Jeramey Jannene

It Could Be Many Weeks Before Barrett Goes to Luxembourg

Barrett resignation expected by Dec. 28. Mayor has never been to Luxembourg.

By - Dec 17th, 2021 02:35 pm
Mayor Tom Barrett speaks at a Dec. 17 press conference. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Mayor Tom Barrett speaks at a Dec. 17 press conference. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Mayor Tom Barrett‘s adrenaline is still flowing after Thursday night’s surprise confirmation of his nomination to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg.

Barrett was expected to be stuck in a queue more than 100 nominations long as a result of objections from two Republican senators to separate policies of President Joe Biden, but, an unlikely supporter, Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) came to his aid and allowed Barrett’s nomination to slide by unanimously.

“We have always had a good working relationship, we have always had a good give and take,” said Barrett of Johnson in a press briefing Friday afternoon. He acknowledged the two are philosophically different.

“I was somewhat surprised when I got the message,” Barrett said, after receiving a message Thursday evening from the chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) that things were about to get “interesting.” Within minutes, Barrett was announced as unanimously confirmed. He thanked Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) for playing an “extremely important” role in him being nominated.

Now Barrett must work at a frantic pace to meet a state deadline of Dec. 28 to save the city $700,000. It’s the same deadline Barrett used in requesting Johnson’s staff expedite his confirmation.

His staff is spending time Friday preparing the paperwork for Barrett to resign from the different boards and commissions he serves on. But a date on a final resignation remains elusive, at least publicly.

“This is all very much in a state of flux,” Barrett said.

The goal remains to resign by Dec. 28, which would allow the Common Council to meet a state deadline to call a special election that syncs up with the existing spring election and saves the city $700,000 in extra costs.

“That’s my goal,” said the outgoing mayor. “I believe we have teed it up that that is possible.”

And though Barrett could resign within the week, it could be many weeks before he actually steps foot in Luxembourg. He said he will continue to receive briefings from the State Department in the coming weeks.

“We have not started packing yet,” Barrett said.

When he does make it to the European nation, it will be his first time visiting the landlocked country.

“I have been to Germany. I have been to Austria. I have been to France and I’m very much looking forward to going to Luxembourg,” said Barrett in response to a question from Urban Milwaukee.

He’ll find the ambassador’s residence a much better accommodation than whatever a mayor could have afforded. Colocated with the embassy in the Dolibois House in Luxembourg City, the mansion was completed in 1922. It was the German embassy prior to World War II and used by the German army to govern Luxembourg during the war. After the U.S. liberated the country, it used it as a barracks briefly before purchasing it for use as an embassy. “It has an unusual history for an embassy,” Barrett said.

Common Council President Cavalier Johnson will become acting mayor upon Barrett’s resignation. Barrett, as previously announced, has already invited Johnson’s staff to his accountability in management and cabinet meetings in anticipation of a transition.

“I have repeatedly said I want this transition to be smooth. I want it to be of no cost to the taxpayers,” Barrett said.

Johnson, 35, is one of seven candidates that have filed to run to replace Barrett.

Barrett, in keeping with a State Department custom to avoid political activity, will not be making an endorsement in the non-partisan race to succeed him. He is prevented by the Hatch Act from participating in partisan politics.

But he does have advice for the next mayor.

“It is really important to remember you are the mayor to the entire city,” said Barrett.

Barrett has served as mayor since 2004, the longest active term for any big city mayor in the country. He was re-elected four times, including in April 2020. Prior to serving as mayor Barrett was a five-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives, one-term member of the Wisconsin State Senate and a two-term member of the Wisconsin State Assembly. He ran unsuccessfully for governor three times. A father of four with his wife Kris Barrett, he previously said he does not plan to sell his Washington Heights house.

“I absolutely love this job because I love this city,” said the mayor. “As we all recognize there are different chapters in life and I am eager to start that next chapter.”

Situated between Germany, France and Belgium, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, led by a monarch, has a population of approximately 620,000, similar to Milwaukee. But despite being one of the geographically smallest countries in Europe, the country is approximately 10 times the size of the city of Milwaukee. It is also substantially wealthier. Issues like money laundering and other trade-related concerns came up in Barrett’s November confirmation hearing.

The ambassador post is currently held by Casey Mace, the embassy’s Chargé d’affaires (chief of mission). Mace took on the caretaker role after appointed ambassador Randy Evans stepped down following the end of President Donald Trump‘s term in January. Barrett said he too, as is customary, expects to submit his resignation at the end of Biden’s term in Jan. 2024.

The special election to serve as Milwaukee mayor is for a term lasting through April 2024.

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More about the Resignation of Tom Barrett

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