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Candidates in Burlington’s upcoming East District special election discuss issues

Progressive Dina John (left), Independent Jake Schumann (center) and Democrat Maea Brandt (right) are running for the open East District city council seat
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Progressive Dina John (left), Independent Jake Schumann (center) and Democrat Maea Brandt (right) are running for the open East District city council seat

Some Burlington, Vermont voters will be going to the polls next week for a special election to fill one of the empty seats on the city council.

On September 13th then-East District Progressive Jack Hanson announced that he was stepping down to apply for a newly created city job. A special election was set for December 6th. Early voting began on October 24th. Three people are running for the East District seat, which includes Wards 1 and 8.

Progressive Dina John says she is the only candidate who represents the different populations in the district.

“I represent the New American families. I represent young people. I represent the working class. But I’m also the only candidate that’s most involved in city and government and town issues because of my role in the courthouse. So I feel like I bring both experience as well as experiential knowledge in matters regarding public safety which is the biggest concern right now.”

Democrat Maea Brandt says the district can’t go without a council representative.

“I saw the need for representation for my district while the redistricting is going on.”

Independent Jake Schumann says he decided to run to make sure voters have a choice, especially since this is the first city council race to use Ranked Choice Voting.

“We have Ranked Choice Voting newly instigated in Burlington and I think it’s important that we have more than two options.”

The three agree that affordable housing and public safety are the city’s priority issues, but have different view on how to address them.

On the public safety front, Brandt says after George Floyd’s murder the Burlington Police Department was stripped of essential sworn officers, leading to more crime in the city.

“If I were on City Council would have the police chief, Jon Murad, hired as a full-time leader of the police department, not an interim leader. And then to create, recreate trust between the police department and the city of Burlington and police enforcement to go hand-in-hand with social services.”

John acknowledges that everyone is concerned about public safety but says community engagement should be the key strategy.

“There are good police but I believe that there are also like abuse of powers in the police department. You know, Acting Chief Murad has been someone that has caused great controversy in his position. Also I want to get the number of policing up to what the City Council originally wanted. Second step is to study the broken-down relationships. And third of all is to look at interconnected issues, which is mental health.”

Schumann says the city is on the right track in rebuilding police and public safety resources but continuing distrust is preventing common ground.

“There’s a strong sense of animosity between certain groups. You know the police feel very unsupported by the community. There are certain groups within our community who feel inherently unsupported by the police. I think that the petition drive that’s currently under way for community control of police, a community oversight board, if implemented will be extremely meaningful.”

Affordable and accessible housing is the primary priority of all three candidates. John has lived in government housing and wants to establish free legal advice forums for renters.

"I’m also supporting passage of just cause eviction and also I really want to encourage young people to go into trade work. Because if we want housing we have to have enough workers to build housing and right now there’s a shortage in Burlington of trade work.”

Schumann says while they all share a vision of an affordable and accessible city, the community needs to discuss the growth in the value of housing stock.

“The appreciation of these assets is tied in a strong way to the rent that people pay. And so it creates an inherent conflict of interest between home owners and home renters.”

Brandt has been criticized by her opponents who say as a landlord she cannot comprehend the challenges of renters. But she counters that she is actually in the best position to address the affordable housing crisis.

“Having been both a renter and a landlord or a housing provider and a homeowner, I think because I see all sides of this issue I’m actually better equipped to understand what the housing needs are.”

The winner of the special election will fill the term, which expires on March 31, 2023.

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