New Council Members Sworn In To Great Applause
Andrea Pratt, Lamont Westmoreland and Larresa Taylor join first full council in 17 months.
“15 members present.”
The conclusion of the Milwaukee Common Council‘s roll call isn’t usually a cause for celebration, but Tuesday was an exception.
“Today’s a special day. In a very real way, our council is whole for the first time in over a year,” said Council President José G. Pérez once the applause died down.
It was the first time since Mayor Tom Barrett resigned in December 2021 that the council has a full complement of 15 members. Acting Mayor Cavalier Johnson couldn’t vote while serving as acting mayor, and upon winning election appointed two council members to administration roles. Another council member resigned for a private sector job and a fifth was removed from office for campaign finance fraud.
“It has meant extra work, extra committees and even a few headaches,” said Pérez. More significantly, approximately 200,000 Milwaukee residents have spent part of the past 17 months without an elected representative at City Hall.
“We have made history today and we are making plans for tomorrow,” said Pratt in her floor speech. She won her seat by 17 votes over former state representative David Bowen. Pratt was joined in the council chamber by her family, including her father Marvin Pratt, the former council president and one-time acting mayor. Andrea Pratt said she remembered attending his swearing-in ceremony as a third grader.
The newly-elected alderwoman encouraged other women to run and young girls to be inspired. “For those who have been told it is not their time and not their race, do it anyway,” she said.
She replaces longtime 1st District alderman Ashanti Hamilton, who resigned in August to become the director of the Office of Violence Prevention. The new alderwoman isn’t a stranger to the council. She served as Hamilton’s aide for three years. Hamilton was in the chamber to watch the swearing-in ceremony.
Westmoreland’s race wasn’t the nail biter that Pratt’s was. He secured more than 66% of the vote.
“As many of you know, doing this is not for the faint of heart,” said Westmoreland. He thanked his wife, kids and extended family for supporting him in entering the race and dedicating the time to win.
He also praised the late Thomas J. Bell, a longtime city budget analyst, for pushing him to enter the race. Bell and Westmoreland knew each other for years as a result of their part-time jobs as high-school basketball referees.
Westmoreland said Bell encouraged him to run for office before it was even known that Alderwoman Nikiya Dodd would resign for a job with a charter school.
“As all of you know, this is an extremely challenging time to come to City Hall as a newly-elected official,” said Westmoreland. “I look forward to working together, growing together, learning from each and every one of you and bringing new ideas to the table. We will do good work.”
Dodd formerly resigned in November, but had stopped attending virtually all meetings two months earlier.
“The last five months have been cold and grueling,” said Taylor, the new representative for the city’s 9th District on Milwaukee’s far Northwest Side. “Every weekend my mantra was ‘sunup to sundown, doors, doors, doors.'”
Taylor, a 17-year teacher with Milwaukee Public Schools, thanked her family and friends for their support. She also thanked Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs, her cousin, and City Treasurer Spencer Coggs, the alderwoman’s uncle, for their guidance on the campaign trail.
The seat has been vacant since Chantia Lewis was removed from office in July as part of a felony plea agreement for campaign finance fraud.
“The victory isn’t just for me. It’s for the people of the 9th District,” said Taylor. “Their best interest is, first and foremost, my responsibility.”
Taylor defeated fellow educator and political newcomer Odell Ball in a 52%-48% race.
“I live by perseverance and commitment; this is what I also teach,” said Taylor.
The three new council members join Mark Chambers, Jr. and Jonathan Brostoff, who were sworn in following November special elections. All 15 council seats will appear on the ballot next spring for a new four-year term.
Tuesday’s meeting also served as a farewell to one longtime city employee. Arlisia McHenry, who spent much of her career serving as a council aide and eventually chief of staff to Hamilton and Johnson as they served as council president. She followed Johnson to the mayor’s office and served as his council liaison. She is retiring.
When the record was initially set in 2020, Zamarripa and Dimitrijevic were new council members joining Coggs, Dodd and Lewis. During a meeting recess, multiple attendees noted that it would be interesting, and confusing, for future historians to determine that the record was reached twice in the same four-year term.
Voters elected the first female in 1956 when they sent civil rights pioneer Vel Phillips to represent them in City Hall.
By April 2000 four council members were women (though the body then had 17 members). But by 2004, the number of women had fallen to zero.
When Coggs, for whom Phillips served as a mentor, was first elected in 2008 she was the lone female member and would remain so for eight years. Lewis joined in 2016 and Dodd in 2018.
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