Milwaukee mayoral candidates held separate virtual forums but still clashed over coronavirus and the election

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Well, that certainly was different.

With the coronavirus pandemic shutting down campaigning and the April 7 election fast approaching, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and challenger Lena Taylor sat for separate interviews Monday in a virtual event conducted by the Wisconsin Policy Forum.

“It’s not the time for tumultuous upheaval in city government,” Barrett said, later adding he wants to be the “steady hand” that guides the city through the current crisis.

“He’s not passionate about the people. I am,” said Taylor, a state senator.

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In their separate appearances, the candidates clashed over the city’s response to the pandemic and the effect the public health crisis has had on voting.

“Every step of the way we have been very, very proactive,” Barrett said. “This is a worldwide pandemic that’s occurring right now and what you have seen is the city responding very, very quickly in many, many different areas.”

Barrett said his administration was quick to push for the closure of bars and restaurants and a stay-at-home order, while also trying to get the message out early about the impact the virus was having on the city’s north side.

Taylor said the mayor’s response to the crisis has lacked urgency. She said she has asked Gov. Tony Evers to help the city with “tracing” that is needed when people become infected with the COVID-19 virus and she is seeking greater involvement by Milwaukee County.

“I will tell you that if you look at the mayor’s history, whether that history is with the lead laterals or the lead issue with our children, he is always late to the party,” she said.

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Given the health situation, Barrett has urged state lawmakers to have a completely vote-by-mail election, which Republican Legislative leaders rejected.

Barrett said there is “no magic wand” forcing the election to end April 7 and the most “prudent” way to proceed would be to have mail-in ballots. He noted a federal court judge in Madison is hearing lawsuits on how to proceed with the election.

Meanwhile, the City of Milwaukee has a dire shortage of poll workers and officials are considering the consolidation of aldermanic districts into “voting centers,” to serve many more people in once place.

Taylor claimed that she was going to file suit against Barrett and Neil Albrecht, the Milwaukee Election Commission executive director, over how the election has played out. The city’s three in-person early-voting locations were closed because of health concerns and then one was re-opened as a drive-through site only.

Taylor said she never would have closed the early-voting locations.

“If I needed additional poll workers, I would have asked the National Guard to come in, I would have done a clarion call to the churches and people in the community to add nonprofit, city workers to come and do the work,” she said.

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Barrett defended his economic record and said he’ll be working with all parts of the community amid the aftermath of the pandemic.

“We are working around the clock to try to deal with both the public health issues that we’re facing and the economic issues that we’re facing,” he said. “Throw in the challenges with the election, this stuff is all-consuming.”

On the economy, Taylor attacked the mayor for a focus on downtown instead of neighborhoods and jabbed him for devoting so many resources to The Hop, the Milwaukee streetcar.

“The amount of unemployment among people of color has been horrible in the city,” she said. “And so this isn’t just about jobs for the city. This is about entrepreneurship and business development in the city.”

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