Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Who Will Run To Replace Hamilton and Lewis?

Four of 15 Common Council seats are vacant or due to be. Is Rep. David Bowen running?

By - Aug 15th, 2022 05:55 pm
Milwaukee City Hall. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee City Hall. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Come spring 2023 there will likely be a number of new faces at Milwaukee City Hall. But until then there are going to be some empty chairs.

Monday’s news that Alderman Ashanti Hamilton is resigning to take an appointed job in Mayor Cavalier Johnson‘s administration means that the vacancy list in the 15-member Common Council will soon grow to four. Approximately 160,000 Milwaukee residents will have spent a portion of 2022 without formal representation in city government. The two latest vacancies will last until April 2023.

Two seats are due to be filled in November. Mark Chambers Jr. and Jerel Ballard face a Nov. 8 special election to fill Johnson’s former second district seat which covers a portion of the northwest side. State Representative Jonathan Brostoff is the only candidate on the ballot to fill the third district seat formerly held by Nik Kovac, Johnson’s new budget director.

Those vacancies have already caused issues. A council committee recommended closing a Culver’s restaurant at the Midtown Center until the full council decided it was better to wait until there was a representative. In the third district, a new development proposal had a project opponent claiming she should be treated as the representative since she believed had the clearest claim to the role. She last served in 1996.

The two newest vacancies, one of which remains to be formally created, will take months longer to fill.

Chantia Lewis was removed from office July 18 as part of a felony plea agreement for campaign finance violations. Her former ninth district seat covers the very northwest corner of the city. Hamilton, who is expected to resign in the coming weeks, represents the city’s northeastern-most district.

The council’s practice is to wait to call the special elections until they can be timed with already scheduled spring or fall elections. The custom both boosts turnout and avoids the tens of thousands of dollars in estimated costs to staff polling places for a single-item race.

For the northside residents of the first and ninth districts, that means when they go to the polls to vote in the Feb. 21, 2023 primary or April 4, 2023 general election, an additional race will appear on the ballot: their council representative.

But state statutes govern when such a race could be called. According to Deputy City Clerk Dana Zelazny, to make a race appear on the spring 2023 election ballot it must be called by the council president between Nov. 21 and Jan. 3.

Common Council President Jose G. Perez, in a July statement issued following Lewis’ removal from office, indicated he will call a special election in the early portion of that window. He said candidates could begin collecting signatures on Dec. 1, which would indicate he intends to call the election in November.

And while no candidates have publicly emerged for Lewis’ seat, there is one considering running for Hamilton’s seat.

State Representative David Bowen isn’t running for reelection and already lives in the district. His Wisconsin State Assembly colleague Brostoff has already endorsed him.

But is Bowen actually running?

“It is a thought right now,” said Bowen to Urban Milwaukee. But he hasn’t committed to it for the same reason he said he aborted his lieutenant governor campaign: the death of his mother in March. “It’s still a little fresh,” said Bowen of his mother’s passing.

“If he were to run, he would absolutely be the person for it,” said Brostoff in an interview with Urban Milwaukee. The two outgoing representatives formerly hosted a radio show at Riverwest Radio, shared an office at the Capitol and created what they call the “JewMaican Caucus” to honor their Jewish and Jamaican heritage.

Bowen and any other candidate who wishes to appear on the ballot will need to collect between 200 to 400 signatures from district residents by Jan. 3.

The primary will only be necessary if three or more candidates register to run in the non-primary race.

Candidates will be elected to the seat through the remainder of the term, April 2024 under the 2012 district maps. Then all council seats will be on the ballot in spring 2024 under the 2021 district maps. The job pays a salary of $73,222.

When was the last stand-alone special election held to replace a council member? Not that long ago actually.

The city held a special election in the 13th district on the far South Side in 2019 to elect a replacement following the resignation of Ald. Terry Witkowski. But there were two special circumstances in Witkowski’s case: he resigned in May of an odd year when no fall partisan election was scheduled and the next regularly scheduled election (February and April 2020) would have been the next election for a full term in the seat. State statute requires the council president to call a special election, but also prohibits it from being at the same time as the next general election for that seat.

Categories: City Hall, Politics, Weekly

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