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Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Meet the New Boss

Ashanti Hamilton is new Common Council president, but how did he get the votes?

By - Apr 19th, 2016 10:47 am
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Council President Ashanti Hamilton in post-election media scrum

Council President Ashanti Hamilton in post-election media scrum

In a last minute twist, first district alderman Ashanti Hamilton has been elected president of the Milwaukee Common Council. The news first broke yesterday, and Hamilton today called it “kind of surreal.” How close was it? The official record will show it as a unanimous choice, but even Hamilton noted that it wasn’t “a sure thing until the end.”

Word around the council chambers is that new council member Chantia Lewis changed her vote, surprising outgoing president Michael Murphy and giving Hamilton the eight votes necessary to secure the presidency. What does Lewis have to say about this? She noted that while she was originally leaning towards Murphy, she was sold by Hamilton’s “aggressive vision” to “cover a lot of the key issues,” including the city’s “racial disparity, unemployment, education, transitional jobs and health.”

Hamilton has served on the council since 2004. In a post-election media scrum the new council president noted that he isn’t trying to be a devisive figure, pledging to work with all members of the council and Mayor Tom Barrett. Despite clear displeasure with the last council president.

In response to a question about how he achieved the position, Hamilton noted that he has a “willingness to build bridges where there weren’t any before.” That seemed a clear response to the odd bedfellows Hamilton found himself with to get the job. Hamilton, who is black, had the support of all of the black members of the council (Russell Stamper II, Milele Coggs, Khalif Rainey, Chevy Johnson and Lewis), but also managed to pick up Bob Donovan, Mark Borkowski and Tony Zielinski along the way. Those last three have found themselves on the outside looking in as the council became polarized over Donovan’s failed run for mayor and the controversial series of votes to approve the Milwaukee Streetcar project.

How did Hamilton secure the votes? The best arrow in his quiver is committee chairmanships, but we’ll have to wait a few weeks to see how those are doled out. The council isn’t due to start a cycle of committee meetings until early May.

The move to power for Hamilton is also a coup for Craig Peterson, who I had prematurely reported struck out in my election takeaways column. Peterson has been backing a Hamilton presidency for months. Peterson, with a long history as a Republican strategist, helped support a number of campaigns in the Common Council elections. Peterson, who was in attendance for council president vote, no doubt played a role behind the scenes in uniting Hamilton’s camp with that of Donovan, Borkowski and Zielinski, a strategy my colleague Bruce Murphy had predicted.

City Clerk Stays

Jim Owczarski was re-elected to his post as City Clerk this morning by the Common Council. In a speech every bit as professional as he runs the office, the clerk was quick to praise his wife and son, as well as the dedicated team in the City Clerk’s office.

3 thoughts on “Eyes on Milwaukee: Meet the New Boss”

  1. QX4guy says:

    Ms Lewis, it is reported, “was sold by Hamilton’s ‘aggressive vision” to ‘cover a lot of the key issues,’ including the city’s ‘racial disparity, unemployment, education, transitional jobs and health’.”

    Any idea what that issues-oriented vision entails? I’m all for tackling those things and wish great success for Mr. Hamilton, but all talk is cheap and it is cheapest when/if it consists primarily of generalities and sound bites.

  2. M says:

    I’m more optimistic about Chantia Lewis possibly promoting real change in the city and on the council than Ashanti Hamilton. I believe he was one of the central-city alders who went out of their way to weaken the MORE Ordinance as relating to hiring for the Bucks Arena and ancillary development–just to make sure the Bucks did not look bad by not being able to attain those long-established criteria.

    We can only hope there will be more big-picture vision and action than empty words and posturing–and yet-another cleverly named program or office.

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