Long-serving Milwaukee Ald. Michael Murphy will not seek re-election in 2024

Ald. Michael Murphy speaks during common council meeting at City Hall in Milwaukee.
Ald. Michael Murphy speaks during common council meeting at City Hall in Milwaukee.

Milwaukee Ald. Michael Murphy announced Monday he would not be seeking another term, marking the end of the longest tenure of any of the 15 members currently on the Common Council.

Murphy, who serves the 10th aldermanic district on the city's west side, was first elected in 1989. He is the third-longest serving council member in the city's history, after the 44 years of Cornelius Corcoran around the turn of the 20th century and the collective 36 years of John Koerner in spurts throughout the first half of the 1900s, according to the city.

In a letter that would be sent to his constituents, Murphy, 61, said the decision was not easy and that he had loved his job for the more than three decades he had served.

"As the firstborn American son of Irish immigrants, my parents instilled in me and my brothers and sister the responsibility of public service and helping those most in need," he wrote. "I’ve always tried to honor that principle and serve the people of Milwaukee with the hope of making our city better. I hope I did."

As he looked toward the end of his council tenure, Murphy spoke to his financial leadership at the city, his focus on issues as varied as the opioid crisis and housing, and the careers that the young people who served in his office have gone on to build.

City finance, including during the Great Recession, through line in career

On Monday, he said he felt he was leaving on a high note in terms of what he had accomplished and been able to provide to Milwaukeeans.

A constant in his tenure has been a focus on the city's finances, both on the council's powerful Finance and Personnel Committee and on the city's Annuity and Pension Board.

Jerry Allen, executive director of the Employes' Retirement System, said it would be difficult to replace Murphy's expertise and knowledge.

He recalled Murphy's 24 years on the pension board, including his 11 years as chairman of the Investment Committee. Allen said during the 2008 financial crisis it was largely due to Murphy's courage, discipline and composure that the board was able to avoid making panicked decisions.

"To me, that was his biggest contribution: A steady hand at the helm in a storm," Allen said.

Murphy was also the longtime chairman of the Finance and Personnel Committee, which has duties including providing budget recommendations each year to the Common Council after weeks of hearings with each city department. He served as the committee's vice-chairman from 2002 to 2004, and chairman from spring 2004 through February 2014 and from spring 2020 through May 2022, according to the city.

Murphy described himself as a Democrat who is fiscally conservative and socially more in the middle — though he noted his position and the bulk of issues that confront council members, such as snow removal, are nonpartisan.

"I also was respectful of the fact that we're not a wealthy city, there's a lot of poverty in this city," he said. "I am very concerned about people's ability to pay taxes and if they're able to stay in their homes."

He pointed to his push in the early 2000s to decrease the number of council members from 17 to its current 15, which at the time was expected to save $1.4 million over a four-year term, according to previous reporting from the Journal Sentinel.

And, he highlighted the MKE Plays initiative, which he founded to address neglect and disrepair at the city's playgrounds. He said he has raised $4 million in private money to renovate more than 20 playgrounds in the heart of the city. He plans to continue working on that effort even after he's left office, with the goal of renovating 52 Milwaukee playgrounds in his lifetime.

And, Murphy said, while he decided months ago not to seek re-election to the council, he is now weighing a run for city comptroller after Comptroller Aycha Sawa's announcement that she will not run for re-election in April.

Murphy currently chairs the council's Zoning, Neighborhoods, and Development Committee and sits on the Judiciary and Legislation Committee and the Finance and Personnel Committee.

He served as Common Council president from 2014 to 2016.

Murphy focused on reckless driving, opioids and more

Murphy over the years also took on issues such as housing, reckless driving and the opioid crisis, serving as chair of committees and task forces seeking to address those challenges.

Which issues he focused on, he said, largely came from the problems brought to him by constituents.

In the case of the opioid crisis, he said, a mother told him at a neighborhood meeting about her son's death to an overdose and the stigma that kept so many from discussing the issue. He went on to co-chair the City-County Heroin, Opioid, and Cocaine Task Force.

He also said he was proud of the work he had done in his district to build up the commercial corridors and to respond to the needs of his constituents.

Before he leaves office in April, he said he wants to hold an opiate summit that brings the best practices around the country to Milwaukee and try to get a budget amendment passed to reduce the streetlighting fee in 2024.

"The other areas I want to work on are just in my own neighborhoods to make sure that things are in a good spot for people and for whoever takes over my seat," he said.

Announcement follows other council departures in recent years

His announcement follows that of District 11 Ald. Mark Borkowski, who said in August that he would not be seeking re-election this April.

District 2 Ald. Mark Chambers Jr., District 4 Ald. Robert Bauman, District 5 Ald. Lamont Westmoreland and District 14 Ald. Marina Dimitrijevic have so far filed to run for re-election.

The spring election will be held April 2 with primaries, if needed, on Feb. 20.

Last year, five members of the Common Council departed for various reasons. Two of the seats that came open were filled in the November election, while three were filled in April this year.

Alison Dirr can be reached at adirr@jrn.com.

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Milwaukee Ald. Michael Murphy will not seek re-election in 2024