Candidates for Chittenden County State’s Attorney debate
The Chittenden County State’s Attorney is being challenged by another Democrat as she runs for re-election. The two candidates met recently in a MyNBC-5 debate in Burlington, Vermont.
Chittenden County is Vermont’s most populous with some of the state’s largest cities, including Burlington, South Burlington, and Winooski. This year the race for the state’s attorney position is under scrutiny as crime and shootings in the Burlington area increase – the latest resulting in a homicide.
Questions were submitted by members of the debate sponsors: the Vermont Retail and Grocers Association, the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Burlington Business Association and the South Burlington Business Association.
Incumbent Sarah George has been the county’s top prosecutor since 2017. She says the current system does not work for many people.
“I have spent the last five and a half years as the Chittenden County State’s Attorney working to change the way that our system does things, working to disrupt the status quo and implement policies that are more than just talk but actually impact people’s lives in a hopefully better way. Our system is still incredibly flawed and I look forward to continuing this work for the next four years.”
Attorney Ted Kenney has in the past worked in the state attorney general’s office and ran for state’s attorney in 2006. He said he’s running again because new policies are needed.
“Last year we had a record number of opiate overdose deaths and it wasn’t just a record we beat it by 33 percent. Last year crime in Burlington went up 10 percent. Grand larcenies went up by a five-year record. Burglaries in 2021 were increasing but the rate of prosecution actually went down. I would like to start by having what I call restorative justice with consequences. I am not a lock them up and throw away the key person but I also believe that we need to focus on the people who are the victims of crime.”
The debate often placed George on the defensive for actions or inaction pertaining to criminal incidents. Asked about the spike in gunfire incidents in Burlington, George said most of the cases have not been referred to her office.
“I can’t do anything on cases I don’t have in my office. And for the ones that have been solved those people are being held without bail pending trial, which is again a long way away given the backlog we have in COVID. So people’s rights are being entirely taken away when those cases are being solved. The evidence shows that jail actually makes people more likely to commit violent offenses in the future.”
Kenney retorted that while the state’s attorney cannot prosecute cases that haven’t been referred to the office, there are other options.
“The gunfire incidents I think are part of a bigger picture. Drug trafficking laws have to be enforced. But more than that the retail theft issues are driven by people who are struggling with opiate addiction. So we’re not going to be able to address the gun violence without addressing all of the other issues.”
Moderator Stuart Ledbetter read a question criticizing George’s record.
“A question from one of the members says you supported defund the police in Burlington and elsewhere, crime now rampant in Burlington. Are you happy with the decisions you made and the policies you’ve articulated?”
“I have not defunded the police," George noted. "I absolutely stand by my decisions to end cash bail and to presumptively decline all actions and crimes that disproportionately impact the people of color in our community. So not only do I support and stand by everything I’ve done but we have a lot more work to do.”
Moderator Stuart Ledbetter turned to the challenger: “Mr. Kenney.”
“The racial disparities in the system are huge," said Kenney, "and they do need to be addressed. I will say that when the defund the police movement was just beginning the state’s attorney did tweet in favor of that.”
There is no Republican candidate in the race for Chittenden County State’s Attorney.
The primary is August 9th.