Milwaukee Elects City’s First African-American Mayor

After 176 years, the city of Milwaukee has elected its first Black mayor. Voters came out in the municipality’s spring general election and made history.

Cavalier Johnson will be the next top political executive of “Brew City.”

Cavalier Johnson (

The 35-year-old made history twice on the April 5 election evening — first as an African American and second as a millennial — and secured his victory against former Milwaukee Alderman Bob Donovan in the special election for a shortened two-year term.

Johnson won the race with 72 percent of the votes, dusting his opponent by more than 37,000 ballots.

Johnson said on his win, “I’m looking forward to serving and to continue serving as mayor. We’ve got a lot of work to do and I’m looking forward to getting to that work.”

His election further marks the first time in 18 years since the city saw a new mayor, when Johnson was finishing his last year at Bay View High School.

Johnson has been serving as the acting mayor for the city since Tom Barrett’s resignation from the role in December to become U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg under the Biden administration.

Before he assumed the role as acting mayor, the native son enjoyed a successful political career as an alderman to the Milwaukee Common Council, serving two terms since 2016. Before his time on the council, he worked in the mayor’s office and served on the boards of the Milwaukee YMCA, ACLU-Wisconsin, and the Milwaukee Community Brainstorming Conference.

He plans to work with his former colleagues from the Common Council and reestablish relationships with the state Legislature, saying, “I understand the importance of working with state government in order to move the ball forward for Milwaukee.”

The Milwaukee Public Schools graduate used his capacity as the acting mayor to gain face and name recognition.

During his campaign, he prioritized public safety, expressing his desire “to combat reckless driving and for safer Milwaukee streets” and “reducing violence and ensuring safety.”

He said, “We’re investing $8.5 million in infrastructure upgrades across the city. So we’ll work to continue implementing those things to combat the surge of reckless driving that we have here in the city.”

Reducing violent crime is crucial for the city. Data from the Milwaukee Police Department revealed 2021 saw more deaths by homicide than any other year in the city’s recorded history.

“At the local level, we don’t control gun law,” Johnson stated. “So we need our partners at the state level to be here with us. To work on that issue to make sure that guns don’t end up in the hands of people who would cause death harm and destruction.”

The Democrat also said in his administration, he wants to focus on “creating jobs” and ferociously manage the coronavirus. Since the pandemic, the Our World in Data in conjunction with The New York Times reports the city has had 268,000 infections and 2,278 deaths related to the COVID-19 virus.

As a lifelong resident of the city, he says the experiences that he gave living and serving the community are “woven into [his] DNA.”

In his victory speech, he said, “I carry that with me. So, whether I’m meeting with school kids, the men and women who sweep the streets, or corporate CEOs, that carries with me, and my calling is service.”

“I am a son of this city, and now we must continue our work and our next step is to listen. We know that safety and prosperity are the guideposts. We need every idea we get in order to achieve our goals,” he continued. “No idea is too small; no idea is too big. I want to hear from everyone.”

When addressing the historicity of him being the first African American to hold this position in the city, he said, “My election, I think, is further beginning to normalize what it means for people of color to have access to the seat of power.”

Back to top