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Write-In Campaign Complicates Burlington Ward Race

Burlington City Council President Kurt Wright
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Burlington City Council President Kurt Wright (file)

A write-in campaign has been mounted on behalf of an incumbent Burlington City Councilor who is not running for re-election because he would have to leave his job if he campaigns.
Republican Ward 4 and City Council President Kurt Wright has served as a Burlington city councilor since 1995 and has also represented Chittenden County in the state Legislature. In mid-December, he announced on his radio show that he would not run for re-election.  At the time he explained to WAMC that FCC guidelines would require him to leave his job as a radio host for several months.  “It was a tough call because I really had planned on running for reelection and wanted to run for reelection. I really didn't want to leave the council. And I also didn't want to leave the show. I'm reluctantly made the decision to not seek reelection.”

In the aftermath of his decision, constituents of his North End ward, including co-organizer Alex Farrell, have mounted a write-in campaign to re-elect the only Republican on the city council.  “Initially Kurt was not encouraging folks to pick up a write-in campaign on his behalf because of some of the people that he thought may jump in and run. But we kept poking and prodding him and he said you know what given the absence of new entrants into the race, he said yeah. And I'm sure he'll be happy that he doesn't have to be out knocking on doors because he can't be a part of the campaign. But it's, it's something that we're happy to do and we're glad that he's enthusiastic about it.”

That raises some questions.  Democratic challenger Sarah Carpenter says she was prepared to campaign against a challenger but calls the write-in situation a bit odd. “It's really awkward to run against a write-in candidate who said he’s sort of not really running himself. You know, there's not tons of debates, but there'll be at least three that I'm aware of and he won't be invited because he's not a candidate. So, you know it's, it's just an odd situation and I'm, I'm not quite sure how I'm going to approach it. I mean, I'm trying to get out and meet people and make sure people ask me questions so they know me well. But, you know as I said, it's awkward when you have sort of a non-candidate potentially winning.”

Asked about the write-in effort, Kurt Wright told WCAX news early this week that he was "…certainly not discouraging it. In some ways I'm enthusiastic about it.”  When contacted by WAMC Wright said the radio station he works for, WVMT, has asked him not to comment further because they are unsure how the write-in campaign affects FCC rules.

Champlain College Associate Professor of Broadcast Media Production Keith Oppenheim says the station and Kurt Wright are in a bit of a no-man’s land regarding FCC rules and the write-in effort.  “The idea of the equal time rule is so that candidates who have a radio or TV show or broadcasters don't get this unfair advantage. To say that he is in support of a write-in campaign, you know, he still has an opinion. He still has a voice. But he probably wants to be careful about how far he goes while this write-in campaign is going on. So I think the station is trying to figure out, you know, how much he can or cannot say in relation to this write-in campaign.”

This week Ericka Bundy Redic, who ran in 2019 for the North District seat, announced that she will seek the Ward 4 seat as an independent.  Attempts to reach her in time for broadcast were unsuccessful.