The three candidates running for mayor of Burlington, Vermont came together at a forum at City Hall Monday evening.
Independents Infinite Culcleasure and Carina Driscoll are challenging Democratic incumbent Miro Weinberger to lead Vermont’s largest city. The three answered questions on topics ranging from economic development to infrastructure during the 90-minute forum.
For months, city leaders considered the sale of Burlington Telecom and the candidates were asked what they would have done differently. Culcleasure, a community organizer, supported the local coop.
“It was really difficult to see Burlington Telecom, Burlington Telecom in that situation to begin with. I'm actually really disappointed that as a city we couldn't figure out how to support Keep Burlington Local and give it another chance.”
Moderator: “Miro on to you.”
Miro Weinberger: “There were some very difficult challenges in the final months and it took a long time and it was in some ways painful. I think if you take a step back though and look at the last six years I think the city has a lot to be proud of about how we addressed and dealt with what was truly one of our most challenging crises the city has ever faced.”
Carina Driscoll: “It is possible that I am sitting here today because of the BT process. What we got was a decision made at 2:00 a.m. after an effort to push things through in a partisan manner that was based on a decision that a small group of people thought was right for Burlington.”
The Burlington School District has proposed a nearly 8 percent property tax increase and the candidates agreed that most of the problem stems from state-level policies. Driscoll, who was a city councilor in 2003 and 2004 and also served on Weinberger’s transition team and as Assistant to the Mayor for a year, criticized her former boss over teacher pensions and PILOT revenues to the district.
Driscoll: “We are experiencing good bond ratings on the city side because of money that used to go to the schools and we have not had a corresponding tax decrease.”
Weinberger: “When I came into office the Agency of Education and the Burlington School District were signed an agreement saying that these PILOT funds could not lawfully, cannot constitutionally, continue to be used to fund school district. This is what is funding the early learning initiative, part of our response to the heroin epidemic. This is what is funding the improvements enhancements of the library system. Carina’s position would essentially gut and cut all those programs.”
Driscoll: “A grant program that has started this year does not take you know doesn't undo the fact that over the last several years $1.4 million has not been advanced and that the school board has had to really be very austere in its budgeting to be able to make up for the loss of that revenue.”
Redevelopment of the Moran Plant, a former coal plant on the Lake Champlain waterfront, was halted last year. Weinberger said he is hopeful new plans will move forward.
“I'm pretty optimistic now that we changed the goal we'll come through this quickly and get to an outcome where that site supports all the other progress that we've made on the northern waterfront.”
Driscoll: “We had a local group of people who came together and went through a public process. We had local investment at the table. We had creative individuals. We had businesses. We had artists. We had the farmer's market. We had a group who thought they had a plan and what we got was a unilateral decision to end that conversation. My role as mayor would be to restart that conversation.”
Culcleasure: “It was really the financial crisis that halted that project. I was on the Moran Advisory Group and I wanted to make sure that whatever they built there was accessible to you know low income folks in our community and so there is a plan there that needs to be invested in.”
Voters go to the polls on Town Meeting Day March 6th.
Audio is courtesy of Channel 17 Town Meeting TV.