Senate approves Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett’s nomination to US ambassador to Luxembourg

Common Council President Cavalier Johnson will serve as interim Milwaukee Mayor until spring election

Tom Barrett gestures as he speaks to reporters wearing a face mask
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett speaks to reporters Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, in the Wisconsin Center, a space where COVID-19 vaccines will be administered to public employees. Angela Major/WPR

The U.S. Senate on Thursday unanimously confirmed the nomination of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett to become ambassador to Luxembourg.

The vote came late Thursday evening after Republican U.S. Sen Ron Johnson released a statement saying he had worked with his Republican colleagues to ensure no one objected to the nomination.

Barrett said he had an inkling the nomination was being voted on, so he turned on CSPAN and watched his approval.

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During a press conference Thursday night, he said he’s only one of 10 people nominated by President Joe Biden to be approved. About 50 of Biden’s other nominees are held up in the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, which approved Barrett unanimously Wednesday. Biden announced Barrett’s nomination to serve as ambassador to the small European nation in August.

“It is a tremendous honor, it is a responsibility, and it is something I am very, very excited about,” Barrett said.

Milwaukee Common Council President Cavalier Johnson will serve as Milwaukee mayor until an election is held. Because Barrett was confirmed before Dec. 28, the Common Council could order a special election for his seat to coincide with the spring election — something Barrett said he’s hoping for because it will save taxpayers money.

As of Wednesday, seven people had filed papers to run for Barrett’s seat: Common Council President Johnson; Milwaukee Common Council Alder Marina Dimitrijevic; Milwaukee County Sheriff Earnell Lucas; former Milwaukee alder Robert Donovan, who unsuccessfully challenged Barrett in 2016; Swarmm Events founder Michael Sampson; activist and former Common Council candidate Nicholas McVey; and Sheila Conley-Patterson.

A primary election will be held Feb. 15, and the general election will be held April 5.

Barrett said he’s meeting with Johnson on Friday to begin the transfer of power, and said he’s confident the transition will be smooth.

In a statement, Johnson congratulated Barrett on his appointment and said he’s ready to step up and lead.

The next few months will be a test for Johnson, as one of the candidates running for Barrett’s seat. He said he wants to make Milwaukee safer and the economy and environment more sustainable. This week, the city had its 192nd murder, surpassing its homicide rate for a second year in a row.

“We will create more family-supporting jobs, and will continue building on our successes, while rising to address our challenges,” Johnson said in a statement.

Barrett, 67, is one of the country’s longest-serving big city mayors — serving for nearly 18 years. He was elected to his fifth term as mayor in April 2020. He first became mayor in 2004, when he defeated incumbent Mayor Marvin Pratt.

He said the ambassadorship is a dream come true.

“I’m not running from something, I’m running to something,” Barrett said. “I think we all recognize there are many chapters in life, and I’m very eager now to start this next chapter.”