Tom Barrett (Wisconsin politician)

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Tom Barrett
Tom Barrett for Wisconsin.jpg
44th Mayor of Milwaukee
Assumed office
April 19, 2004
Preceded byMarvin Pratt (acting)
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Wisconsin's 5th district
In office
January 3, 1993 – January 3, 2003
Preceded byJim Moody
Succeeded byJim Sensenbrenner
Member of the Wisconsin Senate
from the 5th district
In office
December 13, 1989 – January 3, 1993
Preceded byMordecai Lee
Succeeded byPeggy Rosenzweig
Member of the Wisconsin State Assembly
from the 14th district
In office
January 7, 1985 – December 13, 1989
Preceded byThomas Crawford
Succeeded byDavid Cullen
Personal details
Thomas Mark Barrett

(1953-12-08) December 8, 1953 (age 67)
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Kris Barrett
EducationUniversity of Wisconsin, Madison (BA, JD)
WebsiteCity website

Thomas Mark Barrett (born December 8, 1953) is an American politician and member of the Democratic Party who has served as the 44th Mayor of Milwaukee, Wisconsin since 2004.[1] He served in the United States House of Representatives from 1993 to 2003, and the Wisconsin State Senate from 1989 to 1993. He previously served in the Wisconsin State Assembly from 1984 until 1989.

Barrett ran for Governor of Wisconsin in 2010, losing in the general election to Republican Scott Walker. Barrett ran for governor in the 2012 recall election and was defeated again by Walker.

Early life, education, and early career[edit]

Barrett is the oldest son of Gertrude Virginia (of German and English descent) and Thomas J. Barrett (of Irish descent). His father was a World War II veteran who was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1944 for 30 missions over Germany as a navigator. His mother was a war widow when she met his father at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. They married and moved to Milwaukee, where Barrett was born.[2] He grew up on the city's west side.[3]

Barrett graduated from Marquette University High School,[4] and went on to earn his Bachelor of Arts in economics from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1976; and his Juris Doctor from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1980. He helped put himself through college and law school by working on the Harley-Davidson assembly line. After law school, Barrett served as a law clerk for Judge Robert W. Warren on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin from 1980 to 1982. He later entered into private practice and served as a bank examiner for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.[5]

State Assembly and Senate[edit]

Barrett made his first run for office at the age of 28 for the Wisconsin State Assembly in 1982, but was unsuccessful. He ran again in 1984, this time successfully,[6] and served two terms before making a successful run for the Wisconsin State Senate in a December 1989 special election.[7][8] He continued to serve in the State Senate until moving to higher office in 1993.[9]

U.S. House of Representatives[edit]

Barrett in 1997

In 1992, after Congressman Jim Moody announced his intention to run for the United States Senate, Barrett successfully ran to succeed him. Barrett was reelected four more times to represent Wisconsin's 5th congressional district,[10] which covered downtown and north Milwaukee.

While in Congress, Barrett served on the Committee on Energy and Commerce, as well as the Government Reform Committee, Financial Services Committee, Ways and Means Committee, and the House Administration Committee.[11]

As a Congressman, Barrett worked with his colleagues to secure aid for flood remediation projects in his district. He also worked to modernize the Community Reinvestment Act, and frequently voiced his support of Milwaukee's Midwest Express Airlines.[12]

Barrett sponsored 37 bills and co-sponsored 1345 bills between January 5, 1993 and October 10, 2002.[13] Barrett was a delegate to the 2000 Democratic National Convention from Wisconsin.[14]

Mayor of Milwaukee[edit]

In 2004, Barrett ran successfully for Mayor of Milwaukee, defeating incumbent Acting Mayor Marvin Pratt, who took office following the resignation of John Norquist. Barrett was re-elected in 2008 with 79% of the vote, the largest percentage a Mayoral candidate had received in 40 years.[15] In 2012 he was subsequently re-elected against challenger Edward McDonald with over 70% of the vote.[16] In 2016, Barrett was re-elected with 70% of the vote over conservative 8th District Alderman Robert Donovan.[17] In 2020, Barrett was reelected to a fifth term.[18]

On February 25, 2009, Barrett gave his State of the City Address. Where he praised the city's past achievements and outlined his plan to increase green jobs, economic development and workforce training in the coming year. Barrett called on the citizens of Milwaukee to remain optimistic during the international economic downturn; "I am fully confident that Milwaukee will withstand the current economic downturn," Barrett said. "We will make smart investments, continue to build strong partnerships, provide training to our workforce and improve our public schools. We will emerge as a stronger and more competitive city."[19]

Barrett met with Vice President of the United States Joe Biden and testified before the United States House Transportation Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment when he traveled to Washington, D.C. on March 18, 2009. Barrett attended a White House Recovery and Reinvestment Act Implementation Conference hosted by Biden. The conference addressed questions from state, county, and local government officials on how to effectively oversee the spending of Recovery Act funds.[19]

Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle and Mayor Tom Barrett, joined by Superintendent of Public Instruction of Wisconsin Elizabeth Burmaster, announced a broad effort improve the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). The announcement followed the completion of a comprehensive independent review of the finances and non-instructional operations of MPS commissioned by the Governor and Mayor in October 2008.[20]

In 2013, he was one of nine mayors who established July 15 as Social Media Giving Day, encouraging citizens to support charities via social media.[21]

Mayor Barrett has enacted his vision for a greener Milwaukee through the formation of Milwaukee’s Green Team the establishment of Milwaukee’s Office of Sustainability. The Office of Sustainability promotes cost-effective environmental sustainability practices that meet Milwaukee’s urgent environmental, economic and social needs while enhancing long-term economic growth. He is also one of the region’s greatest champions for the Great Lakes and previously served as Co-Chair of the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, an binational organization of mayors and other local officials that works actively to advance the protection and restoration of the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River.

Mayor Barrett led Milwaukee in its successful bid to host the 2020 Democratic National Convention.

During the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, Barrett took a number of actions. On March 23, citing concerns of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Mayor Barrett sent a letter to Governor Tony Evers, State Senate Majority Leader Scott L. Fitzgerald and Speaker of the State House Robin Vos, requesting that the April 7 elections (including the mayoral election, as well as Wisconsin's presidential primaries and others races) be conducted using mail-in ballots only.[22] Barrett lent his backing to a proposal authored by the Department of City Development under which business improvement districts would be allowed to spend money on assisting companies and property owners hurt by the pandemic without needing Common Council approval.[23] Barrett lobbied the United States Army Corps of Engineers to establish a care facility at the Wisconsin State Fair Park.[24]

Gubernatorial bids[edit]


Barrett decided to run for governor in 2002 when he decided to leave Washington D.C. after nearly a decade of service in the U.S. House of Representatives. He did so as a means spend more time in Milwaukee and Wisconsin with his family. Additionally, Wisconsin had lost a seat after the 2000 Census, and the new map resulted in Barrett's district being merged with the 4th district on the other side of Milwaukee, represented by fellow Democrat Jerry Kleczka. Although the merged 4th was more Barrett's district than Kleczka's, Barrett announced his candidacy for governor in 2001, effectively handing the merged 4th to Kleczka.[25]

In a heated Democratic primary, Barrett came in a close second to then-Attorney General Jim Doyle, who went on to win the general election.[26]


Barrett speaks with a Wisconsin dairy farmer

In August 2009, Doyle announced his decision to not seek reelection to a third term in 2010, leading many to believe Barrett would run for governor.[27] On August 25, a group named "Wisconsin for Tom Barrett" formed, encouraging Barrett to run.[28] On October 26, a website,, was launched after Barbara Lawton, the Lieutenant Governor, backed out.[29] A story in The Politico reported that President Barack Obama's political director Patrick Gaspard met with Barrett on November 4, 2009, amid speculation that the White House wanted him to run for Governor of Wisconsin.[30]

Barrett ended months of speculation by officially announcing on November 15, 2009, that he would enter the race for governor.[31] Barrett's campaign raised more than $750,000 in its first seven weeks. In an e-mail thanking supporters, Barrett said his campaign had more than $1.5 million in the bank, a significant start given that he did not declare candidacy for the Democratic primary until November 15, 2009.[32] Barrett ultimately lost the election to Scott Walker.[33]

2010 election for Governor of Wisconsin [34]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Scott Walker 1,128,941 52.3
Democratic Tom Barrett 1,004,303 46.5

2012 recall election[edit]

After the contentious collective bargaining dispute,[35] Walker's disapproval ratings varied between 50 and 51%, while his approval ratings varied between 47 and 49% in 2011.[36][37] In a survey of 768 Wisconsin voters conducted between February 24–27, 2011, during the 2011 Wisconsin budget protests, a poll by Public Policy Polling found that 52% of respondents said they would vote for Barrett if the election had been held then, while 45% said they would vote for Walker.[38][39] Wisconsin law made Walker eligible for recall beginning January 3, 2012, and the Wisconsin Democratic Party had called it a "priority" to remove him from office, although the signatures on the petitions were not verified.

Barrett ended months of speculation by officially announcing on March 30, 2012, that he would enter the race for governor.[40] The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Wisconsin Education Association Council, which already supported another Democrat who had announced, had met with Barrett in late December 2011 and tried unsuccessfully to keep him from entering the race.[41] On May 8, Barrett won the Democratic primary for the recall election.[42]

A Marquette Law School Poll released on May 30 (mirroring other polling outlets) had Barrett trailing Walker 52-45% among likely voters. The results represent a six-point increase for Walker over Barrett since Marquette's earlier poll in late April. The poll's margin of error for likely voters was plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.[43] Odysseas, a contributor to the progressive blog Daily Kos, had questioned if the Marquette University Law school poll oversampled "right wingers." For example, a poll by Public Policy Polling conducted May 11–13 gave Republicans a 7% edge over Democrats in terms of likely voters, unlikely given Wisconsin voter registration patterns. However, in retrospect the Marquette poll accurately reflected the Wisconsin electorate's vote.[44][45] However, the same poll showed President Obama holding a lead over Mitt Romney 51–43. On May 21, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel endorsed Scott Walker over Barrett arguing "[there is] no reason to remove Walker from office." The Journal-Sentinel had previously endorsed Walker over Barrett in 2010.[46] Walker defeated Barrett in the June 5 recall election by garnering 53.2%-46.3%,[47] a similar margin to the 2010 election. Walker thus became the first Governor in US history to survive a recall election.[42]

Wisconsin gubernatorial recall election, 2012[48]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Republican Scott Walker (incumbent) 1,335,585 53.08% -0.79%
Democratic Tom Barrett 1,164,480 46.28% -0.24%
Independent Hariprasad Trivedi 14,463 0.57% N/A
n/a Write-ins 1,537 0.06% +0.06%
Total votes '2,516,065' '100.0%' N/A
Republican hold

Personal life[edit]

Barrett and his wife still live in Milwaukee's Washington Heights neighborhood, blocks away from his childhood home, where they raised their four, now adult, children Tommy, Annie, Erin, and Kate; who all attended Milwaukee German Immersion School.[3]

2009 Wisconsin State Fair attack[edit]

Barrett was the subject of national news headlines when he was attacked outside the Wisconsin State Fair on August 15, 2009, by a man wielding a pipe. Barrett and some family members were leaving the fair when he responded to a woman's cries for help. They encountered a man and a woman in a heated confrontation and, while the mayor called police, the man, 20-year-old Anthony J. Peters, attacked him with a pipe. Barrett was hospitalized after the incident and again later for reconstructive surgery for his hand.[49] Governor Jim Doyle visited Barrett in the hospital the next morning and said he "found him to be in good spirits and looking good considering what happened... The Mayor's heroic actions clearly saved a woman and others from harm", Doyle said in a statement. Peters was arrested the next day.[49] Both President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden telephoned Barrett in the hospital to inquire as to his condition; Obama told Barrett that he went above the call of duty and said he was proud of Barrett's actions. Barrett's injuries included broken teeth, a permanently damaged hand, and blows to the head where he was struck with the pipe.[50] Peters plead guilty and was sentenced to 12 years in prison and a further 10 years of supervision.[51]

Electoral history[edit]

US House of Representatives[edit]

U.S. House, 5th District of Wisconsin (General Election)[52]
Year Winning candidate Party Pct Opponent Party Pct
1992 Tom Barrett Democratic 57% Donalda Ann Hammersmith Republican 43%
1994 Tom Barrett (inc.) Democratic 58% Stephen Hollingshead Republican 42%
1996 Tom Barrett (inc.) Democratic 67% Paul D. Melotik Republican 33%
1998 Tom Barrett (inc.) Democratic 73% Jack Melvin Republican 27%
2000 Tom Barrett (inc.) Democratic 72% Johnathan Smith Republican 28%

Mayor of Milwaukee[edit]

Milwaukee Mayoral Election (General Election)
Year Winning candidate Party Pct Opponent Party Pct
2004 Tom Barrett Democratic 54% Marvin Pratt Democratic 46%
2008 Tom Barrett (inc.) Democratic 79% Andrew Shaw Independent 20%
2012 Tom Barrett (inc.) Democratic 70% Edward C. McDonald Independent 29%
2016 Tom Barrett (inc.) Democratic 70% Robert Donovan Republican 30%
2020 Tom Barrett (inc.) Democratic 63% Lena Taylor Democratic 37%

Gubernatorial bids[edit]

2012 Wisconsin gubernatorial recall election (General Election)
Winning candidate Party Pct Opponent Party Pct
Scott Walker (inc.) Republican 53% Tom Barrett Democratic 46%
Wisconsin gubernatorial recall election, 2012 (Democratic Primary)
Winning candidate Party Pct Opponent Party Pct
Tom Barrett Democratic 58% Kathleen Falk Democratic 34%
Wisconsin gubernatorial election, 2010 (General Election)
Winning candidate Party Pct Opponent Party Pct
Scott Walker Republican 52% Tom Barrett Democratic 47%
Wisconsin gubernatorial election, 2010 (Democratic Primary)[53]
Winning candidate Party Pct Opponent Party Pct
Tom Barrett Democratic 91% Tim John Democratic 10%
Wisconsin gubernatorial election, 2002 (Democratic Primary)
Winning candidate Party Pct Opponent Party Pct Opponent Party Pct
Jim Doyle Democratic 38% Tom Barrett Democratic 34% Kathleen Falk Democratic 27%

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Mayor Barrett's Biography". City of Milwaukee. Archived from the original on April 29, 2013. Retrieved October 3, 2012.
  2. ^ Barrett, Tom (October 30, 2010). "Needed: A straight shooter and a real record". Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
  3. ^ a b "Mayor Barrett's Biography". City of Milwaukee. Archived from the original on April 29, 2013. Retrieved May 9, 2012.
  4. ^ Olson, Drew (July 19, 2007). "Happy B-Day, Hilltoppers: Marquette High turns 150". On Milwaukee.
  5. ^ Spicuzza, Mary (April 29, 2012). "Tom Barrett: Milwaukee mayor wants to end 'civil war'". Wisconsin State Journal.
  6. ^ "Members of State Legislature". State of Wisconsin 1985-1986 blue book: Biographies and pictures. p. 31. Retrieved March 2, 2011.
  7. ^ David E. Umhoefer (December 13, 1989). "Barrett wins easily in State Senate race". Milwaukee Journal. Retrieved March 2, 2011.
  8. ^ "Members of the State Legislature". State of Wisconsin 1991-1992 blue book: Biographies and photos. p. 30. Retrieved March 2, 2011.
  9. ^ James B. Nelson (November 4, 1992). "Barrett easily defeats Hammersmith in 5th". Milwaukee Sentinel. Retrieved March 2, 2011.
  10. ^ "Tom Barrett". NNDB. Retrieved March 2, 2011.
  11. ^ "The House Committee on Energy and Commerce: Welcome". Archived from the original on July 8, 2010. Retrieved July 12, 2010.
  12. ^ "Legislation could benefit Midwest Express". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. October 15, 1998.
  13. ^ "Congressman Tom Barrett - At Work for Wisconsin". Archived from the original on December 12, 2002. Retrieved July 12, 2010.
  14. ^ Lawrence Kestenbaum. "Index to Politicians: Barre to Barrett". The Political Graveyard. Retrieved March 2, 2011.
  15. ^ "Mayor Barrett's Biography". city of Milwaukee, Office of the Mayor. Archived from the original on April 29, 2013. Retrieved March 2, 2011.
  16. ^ "Tom Barrett re-elected as Milwaukee mayor". Associated Press. April 3, 2012.
  17. ^ "April 2016 Wisconsin presidential primary and spring election results". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved April 7, 2016.
  18. ^ Dirr, Alison (April 13, 2020). "Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett easily wins reelection in race against Lena Taylor". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved April 13, 2020.
  19. ^ a b "Mayor Barrett Delivers 2011 State of the City Address". Office of Mayor Tom Barrett. City of Milwaukee. February 21, 2011. Archived from the original on October 17, 2010. Retrieved March 2, 2011.
  20. ^ "Toward a Stronger Milwaukee Public Schools: Message from Governor Jim Doyle and Mayor Tom Barrett" (PDF). Milwaukee Public Schools. April 2009 – via The Bay View Compass.
  21. ^ "Hey, Put Your Twitter Where Your Mouth Is". Retrieved January 25, 2015.
  22. ^ "Milwaukee mayor suggests April 7 election be modified to 'vote by mail'". WITI. March 24, 2020. Retrieved April 1, 2020.
  23. ^ Silver, Maayan (March 31, 2020). "Milwaukee Mayoral Candidate Lena Taylor Says Inequality Is The Main Thing We Need To Change". WUWM. Retrieved April 3, 2020.
  24. ^ Dirr, Alison (April 2, 2020). "Milwaukee officials ask for coronavirus care facility to be built on State Fair grounds". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved April 3, 2020.
  25. ^ Kurt Chandler (February 22, 2010). "No More Mr. Nice Guy". Milwaukee Magazine.
  26. ^ Schultze, Steve; Walters, Steven (September 14, 2002). "Mayor, county executive races hold little appeal, Barrett says". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  27. ^ Lee Bergquist; et al. (August 15, 2009). "Doyle won't seek re-election in 2010". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Archived from the original on June 30, 2012. Retrieved March 2, 2011.
  28. ^ "New Group Supports Tom Barrett For Governor". WISN Milwaukee. August 25, 2009. Archived from the original on March 20, 2012. Retrieved March 2, 2011.
  29. ^ "Wisconsin Governor Race: 15-year-old Sheboygan Democrat gathers online support for possible Barrett campaign". WITI. November 4, 2009. Archived from the original on November 26, 2009. Retrieved July 12, 2010.
  30. ^ Alexander Burns and Carol E. Lee (November 15, 2009). "Gaspard, Barrett meet amid 2010 buzz". Politico. Retrieved March 2, 2011.
  31. ^ Lee Bergquist (November 14, 2009). "Barrett says he's healed, ready to run for governor". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved March 2, 2011.
  32. ^ Scott Anderson (January 6, 2010). "Barrett's gubernatorial campaign shows financial muscle despite late start". Racine Journal Times. Wisconsin State Journal. Retrieved March 2, 2011.
  33. ^ Governor's Race: Walker Beats Barrett[dead link]
  34. ^ "Election 2010; Wisconsin". The New York Times. Retrieved November 18, 2018.
  35. ^ Recall Election Tests Strategies for November April 28, 2012
  36. ^ Marley, Patrick (September 20, 2011). "New poll reflects divide on bargaining limits". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved January 21, 2012.
  37. ^ "Wisconsin Recall Prospects Dimming". Public Policy Polling. October 26, 2011. Retrieved January 21, 2012.
  38. ^ "Wisconsin Rematch Survey Results February 24–27" (PDF). Public Policy Polling. Archived from the original (PDF) on May 10, 2011. Retrieved March 2, 2011.
  39. ^ Jon Terbush (February 28, 2011). "Poll: Wisconsin Voters Wouldn't Elect Gov. Walker In Do-Over". TPMDC. Retrieved March 2, 2011.
  40. ^ "Barrett announces run in Wisconsin recall". POLITICO. Retrieved June 3, 2012.
  41. ^ "Labor group's pro-Falk TV ads vanish". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved June 3, 2012.
  42. ^ a b Bauer, Scott (May 9, 2012). "Milwaukee mayor to face Walker in Wis. Recall". Associated Press.[permanent dead link]
  43. ^ "Marquette Law School Poll finds Walker leads Barrett in Wisconsin recall". Marquette University Law School. May 30, 2012.
  44. ^ "Scott Walker leads new Wisconsin recall poll". ABC News. Archived from the original on May 31, 2012. Retrieved June 3, 2012.
  45. ^ "Marquette poll on Wisconsin Recall oversampling right wingers?!". Daily Kos.
  46. ^ "We recommend Walker; his removal isn't justified". Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Retrieved June 3, 2012.
  47. ^ Terkel, Amanda (June 5, 2012). "Scott Walker Defeats Tom Barrett In Wisconsin Recall Election (UPDATE)". Huffington Post.
  48. ^
  49. ^ a b Chuck Johnston. "Arrest made in attack on Milwaukee mayor". CNN. Retrieved March 2, 2011.
  50. ^ "Barrett lost teeth in battle with suspect". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. August 17, 2009. Retrieved March 2, 2011.
  51. ^ [1]
  52. ^ Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives. "Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives". Retrieved January 25, 2015.
  53. ^ "Wisconsin Gubernatorial Primary Results". Politico. September 14, 2010. Retrieved September 14, 2010.

External links[edit]

Media related to Tom Barrett (politician) at Wikimedia Commons

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Jim Moody
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Wisconsin's 5th congressional district

Succeeded by
Jim Sensenbrenner
Political offices
Preceded by
Marvin Pratt
Mayor of Milwaukee
Party political offices
Preceded by
Jim Doyle
Democratic nominee for Governor of Wisconsin
2010, 2012
Succeeded by
Mary Burke