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Burlington Mayoral Candidates Participate In Virtual Forum

The Black Lives Matter flag flies in front of Burlington City Hall
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Burlington City Hall (file)

Burlington voters will elect a mayor on Town Meeting Day, March 2nd.  The incumbent Democrat and his challengers met recently for a virtual forum hosted by one of the city’s neighborhood planning assemblies.
The Burlington, Vermont ward system includes what are called Neighborhood Planning Assemblies, or NPAs. They are described by the city as grassroots groups that help improve communication and encourage residents to participate with city government.

The steering committees of Ward 2 and 3, which encompasses the city’s Old North End, hosted a forum between the mayoral candidates. Democratic Mayor Miro Weinberger is seeking his fourth term. Independent candidate and Ward 7 councilor Ali Dieng and Progressive City Council President Max Tracy participated in the virtual event.

In his opening comments, Dieng said the city needs a trustworthy leader.  “It is all about implementing that vision that is fair and equitable for the city that works for every single person that live here. And also a city that seeks to eradicate all systems of oppressions. A city that strives for a sustainable economy as well as the safety and well-being of people that live here. And most importantly fiscal responsibility.”

Tracy says the pandemic has shown the value and strength of community.  “I want to be a mayor that brings our community together around these shared values of equity and justice and making sure that we are not only addressing the basic needs of our neighbors in the context of this pandemic but also  making real progress on the pressing issues of our time.”

Weinberger said experience is necessary as the city grapples with multiple simultaneous crises.  “A pandemic, a historic recession, a long-overdue reckoning on racial justice and an accelerating climate emergency. Moments like this demand proven leadership.”

The candidates were asked several questions pertaining to controversy surrounding the city police department and moves by the city council to reduce staffing and revise its oversight.  Progressive Tracy began the discussion.  “What we need to do is continue to lean into efforts to transform policing in this in our city by transitioning armed officer roles to more direct social supports aimed at dire community needs like trauma informed mental health responses.”
Moderator Patrick Johnson:  “Mr. Mayor?”
Weinberger:  “Public safety needs to be one of the very top priorities.  I am concerned that decisions made by the city council over my objections last summer have put that in jeopardy.  I think there were changes made to the police department without a plan and as a result we’re heading into a period here of real uncertainty about whether we’re going continue to be able to answer all the calls that the people of Burlington make to the Police Department.”
Johnson:  “Ali would you like to?”
Dieng:  “Thank you. It should not be about the police itself. We have to talk about what we call public safety. And we cannot transform the police by reducing it through attrition.”

The trio was asked what concrete steps the city could take to address the climate crisis.  It led to a discussion on what Mayor Weinberger called a pioneering decarbonizing charter change proposal that would allow the city council to regulate thermal heating systems.  “So it would give us the ability to really nudge buildings away from fossil fuels towards alternative energy.”
Tracy: “I do also support this charter change. I think that it’s important that we continue to incentivize and create ways for us to not have additional fossil fuel infrastructure built related to heating.”
Dieng:  “The yes vote for the thermal energy ballot item will not increase your taxes.  But ultimately that’s what it will do over time. The city will come back again requesting for people to switch or be taxed.”

Audio is courtesy of Channel 17 Town Meeting Television.

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