuesday.
Johnson is Milwaukee’s first elected African American mayor, but has been acting mayor since the departure of former Mayor Tom Barrett, who resigned in late 2021 to become the U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg. Because Johnson was the city’s Common Council president at the time, he automatically assumed the role of mayor.
Due to those proceedings, Tuesday’s election was a special election, which means that Mayor Johnson will serve an abbreviated two-year term.
"This city for the first time in our 176-year history has elected its first Black mayor. We did it," Johnson said, joined by his wife and three children, celebrating the victory.
This is the first time Milwaukee voters have selected a new mayor in over 18 years, with Barrett having been reelected consistently since 2004.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Johnson used his position as acting mayor as a platform to campaign and defeat Donovan. Since becoming acting mayor, Johnson held press conferences and events at city hall, effectively establishing his name and image as mayor amongst Milwaukee residents.
Johnson also dominated the election in terms of campaign spending. Milwaukee mayoral elections are non-partisan, regardless, the Democratic Party contributed over $100,000 to Johnson’s campaign, which contributed to him spending about four times as much as Donovan in the campaign.
Despite the high level of spending, the city of Milwaukee saw a voter turnout of only 31%, a number fairly consistent with past spring elections.
"Well, we took it on the chin tonight, but boy oh boy, we’re not down,” said Donovan, conceding the election on Tuesday. “There’s no shame in going after it and coming up short. We had a vision, a goal, a plan for Milwaukee that I still to this day believe in.”
Following the election, Johnson becomes mayor in Milwaukee in a crucial moment. The city reported more homicides in 2021 than it had ever recorded before. Johnson will also have to address some of his other campaign promises, including combatting reckless driving, creating jobs and fighting COVID-19.
Ian Wilder is a current features writer and former state politics reporter for The Daily Cardinal. Follow him on Twitter at @IanWWilder.