First Challenger Comes Forward In Rutland Mayoral Race
Rutland’s embattled six-term mayor already has his first challenger. An economic development leader is the first to throw his hat into the race.
The head of the Rutland Downtown Partnership has officially announced that he is a candidate for mayor. Mike Coppinger has led the downtown economic development group for nearly 10 years. He is not a newcomer to politics, having challenged incumbent Christopher Louras back in 2007, coming in fifth in a field of six candidates. “This actually is my second run. I ran just about 10 years ago. I was on city council, the youngest one elected to city council in Rutland back then. And I ran as a 29 year old just coming off of the Board of Aldermen and wanting to see certain things change for the better in our community. So this is my second attempt. And I think you know just given where we are as a city and some of the issues that have kind of plagued both the Board of Aldermen and the mayor I think it’s time for a fresh new voice coming out of City Hall.”
Plans to resettle Syrian refugees in Rutland have been divisive and Coppinger says he would like to be a moderate voice between the two sides. “The Board of Aldermen had not been brought into this process earlier on and I hope in some small way I can help mend some of those fences and pull the public in a little bit more and to hopefully quell some of their fears. I also would like to see if there’s an opportunity to possibly ratchet back the program a little bit because I don’t believe that our economic system right now here in Rutland could take an endless amount of refugees to the area. Do I think we could help out with a hundred or maybe two hundred? Absolutely. I think we could and that’s the right thing to do. But I don’t think an endless amount the economic system and where we are right now could handle that.”
Coppinger adds that there are a number of issues he would like to address beyond the debate over refugee resettlement. “I think we need to do a better job marketing our region. Not only from the business aspect but also Vermont and certainly in Rutland County are seeing a huge drop off in population and if we cannot purposely grow our population here we’re not going to be able to sustain our economy let alone grow it. Also we can’t really grow very much as a city because we’re landlocked with Rutland Town all around us. So we need to utilize the properties within the city. Some of those are brownfields and others of ‘em have blighted type issues. And I’d like to get more creative and a little more progressive with some of those ideas and some of those strategies.”
Incumbent Mayor Christopher Louras, who says he is running for re-election, expects more individuals to enter the race. “I’m pretty confident there’s going to be three or possibly four people running. And that’s no issue with me because I never run against anyone. I run for the position. And my concern with anyone running against an incumbent like myself is the fact that the only reason individuals run for election against incumbents is to change things. And Rutland has seen such great success in revitalizing its neighborhoods, revitalizing its downtown and really transforming itself over the last several years that I’m concerned that any changes would not bode well for the city.”
Louras believes the controversy over refugee resettlement will not be a dominant issue in the campaign. He says voters will instead recognize that the successful initiatives of his administration will drive the future success of the city. “We can start from just the pure management of the city. When I came in in ’07 the city had a $5 million deficit. We’ve turned that around to a $2 million surplus. And the operational costs within the city have been streamlined. We’re more effective. We’re more efficient. And the taxpayers have recognized that in their wallet. Likewise we have established a number of long-term infrastructure improvement plans. And we’ve had a lot of success in the area of economic development and our economic vitality should not be put at risk by electing a new mayor.”
Mayoral and city council candidates in the city of Rutland do not have to run under any party affiliation. The election will be held on Town Meeting Day: March 7, 2017.