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Kenosha residents will elect just their third mayor in 3 decades

Mayor John Antaramian announced last year he isn't seeking another term

Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian stands at a podium with microphones
Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian. Photo courtesy David Cole/WGTD

Since 1992, only two mayors have served the city of Kenosha. Now, with current Mayor John Antaramian retiring, nine candidates are vying to be the city’s next top elected official.

It’s the first time residents will vote for a new mayor following the 2020 Kenosha police shooting of Jacob Blake, which led to days and nights of protests and unrest in the city. 

Local community leaders — many of whom say the election is an opportunity for change — are encouraged the race has drawn so much interest.

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Antaramian was first elected mayor in 1992. He served until 2008 when he stepped down and was replaced by Keith Bosman, who had previously been an alder. Bosman served two terms before he retired. Antaramian then ran again, returning to office in 2016 and remaining there ever since.

“So we’ve had two individuals — not singularly controlling the direction of the city — but the mayor of Kenosha has a lot of sway, a decent platform,” said Kyle Johnson, the political director for Black Leaders Organizing Communities. “So to have somebody new for the first time in at least a decade, it’s a big opportunity to foster in a new direction for the city.”

The nine mayoral candidates are Gregory Bennett Jr., David Bogdala, Elizabeth Garcia, Tony Garcia, Kelly MacKay, Andreas Meyer, Mary Morgan, Lydia Spottswood and Koerri Elijah Washington.

Washington, Bogdala and Spottswood were the first to declare their candidacy. Bogdala is the current alder of District 17, Spottswood is a city plan commissioner and Washington is a social media content creator who became widely known in the city when he livestreamed from his skateboard during the protests and rioting in 2020.

The candidates will face off against each other in the Feb. 20 primary election. The top two vote-getters will advance to the April election.

‘It’s just time to move on’

Antaramian, 69, led the city of about 100,000 people as it shifted from an auto manufacturing hub to a more diverse mix of residential development, small industry and warehousing. He spearheaded redevelopment of former industrial sites, including the transformation of the city’s lakefront from a former Chrysler factory into a mix of condominiums, museums and parks.

But he and city leaders also came under the glare of international media attention and the focus of many residents’ frustration following the Blake shooting, rioting and the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse.

Antaramian said he felt it was time to step down.

“It’s just time to move on. It’s time to let someone else come in, kick the tires and see what they do,” he said.

Antaramian hasn’t endorsed a candidate yet but said he plans to after the primary election. He said candidates should have a clear vision for the city.

“What is it you want to see? What is the stamp that you’re going to make on your community?” Antaramian said. 

Monica Cummings, an assistant minister at Bradford Community Church Unitarian Universalist and the vice president of Congregations United to Serve Humanity, or CUSH, said she wants the future mayor to be a leader for all Kenosha residents. 

“CUSH wants to see opportunities for everyone, no matter what the person’s socioeconomic status is. We want a Kenosha that’s going to work for everyone and not just a certain demographic,” Cummings said.  

James Hall, the president of the Urban League of Racine and Kenosha, is encouraged that two Black men — Gregory Bennett Jr. and Koerri Elijah — are running. He said it’s a sign that people of color want their voices to be heard. 

“There’s a change in power and they (people of color) feel that they should be a part of that, or at least have a say in the change of power,” Hall said.

Antaramian ran unopposed for mayor in 2020. This time around, several events and forums are being held throughout the city to get voters informed on where the nine candidates stand. Hall said a recent public forum with the candidates drew a standing-room only crowd. 

“It’s encouraging that we’re seeing this because it means more people are paying attention, more people are aware of what’s going on in the community,” Hall said. 

Antaramian also said he believes Kenosha is “fortunate” the city has only had two mayors in over three decades. 

“If you do not have longevity in the mayor’s position, you’re not going to get change, you’re not going to see things move forward,” he said. “Because if there’s no longevity, there’s no opportunity to do anything. Because every mayor comes in with a different focus, you end up going no place.” 

Public safety, transparency top of mind

Johnson, who has lived in Kenosha for five years, said residents are concerned about public safety. He’s also hearing about the need for more economic opportunities. 

“There’s still real valid concerns from folks that haven’t quite been answered by the current or previous administrations, so this election is that moment for us to really drive that narrative and have an agenda of how we’re going to meet people’s needs and improve people’s lives,” Johnson said. 

He said he would like to see improvement in police and community relations.

“We made progress since (2020), but at the same time, there’s still so much to do and this election is an opportunity to continue that journey of progress,” Johnson said. 

For Johnson, communication and transparency are key traits he wants to see in the next mayor.

“We can either continue the status quo of people and elected officials that have power in Kenosha (making) decisions and then folks fall in line and don’t question it, or we embark on a new road where there’s transparency, there’s good governance, there’s communication,” Johnson said.  

Cummings said CUSH will hold a public forum with the two front runners following the primary election. She said making sure there’s more affordable housing across the city and that Kenosha is more welcoming to LGBTQ+ people are important issues for her and for CUSH. 

“We need folks who are willing to work together, pulling in the same direction to make Kenosha equitable and welcoming and affirming for everyone,” Cummings said.