Barrett’s Annual Address Cites Challenges
Delayed by pandemic, his 2021 state-of-the-city-style speech strikes optimistic tone for future.
“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.
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.
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.