To Host DNC, Barrett Must Be Reelected
He's clearly running, but still hasn't officially announced a race he badly wants to win.
Mayor Tom Barrett undoubtedly has July 13th, 2020 circled on his calendar. It’s the start of the 2020 Democratic National Convention, and a day on which the host mayor usually delivers a speech on the convention floor.
But to get to July 13th, Barrett, a Democrat, will first have to get past a non-partisan election on April 20th.
Should he win re-election, Barrett would be certain to speak at the convention, as have recent host mayors John Hickenlooper (Denver, 2008) and Anthony Foxx (Charlotte, 2012). Both used it as a springboard not only for their cities, but their political careers. Hickenlooper went on to become Governor of Colorado and Foxx became Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation.
If Barrett loses, he’ll find himself in an unusual role, as did former Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter. Term limits prevented Nutter from running for re-election in 2016, meaning he was the mayor that helped book the convention, but wasn’t the guy running the city once it actually happened. He still gave a brief speech, but was buried early in the fourth day (he spoke just minutes after Congresswoman Gwen Moore). Nutter’s role was, at least publicly, so minor that you can’t even find him on many lists of speakers.
With a little more than a year to the election, he’s already facing a challenger in Alderman Tony Zielinski, who declared for mayor in November 2017. But another challenger could be waiting in the wings, Common Council President Ashanti Hamilton.
Hamilton, who stood by the mayor’s side as he received the call Monday morning that the convention would come to Milwaukee, told Urban Milwaukee he would have an announcement in the coming weeks if he was running or not. But Hamilton said that in an interview just moments before the fateful call from Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez.
Multiple insiders have speculated that the DNC news could change Hamilton’s mind. If he does decide to run, everyone expects this will quickly polarize everything happening at City Hall.
Barrett right now has a big advantage when it comes to cash on hand ($719,927) over Zielinski ($469,790, including $200,000 in loans) and Hamilton ($61,590). But two sources Urban Milwaukee spoke to expect that should Hamilton run he would have no problem raising cash from traditionally Republican donors that don’t like Barrett, a similar group that Zielinski has raised money from.
Hamilton, who was spotted sitting courtside at a Milwaukee Bucks game with season-ticket holder County Executive Chris Abele the day he opened a mayoral campaign account, could also benefit from Abele’s willingness to spend big in elections.
Zielinski also has groups backing him. He’s already earned the endorsement of the Milwaukee Police Association and the Milwaukee Police Supervisors’ Organization.
Barrett, who Urban Milwaukee reported was running for re-election last June, appears content to continue pushing off any official announcement. Instead he will likely file his nomination papers in December without great fanfare. The gambit is designed to allow him to be mayor instead of candidate.
But while Barrett continues to work on things like a reformed Milwaukee Health Department, booming Downtown and impending convention, he’ll want to keep his calendar clear. If Hamilton, or anyone else, gets in the race, the mayor should circle February 18th. Three or more candidates would trigger a primary, with the top two vote-getters advancing to April’s general election.
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