On Town Meeting Day March 2nd, Burlington, Vermont voters will select who they want to lead the city for the next three years. The candidates for mayor have participated in a series of debates focused on policing, public safety, housing and downtown development.
Mayor Miro Weinberger is a Democrat seeking a fourth three-year term. Six candidates are challenging him including City Council President Progressive Max Tracy and Ward 7 Independent City Councilor Ali Dieng.
Town Meeting TV has been co-sponsoring a series of candidate forums with a focus on policing and public safety. Mayor Weinberger took aim at councilors who rejected his Public Safety Plan at their latest meeting. “This is an issue where the differences between me and my two city councilor opponents could not be more stark. The council has created a crisis in public safety in this community by voting to eliminate 30% of the police officers without a plan, without any plan, putting us on a path towards major curtailments of public safety services in the months ahead.”
Tracy says Burlington’s Police Department must be fundamentally changed because the current system does not work for all residents. “This will mean leaning into not stepping back from the efforts to take armed officer positions and transform those positions into unarmed community support roles that directly address specific community social needs.”
One caller’s question that focused on housing policy led to a disagreement between incumbent Weinberger and Progressive Tracy. “I think the current mayor has focused on a more market driven supply only strategy. We need to implement rent stabilization policies that brings rents in alignment with peoples’ real incomes.”
Moderator: “Let’s go on to Miro.”
Weinberger: “This is one of the most important and defining issues in this race and a lot of what you just heard from Councilor Tracy is just flatly inaccurate. We have made great progress and the policies that Councilor Tracy just talked about, it would take us backwards not forward.”
In a later debate Independent Kevin McGrath said housing problems won’t be resolved unless there are structural changes within city government. “And a good example of that is the planning and Community and Economic Development departments in Burlington. They are out of the realm of the citizens. They are controlled by special interests and so we need to get those two forces back into the community realm.”
During a sequence in which candidates asked questions of one another Tracy asked Mayor Weinberger if he regretted his actions during the police department’s social media scandals. It resulted in an argument over current policing issues. “When I am out campaigning right now Councilor Tracy what people are focused on with respect to the police is not this incident from quite a ways back now. They are focused on the current crisis in policing that you have created through your actions, through your, I think, terrible judgement to vote unlike any other city in the country to defund 30% of the department. Will you take responsibility for that mistake?”
Moderator: “Max you want to rebut?”
Tracy: “One of the big issues that remains as yet unresolved in response to these crises is the real need for community oversight, an independent oversight with disciplinary authority. That was something that you vetoed.”
Weinberger: “The reason I had to veto the oversight board is because it would have made this crisis even worse. Are you ready to act to fix the crisis you created or not?”
Tracy: “I think we’re working through that. We’re going to continue to work on that.”
Weinberger: “Councilor Tracy mayors need to act. Mayors need to be decisive.”
Independents Patrick White, Haik Bedrosian and Will Emmons are also running for Burlington mayor.
Audio is courtesy of Town Meeting TV.