Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Ashanti Hamilton Resigns For Administration Job

New head of Office of Violence Prevention was 1st District alderman since 2004.

By - Aug 31st, 2022 10:01 am
Ashanti Hamilton speaks at a 2019 press conference. Future mayor Cavalier Johnson looks on. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Ashanti Hamilton speaks at a 2019 press conference. Future mayor Cavalier Johnson looks on. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee just lost an influential voice on the Common Council.

Ashanti Hamilton formally resigned from his longtime council seat Tuesday, but he is not leaving City Hall. Instead, Hamilton will lead the Office of Violence Prevention, an appointed position under Mayor Cavalier Johnson. The mayor announced the appointment Aug. 15 with an unclear start date.

A special election will be called in the coming months to fill the remainder of Hamilton’s term, which runs through April 2024. The election is expected to be called so that it can line up with the already scheduled spring election cycle, with elections on Feb. 21 and April 4. Four of the 15 council seats are now vacant, with Hamilton and the seat most recently occupied by Chantia Lewis not expected to be fill until spring 2023.

Hamilton was first elected to represent the city’s 1st Aldermanic District in 2004. A former teacher at his alma matter, Riverside University High School, Hamilton holds a bachelor’s degree from Marquette University. After teaching in the 1990s, he earned 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 was the fourth Black council president in the city’s history. After showing political adeptness in 2016 by assembling a coalition of Black council members and white, conservative council members to become council president, Hamilton opened a mayoral campaign account in November 2018 to challenge incumbent Mayor Tom Barrett. But Hamilton officially bowed out of the race in September 2019 and never publicly announced a campaign. It was during this time that Johnson began a quiet campaign to run for council president, leading to a publicly contentious relationship between the two.

Many of Hamilton’s signature legislative accomplishments, including the Milwaukee Opportunities Restoring Employment (MORE) ordinance and the Milwaukee Promise program, were aimed at either creating jobs for impoverished Milwaukee residents or yielding more investment in his heavily-impoverished district and other such areas. The MORE ordinance requires projects receiving more than $1 million in city funding to hire unemployed or underemployed city residents and has generated hundreds, if not thousands of jobs for city residents on marquee real estate projects like Fiserv Forum and Northwestern Mutual Tower and Commons. The Milwaukee Promise program, which includes the federal Promise Zone initiative, calls for the city to assess its spending and how it reduces poverty.

The 1st district stretches north from W. Capitol Dr. to the city’s northeastern limit at W. Bradley Rd. The western boundary includes portions of N. 35th St., N. Hopkins St., N. 43rd St., N. Sherman Blvd. and N. 55th St. The eastern boundary is almost entirely the city’s border with Glendale. The 1st district includes the Garden Homes, Rufus King, Old North Milwaukee, McGovern Park, Hampton Heights, Thurston Woods, Fairfield and Lincoln Park neighborhoods. It includes primarily residential neighborhoods, but also covers the northern portion of the once heavily industrial 30th Street Corridor.

One of his last high-profile acts as an alderman was to publicly announce in September 2021 he would camp outside a city-owned Garden Homes property until a months-long accumulation of trash was cleaned up. But by nightfall, he was putting his tent away and a contractor was on-site cleaning up.

“These are not supposed to be difficult issues to tackle. This is the bread and butter of city government,” said Hamilton in an interview with Urban Milwaukee that night.

The district will continue to be represented by Hamilton’s aide, Dorothy Johnson. But Johnson cannot vote on the council, nor can she initiate new policy positions.

During his time on the council, Hamilton also served stints on the boards of the Milwaukee Public Library, Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee, Wisconsin Center District, Milwaukee Area Technical College, LISC Milwaukee and National League of Cities.

According to Hamilton’s July campaign finance filing, he leaves office with a campaign account with approximately $39,000 in the bank. The filing indicates Hamilton did not receive any new contributions in 2022.

According to the Milwaukee Election Commission website, no candidates have filed to replace Hamilton. Before the special election is formally called, candidates may declare for the 2024 race to legally begin raising money and later can file to run in the special election.

The alderman replaces Arnitta Holliman, who Johnson unexpectedly fired Aug. 3. Records show Johnson and his staff had concerns about her financial management and program reporting.

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.

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

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. During an Aug. 15 press conference, 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.

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Categories: City Hall, Politics

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