Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Barrett’s Annual Address Cites Challenges

Delayed by pandemic, his 2021 state-of-the-city-style speech strikes optimistic tone for future.

By - Jun 2nd, 2021 06:03 pm
Mayor Tom Barrett in "Reflections on a Historic Year" speech. Image from video.

Mayor Tom Barrett in “Reflections on a Historic Year” speech. Image from video.

“What a remarkable year,” says Mayor Tom Barrett in the opening of his 2021 “Reflections on a Historic Year” speech. But it wasn’t the year the mayor has promised in his last two state-of-the-city addresses. “All of us faced unprecedented challenge and change. Too many have lost loved ones from the pandemic and from violence.”

The speech, released via pre-recorded video Wednesday, replaces the mayor’s annual state-of-the-city address normally delivered in-person in February, but delayed due to the pandemic.

A dominant topic in Barrett’s past speeches, the Democratic National Convention, got only a passing mention this time. Barrett concluded his 2019 speech by asking “wouldn’t this be a great place to have a national political convention?” and then walked off the stage to a phone call from Democratic National Committee head Tom Perez announcing that the city had secured the convention. In 2020, he talked about the expected impact of the convention. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the convention and its 50,000 expected guests never materialized.

Still, Barrett’s 2021 address offers an upbeat message of hope for the coming year while acknowledging the economic and emotional toll of the past year.

“Yes, we are in the midst of an extraordinary time,” says Barrett. “A devastating time, economic challenges and a long-needed awakening on justice and racial equity.”

The 14-minute video is not just Barrett talking. In fact, he doesn’t appear on camera for most of the video, making it a very different kind of annual address.

Instead, a series of recorded interviews with community members dominate the video. Those appearing include Ascension parish nurse Julia Means, Near West Side Partners executive director Keith Stanley, Wisconsin Center vaccination clinic director Celia Shaughnessy, Greater Milwaukee Committee staffer Michael Hostad, Zocalo Food Park‘s Mariyam Nayeri, MENTOR Greater Milwaukee executive director Lanelle Ramey, The Tandem owner Caitlin Cullen, Brad and Nick Schlaikowski of Courage MKE, election commission coordinator Stephanie Rushing and storyteller Adam Carr.

“I think we are starting to a forge a new road for Milwaukee with regards to race and equity,” says Hostad.

“One thing I hope we carry forward as a lesson from the last year is to continue to remember that we don’t exist in a bubble,” says Nayeri.

“The silver lining around what the COVID pandemic brought to our city was that there were new leaders that emerged,” says Ramey. “I believe the current leaders did an effective job at least listening to these new leaders.”

Barrett’s speech echoes these sentiments, as he pledges to work to create new opportunities, reform policing and improve “fairness and justice” throughout every city department.

“The peaceful protests here in Milwaukee over the past year have led to change. Marchers raised their voices and they have been heard,” says Barrett, while acknowledging a surge in homicides requires even more change. “More issues lie in front of us, issues that demand our attention.”

In addition to violence, Barrett mentions the revenue-restricted city’s approaching fiscal cliff. He calls pensions provided to police officers and fire fighters “generous benefits” that will increase in cost by tens of millions annually soon. As Urban Milwaukee reported in April, the budget issue is likely to collide with the city’s police spending as early as next year.

“I have a strong sense of optimism, a confidence in Milwaukee’s future and a real sense of pride in our people,” says Barrett.


Categories: City Hall, Politics, Weekly

One thought on “City Hall: Barrett’s Annual Address Cites Challenges”

  1. sbaldwin001 says:

    I would like Milwaukee to adopt something like Article V of the Wisconsin Constitution, which describes the Wisconsin governor’s duty regarding a state-of-the-state address:

    “He shall communicate to the legislature, at every session, the condition of the state, and recommend such matters to them for their consideration as he may deem expedient.”

    This seemed more like an advertisement (inspiring music, beautiful backdrops and testimonials) than a realistic summary of the condition of our city. Milwaukee has some tough times ahead, and we need a straight forward description of the mayor’s perspective and of his plans for addressing the challenges. Otherwise, it is very difficult to hold him accountable.

    Based on this video, ask yourself: What will he be doing to address the forthcoming budget shortfalls? He did not say.

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