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Recapping the Democratic primary for Chittenden County State’s Attorney

Chittenden County State's Attorney candidates
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Incumbent Sarah George (left) and Ted Kenney are running for Chittenden County State's Attorney

A primary race that many voters often don’t pay attention to is one of the most watched in Vermont this year. Tuesday’s contest for Chittenden County State’s Attorney is under scrutiny as crime and shootings in the Burlington area increase.

Democrat Sarah George was appointed Chittenden County State’s Attorney by Governor Phil Scott in 2017 and then elected to a four-year term in 2018.

Primary challenger Ted Kenney is a former president of the Vermont Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and also served as Human Services Division Chief in the Attorney General’s Office. He ran for the state’s attorney seat in 2006.

George is a member of Fair & Just Prosecution, a national organization that promotes criminal justice reform such as ending cash bail and restorative justice. During a MyNBC-5 debate she said Vermont’s system needs reform.

“Our system does not work for a lot of people who come through it,” George said. “I have spent the last five-and-a-half years as the Chittenden County State’s Attorney working to disrupt the status quo and implement polices that are more than just talk but actually impact people’s lives in a hopefully better way.”

Kenney advocates reforms, but disagrees with those supported by the incumbent.

“Last year we had a record number of opiate overdose deaths and it wasn’t just a record we beat it by 33 percent,” Kenney said. “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.”

When asked about the root of crimes occurring across Chittenden County, including assaults in hospital emergency rooms, the attempted theft of a city fire truck, retail theft and other incidents, George responded that her office is not the solution.

“What those folks need is services in this community,” George said. “Of course, they need accountability but that looks different for each person. But ultimately these people, especially in the last two-and-a-half years due to COVID, having nothing to do with the policies of my office but entirely due to the incredible amount of people who are houseless right now; people who are struggling to find work; and all of the other woes and issues that have come with the pandemic are being scapegoated on my office and we are not the solution to it.”

Kenney retorted:

“I’m a Democrat. I was the chair of the county Democratic committee. Social programs need to be upped,” responded Kenney. “The game needs to be upped on those things. What is going on in the criminal justice system needs to be addressed within the criminal justice system. If somebody needs to have more strict conditions of release to protect the public then that’s something that should be advocated for.”

Kenney later noted that he has nothing against George personally, but he disagrees with her policies.

“We have a new situation, the new situation with the increased rate of crime, and the different kinds of crime, require new solutions,” Kenney said. “I don’t pretend to know every solution but I am not going to rest until I try things and if they don’t work we’ll try something else. I want to bring about new policies so that we can have both criminal justice reform and public safety.”

Throughout the primary campaign, George has defended her efforts to move toward a more equitable criminal justice system.

“People of color and poor people in our community are disproportionately impacted by our system,” George said. “I believe that we have safe streets and the number of crimes that have gone up absolutely have to be addressed. But thinking that it’s my policies rather than COVID and other moral issues that are happening in our community uses me as a scapegoat when our community needs to step up and help people.”

There are no other candidates running for Chittenden County State’s Attorney.

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