Burlington, Vermont voters will choose a mayor on Town Meeting Day March 2nd. Several of the candidates gathered recently for another forum.
Late last week the Vermont Institute of Community and International Involvement, the Association of Africans Living in Vermont and the Caroline Fund hosted a forum with four of the five candidates seeking the Burlington mayoral seat. Participating in the virtual forum were third-term Democratic Mayor Miro Weinberger, Progressive City Council President Max Tracy, Independent City Councilor Ali Dieng and independent Patrick White. The sponsors noted that they had learned just before the debate there is a fifth candidate – Will Emmons – but they were unable to include him in the forum.
Questions covered a number of topics. The first focused on the city’s economic challenges and the stalled downtown City Place development project. Tracy responded that businesses must thrive and people must have affordable housing. “The kind of downtown development we need strengthens the health and viability of small businesses and provides significant additional and truly affordable housing to our residents. When it comes to City Place we cannot continue to give developers whatever they ask for in hopes that in just giving them a little bit more we'll be able to move this project forward. I opposed the project from the beginning and have since been calling for holding developers accountable to promises that were made.”
Patrick: “As far as the pit goes I think the current leadership, which actually includes all three of the other candidates here, has no valid excuse for the failure. As far as the pit goes we need to get a new plan.”
Moderator: “Miro Weinberger your turn.”
Weinberger: “Let's talk about City Place. We are now on the cusp of for the first time in decades having homes and jobs and reconnected streets in that part of town. Second of all it's not accurate as one of the other candidates just said to suggest the city's lost a lot of money over this. We haven't because I negotiated an agreement that protects the city. We have been holding them accountable.”
Another question focused on public safety. The city’s police department is under scrutiny, and last June the city council passed a resolution requiring the department reduce its force by 30% by attrition. In December the acting police chief began warning that if staffing levels reached the council’s target the department would be unable to provide overnight patrols. Dieng said the council made a big mistake defunding the police without a plan. “The most critical part about all of this is the current mayor has not vetoed that resolution. Why? Because maybe he's in support of defending the police, which I was not and I will never do. This is about public safety.”
Moderator: “Mayor Weinberger?”
Weinberger: “This suggestion by Councilor Dieng that I'm for defunding the releases is just patently incorrect. Of course, as everyone knows, I've been the voice standing against a council that has taken I think some very dangerous action. And you know speaking of vetoes, I mean, it was shocking that Councilor Dieng did not support my veto that would, was instituted because of how concerned I am about the police department being dismantled.”
Patrick White: “As far as the call to defund the police and the city council's knee jerk reaction I think that was an absolute mistake. You know, you don't start home improvement by striking a match and destroying your house. You know Max is right we do need to transition some officers to, you know, non-armed roles. But also there's a lot of circumstances where we can't predict whether or not an armed officer is necessary. There are perfectly normal traffic stops where officers are killed.”
A proposal by Councilor Dieng to raise the minimum staffing level at the Burlington Police Department failed during Monday’s city council meeting.