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Progressive Joe Magee Wins Burlington Ward 3 Special Election

Progressive Joe Magee wins Ward 3 special election
Joe Magee for Ward 3
Progressive Joe Magee wins Ward 3 special election

A progressive has won Tuesday’s special election for the seat vacated by a fellow progressive on the Burlington, Vermont City Council.

In May, Ward 3 Progressive City Councilor Brian Pine resigned his seat after his appointment to lead the Burlington Community and Economic Development Office was ratified. Three people ran in Tuesday’s special election for the seat: Independent Owen Milne, Progressive Joe Magee and Republican Christopher-Aaron Felker.

Turnout was low with 22 percent of eligible voters, or 1,011 ballots, cast in the ward. Progressive Magee won.

“We had a message of raising the minimum wage here in Burlington and advocating for more affordable housing that I think resonated with a lot of folks.”

Party Chair Josh Wronski says the Ward 3 seat has been held by a Progressive since the 1980’s and is historically a big part of the party’s base.

“Joe ran on a very clear platform of continuing to advance a progressive agenda and advocating for policies that will make Burlington more affordable, things like living wages for working class people.”

According to the unofficial results released by the city clerk’s office Magee received 475 votes, Milne 397 and Felker 136. That means Magee’s two challengers combined received nearly 6 percent more of the vote.

Former Republican city council president Republican Kurt Wright says the Progressively controlled council should pay attention to what he considers a close result.

“In a ward that’s very left, very dominated by Progressives and has been for many decades, the results certainly did not produce a mandate for the Progressives or Joe Magee." Wright continues "So no question Joe Magee is the winner. He’ll join the council. But there’s a message actually for the Progressives there. More people voted against their candidate and voted for candidates that have had different views on policing and public safety than they do.”

But Progressive Chair Wronski downplays the numbers showing Magee behind the combined numbers of his challengers.

“We’re looking at an 8 percent margin and there are close elections all the time. This is certainly not the closest election we’ve had in Ward 3 even, " said Wronski. "It’s just part of politics and this was a very low turn out election. And we typically don’t do as well when turn out’s low.”

Wright, meanwhile, believes that the results are tied to growing public safety concerns after Progressives on the council approved a cap on the number of police officers.

“It’s really compromised public safety and it’s going to get worse. This group of city councilors are really much farther left and are really in some ways certainly in regard to policing I think are you know somewhat militant and extremist.”

Magee says he heard from a lot of voters who said while community safety is important, it was not their priority.

“I think a lot of folks recognize that we do need to continue to transition away from status quo policing. And you know I think there’s a conversation that we need to have about the changes that need to be made in the police department as we continue to invest in mental health services here in Burlington and other community supports that meet people’s most basic needs.”

Middlebury College Professor of Political Science Bert Johnson says public safety has been the dominant issue throughout the city this summer. Magee’s win, he says, superficially represents progressive continuity on the city council.

“It would be wise probably for Progressives be a little bit cautious about how they respond to the upcoming report on policing and staffing and especially how they speak about what they’re trying to do.”

Magee will serve until the end of the current term April 4th, 2022.