Jeramey Jannene

Ashanti Hamilton Will Lead Office of Violence Prevention

Alderman will resign to take post in his onetime rival's administration.

By - Aug 15th, 2022 01:31 pm
Ashanti Hamilton speaks at Sterling Brown incident press conference. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Ashanti Hamilton speaks at a 2018 press conference. Photo by Jeramey Janne.e

Mayor Cavalier Johnson appears to be embracing a strategy of keeping your friends close and your enemies closer.

Johnson is appointing veteran alderman Ashanti Hamilton to lead the Office of Violence Prevention. The alderman will replace Arnitta Holliman, who Johnson unexpectedly fired Aug. 3.

As part of his meteoric rise to mayor, Johnson replaced Hamilton as Common Council President in 2020 under a contentious vote that resulted in sustained conflict within the council. Earlier this year, Hamilton was the lone alderman to publicly endorse Johnson’s opponent, Robert Donovan, in the race for mayor. Hamilton had considered running for mayor after becoming council president, and intended not to run for reelection as alderman, which Johnson city as a reason for his decision to run for council president. Hamilton later aborted his campaign for mayor and attempted unsuccessfully to hold on to the council presidency, losing to Johnson.

The Office of Violence Prevention (OVP) is involved in a number of violence prevention efforts, including partnering with the Medical College of Wisconsin on a neighborhood-level violence interruption program (414Life), providing grants to community organizations and convening groups to address community issues.

“We know that there are no simple solutions to violence in some parts of our community,” said Johnson at a press conference Monday morning. He said the director serves as a “critical link” between policing, nonprofit organizations and other community efforts to address violence. The mayor said Hamilton understands the need to provide metrics on the office’s progress, something the council held a hearing in June to request more of, and also has the lived experience to be a credible messenger.

The new OVP director has served on the council since 2004. A former teacher, Hamilton holds a bachelor’s degree from Marquette University and a law degree from Texas Southern University. He was council president from 2016 to 2020 and since losing the presidency has chaired the Judiciary & Legislation Committee. Hamilton will resign from his council seat to take the job.

“I’m looking forward to hitting the ground running,” said Hamilton. “We understand that there is a huge community partnership necessary to address these [violence] concerns.”

Hamilton said there needs to be a sustained commitment to the idea that violence is a public health issue and there must be investments in prevention. “That’s something I’ve been committed to as a council member,” said Hamilton. “We want to build on that work. We want to expand it.”

In October, Governor Tony Evers announced an $8.4 million allocation to the office to expand its programming capabilities. It builds on funding the office already received from other sources.

Johnson declined to comment on Holliman’s firing, calling it a personnel issue. He said Hamilton was the right person to move OVP forward and would be an effective communicator of its work.

Holliman, an appointee of former Mayor Tom Barrett, was promoted from within the department in 2021. She previously served as the program manager for the grant-funded Resiliency in Communities After Stress and Trauma (ReCAST) effort. She had worked for the city since 2019. The office was previously led by Reggie Moore, who resigned in May 2021 after five years on the job to take a statewide job with the Medical College.

The violence prevention office is located within the Milwaukee Health Department, which is led by Commissioner Kirsten Johnson (no relation to the mayor).

Hamilton was charged in 2009 with felony child abuse for striking one of his daughters with a plastic hanger several times, but the charges were dropped as a result of a plea agreement. On Monday, Hamilton called it “a learning experience that I had to grow through and I think we bring our life experiences to every position that we take.”

“Responsible parenting requires discipline,” said Hamilton at his 2009 sentencing hearing. “I chose a form of discipline that was not wise. It was appropriately called into question.” He complied with the terms of the plea agreement.

Hamilton will get a substantial raise as part of the new job. He previously made the standard council salary of $73,222. The 2022 city budget calls for the OVP director to be paid $102,845.

The OVP director appointment is not subject to council confirmation.

Holliman Questions City Support

In a statement issued after her termination, Holliman said the mayor and health commissioner imposed “significant challenges” in moving OVP’s work forward, including contracting delays and not providing enough staff. She said she was notified at the same time the media was of her termination, which the mayor disputed, and had raised $14 million in grants for the office while the administration disinvested from it.

Holliman called for the continued support of the office, even though she will no longer lead it. “No one individual, agency or program can be held responsible for the historic levels of gun violence in Milwaukee,” she said. “If this is the mayor’s approach to accountability, what agency or program will be next?”

Sophie Bolich contributed to this article.

2 thoughts on “Ashanti Hamilton Will Lead Office of Violence Prevention”

  1. montaviusj92 says:

    Do we know when election will be held?

  2. Johnstanbul says:

    What a confusing decision for the city to select Ashanti Hamilton for this position.

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