Overview Of Candidates In Rutland Mayoral Race
Rutland voters will go to the polls tomorrow on Town Meeting Day to elect a mayor. Three challengers are running against incumbent Christopher Louras. We take a look at the candidates and some of the issues.
Incumbent Christopher Louras is seeking his sixth two-year term. He is emphasizing his record of reversing a deficit, responding to the opioid epidemic, leading community transformation and welcoming refugees. “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 outlines numerous successes for the city over his 10 years in office. “When I came in in ’07 the city had a $5 million deficit. We’ve turned that around to a $2 million surplus and we’re more effective. We’re more efficient. Likewise we’ve established a number of long-term infrastructure improvement plans where there was no strategy before to rebuild our bridges, rebuild our streets, our aging water and sewer infrastructure. And we’ve had a lot of success in the area of economic development.”
Rutland Downtown Partnership Executive Director Mike Coppinger has led the economic development group for about 10 years. He is not a newcomer to politics, having served on the Board of Aldermen and challenging Louras in 2007. In this second mayoral run he says it’s time for a fresh perspective in city hall. “I think we need to do a better job marketing our region. Not only from the business aspect but also if we cannot purposely grow our population here we’re not going to be able to sustain our economy let alone grow it. And I’d like to get more creative and a little more progressive with some of those ideas and some of those strategies.”
One of Coppinger’s most controversial proposals is a call for a new tax. “We cannot grow the tax base as fast as we want. I’ve proposed, controversial but I’m here to tell people what I think they need to hear not what they want to hear, is establishing a 1 percent options tax. It’s an options tax which is in Rutland Town. It’s in Killington. It’s in Middlebury to help broaden and bring more money in so we can pay for infrastructure that we need which in the long run will help lower our budget.”
Kam Johnston ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2015 and this year is also on the ballot for city assessor, school commissioner and alderman. He says he’s the only candidate for mayor who wants to roll back taxes. “I’m the only candidate that you can sort-of support because everybody else either wants to increase taxes or the Louras budget went up 10 percent and the Louras-Allaire budget went up 5 percent. And so there are no budget cutters except me and the way you get business in is to be tax reducers, not tax increasers.”
David Allaire served six years in the Vermont House and 19 years on the Board of Aldermen. He unsuccessfully challenged Louras in 2013 and 2015. During a debate on economic development he alluded to the elephant in the room: the controversy over refugee resettlement in the city. “We all are well aware of what the issues are before us. Certainly what the city has gone through over the last year. There’s a divide, there is no consensus or a lack of consensus on how we should move forward. I have tried to provide a message and that message is: I will bring trust, transparency and leadership to city hall.”
Louras has defended his refugee resettlement efforts and said it will benefit the city. “This is a game changer for the city from a population and economic development perspective in addition to being the right thing to do.”
There is no party affiliation on the Rutland mayoral ballot. The polls will be open in Rutland on Tuesday from 7 a.m until 7 p.m. There are also four seats on the Board of Aldermen up for election with 17 candidates running.