Jeramey Jannene

City Attorney Tearman Spencer Is Running For Mayor

10th candidate in the race is a polarizing one.

By - Dec 30th, 2021 02:31 pm
City Attorney Tearman Spencer speaks at a press conference Oct. 29. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

City Attorney Tearman Spencer speaks at a press conference Oct. 29. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

City Attorney Tearman Spencer, who was first elected in April 2020, is trying to change offices at City Hall.

Spencer, 65, filed to run for mayor on Thursday. He’s the 10th candidate to formally file to run.

The City Attorney, a political newcomer, has been a controversial figure in City Hall since taking office. He’s publicly sparred with the Common Council on multiple occasions, including with Common Council President and now Acting Mayor Cavalier Johnson.

Spencer is the only candidate in the race to have won a citywide election. Though in this case, Spencer won’t have the opportunity to run against a 36-year incumbent.

Prior to assuming elected office, Spencer led his own law office in the Colby Abbot Building.

He now joins a crowded field that includes Johnson, Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic, Sheriff Earnell Lucas, state senator Lena Taylor, former alderman Robert Donovan, entrepreneur Michael Sampson, activist Nicholas McVey and teacher Sheila Conley-Patterson. State senator Chris Larson announced he is “strongly considering” a run and emailed supporters asking for help collecting nominating signatures, but has not formally filed to run.

A primary election is scheduled for Feb. 15 and a special election April 5. At least 1,500 nominating signatures are due Jan. 11.

Spencer has claimed that one of the leading reasons at City Hall he is having challenges is people aren’t accepting of a new Black leader and that harassment claims against him are “unfounded.” The City Attorney’s Office is seeing sustained, high turnover including employees that Spencer hired leaving. It recently hired an individual that worked for an anti-Muslim group. Spencer, meanwhile, is now blaming the media for his issues.

City human resources director, Makda Fessahaye, who is Black, refuted Spencer’s harassment innocence claim and said the harassment investigation of Spencer she oversaw stopped because of the limits on the policy. “We did, however, find that his actions were inappropriate and unbecoming of his position as the City Attorney,” she said in April.

Spencer previously refused to sign a council-revised development agreement for The Couture and accused Ald. Robert Bauman of an ethical violation for negotiating with the development team. The council agreed to a compromise with Spencer, where the City Attorney signed the agreement in exchange for the city spending up to $100,000 to determine who was right. With Spencer’s agreement, the city hired retired judge Chuck Kahn, Spencer’s former landlord, to serve as the arbitrator on the matter (Urban Milwaukee also is a tenant in the Colby Abbot Building).

But Spencer, largely with then-Mayor Tom Barrett‘s quiet support via vetoes and Johnson’s vote, managed to score a series of recent victories against the council. The council failed in its attempt to strip the attorney’s office of one of its 41 attorney positions and hire its own. It also failed to change the city charter so it could legally hire its own special counsel when desired.

The City Attorney serves as the city’s legal counsel and is not in a policy-making role. But his actions on matters like The Couture have drawn criticism from Bauman and others that Spencer is making unchecked policy decisions.

In August, Spencer entered into a diversion agreement with the state Office of Lawyer Regulation as a result of a complaint filed against him by the Milwaukee Police Association. The union, whose members Spencer represents, was publicly critical of Spencer’s handling of the Sterling Brown settlement and said he advocated against the police department’s interest. Terms that Spencer must comply with as part of the agreement were not disclosed.

But after the diversion agreement was signed, a new assistant city attorney resigned after only weeks on the job and accused Spencer of committing a retaliatory, politically-motivated abuse of power in requesting a memo that the accuser said would be used to blame his predecessor.

That predecessor, Naomi Gehling, said Spencer created a “toxic and hostile work environment” in her resignation survey. She now serves as the chief of staff for the Fire & Police Commission.

The City Attorney did not respond to a request for comment on his mayoral run.

Spencer does not need to resign from his office to run for mayor.

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More about the 2022 Mayoral Race

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Categories: City Hall, Politics

3 thoughts on “City Attorney Tearman Spencer Is Running For Mayor”

  1. tornado75 says:

    well, that’s about the ,,,,,i am at a loss for words. he can’t do one job well and now he’d like us to elect him to another job he won’t do well. oh, my.

  2. gerrybroderick says:

    The proverbial snowball’s chance in hell. The guy can’t administer a department and now wants to run the city. More ego than sense seems to be at the heart of his decision.

  3. blurondo says:

    The Election Commission needs to examine those nomination papers with a fine tooth comb.

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