The University of Vermont Student Government Association hosted a mayoral debate at the student center Tuesday evening, one week before Burlington voters go to the polls on Town Meeting Day.
Incumbent Democrat Miro Weinberger and Independent Carina Driscoll were joined by FaRied Munarsyah who was representing Independent Infinite Culcleasure. It is the first mayoral debate the UVM Student Government Association has ever sponsored, according to co-moderator Economics and Political Science major Reginah Mako. “We're here for ten months out of the year and we do utilize many of the city's resources and we do contribute to the economy. You know some students may choose to live off campus in their junior and senior year. So we are very much affected by like housing, the housing crisis, food insecurity and stuff and you know this just reiterates like the students’ importance in local politics especially within the conscious of Burlington.”
Weinberger, who is seeking a third term, told the crowd that the outcome of the race has direct relevance to the campus community. “This administration has championed for the last six years the creation of jobs, the creation of homes and protection of the environment.”
Driscoll said she entered the race because she feels residents are disenfranchised. “The progress we're seeing is not benefiting the people who live here. It's time to talk about building a sustainable resilient economy that works for all of us.”
Munarsyah explained he was filling in because Culcleasure was at the hospital as his partner was having a baby. He said the campaign’s focus on justice and equity should be the key concern of public servants. “Government, including local government, has not been working for the people even in the so-called progressive Burlington. More than ever we need to be courageous to organize for justice to draw hard lines in the sand to protect those in our communities who are the targets of hate and bigotry.”
Students in the audience submitted questions that varied from city-university relations to housing and food insecurity.
The candidates were asked to describe the relationship between the city and university and what opportunities they would pursue as mayor. Munarsyah feels it’s shortsighted to separate the entities. “What concerns students are the same thing with what concerns people in our community and that’s having livable housing, having a livable wage, jobs with liveable wage, and having a say in decision making.”
Driscoll added: “As I campaign I hear students are often scapegoated for rising rents and we need to be working on the affordable housing situation with UVM together.”
The candidates were asked how the administration would engage those excluded from the voting process. It led to an exchange between Driscoll and Weinberger over community engagement by the current administration.
Driscoll: “We are making decisions behind closed doors and then we are pushing them forward in a partisan way and people are frustrated with that and they’re not going to take it.”
Weinberger: “I’ve been responsible for six budgets. All six of those budgets have gotten the unanimous support of the city council. The Burlington Telecom settlement agreement: unanimous support from the City Council. The redevelopment of the downtown mall: a 10-2 vote at the City Council, and later an 11-1 vote. And almost all of those decisions then went to the voters and got large multi-partisan support. This has not been a partisan administration.”
The candidates were also asked if they would support providing free housing for the homeless. Incumbent Weinberger noted that old motels have been converted. “It's been exciting to see many individuals who enter into these programs able to then put their lives back together and get into employment, get into permanent housing.”
Driscoll faced a few jeers when she said the mayor was taking credit for work done by non-profits. “Perhaps there was some city support there but it was work of Champlain Housing Trust and the hospital essentially and there's an opportunity to expand on that in a significant way.”
Burlington residents will vote for mayor on Town Meeting Day, Tuesday March 6th.