Milwaukee needs big changes to stem a declining population, boost the economy and become a top-tier city, the seven mayoral candidates told a Press Club forum.

The primary is Tuesday.

Responding to a question on what the city is missing as fellow liberal stronghold Madison grows, candidates at Turner Hall last night proposed a variety of solutions. Discrimination, segregation, low wages and younger, educated workers leaving the city are some of the problems candidates said the next mayor will need to address.

Blatant discrimination, a lack of affordable housing and other issues are major drivers behind those leaving, activist Ieshuh Griffin said.

“We have a foster care system that’s deplorable,” she said. “There’s a lot of different issues and a lot of different spectrums and I have a lot of ideas, but if we had equality and we eradicated discrimination, Milwaukee would be a top-tier city.”

Milwaukee County Sheriff Earnell Lucas said the city needs “a mayor who has a vision of how do we keep our young people here, young people who leave here for higher education and then don’t return.”

He added: “And then a mayor who has the vision of bringing employers here who invest in our city, who seek employees from neighborhoods here in the city of Milwaukee.”

While the overall population declined by roughly 18,000 residents, south side Ald. Marina Dimitrijevic took her chance to point out the city’s Latino population grew.

“Our Latino population, that I’ve had the honor to represent, is growing in very fast numbers,” she said. “So why don’t we look at some of the things that are working?”

She added she wants to make sure Milwaukee is the most welcoming city for anyone who wants to move there.

Segregation is a real problem, but Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, added people also need better job opportunities in the private and public sectors.

“The status quo protector leadership that we had before allowed us to lose ground,” she said. “We don’t need 2.0 of that. We need someone who is going to be willing to speak up and say something about the real issues that plague us.”

Better public safety, better education systems and cleaner streets would go a long way in former Ald. Bob Donovan’s eyes to improving neighborhoods, which he said would help stop people from leaving.

“I don’t think local government has been working effectively in Milwaukee for quite some time, and as mayor I want to get it working again,” he said. “I want safer streets and a great educational system. I want the garbage picked up from illegal dumping and you name it.”

Acting Mayor Cavalier Johnson juxtaposed Milwaukee’s problem with young college- educated rural Wisconsinites leaving their hometowns in search of a better life in major cities such as Houston, Dallas, Atlanta and Washington.

“Everybody needs to have an opportunity,” he said. “So we need to make sure we address the issues at the roots so we create that environment that’s teaming with safety for our families, with growth for our businesses, with family support opportunities for our citizens and stability in our neighborhoods.”

Business owner Michael Sampson said the city needs to develop its culture, stop condo owners from preventing progress Downtown and develop new businesses on the north side.

“If they don’t want loud noise, move to Brookfield, don’t live Downtown,” he said, referring to the condo owners.

He added the north side is a crucial part of the city.

“My focus is going to be business development on the north side of Milwaukee because if we lose the north side, we’re going to lose downtown and the city.” he said.

Watch the forum here.

See more on the mayoral race here.

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