Vermont’s Town Meeting Day is Tuesday. WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley has this overview of the race for mayor in the state’s largest city, Burlington.
Early voting has begun in Burlington. Democratic Mayor Miro Weinberger is seeking his fourth three-year term. Six candidates are challenging him including City Council President Progressive Max Tracy and Ward 7 Independent City Councilor Ali Dieng. Independents Patrick White, Kevin McGrath, Will Emmons and Haik Bedrosian are also on the ballot.
The candidates have met in numerous virtual debates, expressing sometimes stark differences in their vision for the city. During a Neighborhood Planning Assembly Forum Dieng said the city needs a trustworthy leader. “It is all about implementing that vision that is fair and equitable for the city that works for every single person that live here. And also a city that seeks to eradicate all systems of oppressions.”
Weinberger has emphasized the importance of experience as the city grapples with multiple simultaneous crises. “A pandemic, a historic recession, a long-overdue reckoning on racial justice and an accelerating climate emergency. Moments like this demand proven leadership.”
Policing has been a primary issue at multiple debates. At a recent Town Meeting TV forum Mayor Weinberger took aim at councilors who rejected his Public Safety Plan. “The council has created a crisis in public safety in this community by voting to eliminate 30% of the police officers without a plan putting us on a path towards major curtailments of public safety services.”
Tracy said 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.”
At an earlier debate Independent mayoral candidate Patrick White weighed in on public safety issues. “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 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.”
Housing policy questions during one debate 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: “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 another 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.”
The idle downtown development project CityPlace has been a fluid issue during the mayoral campaign. During a special meeting of the City Council on February 23rd the panel approved a revised agreement with the new developers to move the project forward.
Audio is courtesy of Town Meeting Television.