Just over two weeks before voters in Burlington, Vermont go to the polls on Town Meeting Day, the three candidates for mayor faced off in another forum Thursday evening.
The forum sponsored by AARP Vermont, the Burlington Business Association and Local Motion focused on issues of importance to those organizations. It brought together Democratic incumbent Mayor Miro Weinberger, Independent Carina Driscoll and Independent Infinite Culcleasure.
Moderator Fran Stoddard cited studies finding that the cost of housing in the city is one of the country’s highest relative to income at 44 percent. It led to the candidates clashing over inclusional zoning and affordable housing options. Weinberger called the issue one of the biggest differences between the campaigns. “We are making unprecedented progress on housing. We are building total housing units at four times our historic rate. This is the way we get out of the affordable housing crisis and I think it’s very concerning to hear that other candidates would take us back to an overly narrow problematic formulation that created the affordable housing crisis that we’re in in large part.”
Culcleasure said affordability must be more clearly defined. “What we actually need is some low income housing. I think it’s time that we revisit and start a discussion around rent control and what that might look like because at this point landlords can charge anything they want.”
Driscoll added that the nonprofit housing community has been struggling to keep up with the demand for affordable housing. “Our city used to work in partnership with our nonprofits in order to build nonprofit housing and affordable housing for our community.”
Incumbent Weinberger pushed the point that his opponents would move the city backwards several times over the course of the forum. “You know over the course of this campaign Carina has made it clear that she wants to be remembered as someone who in her words ‘really really took chances.’ That is how we remember the years under the last Progressive mayor. And that is not a time we can afford to go back to.”
Driscoll: “To be clear I have no plans to take us backwards. You know I have been pro-growth in this city as many of us have and when I speak of taking a pause I really am saying it’s time to reevaluate.”
Culcleasure: “I am a community builder and a community organizer. And what separates me from both candidates is that cities shouldn’t just be managed like a business. Cities should be a community to be organized.”
During a discussion on economic development the candidates were at odds over the role the Community and Economic Development office, or CEDO. Driscoll says it used to spend more time and resources on economic development incentives. “We end up with a sustainable economy that is more resilient when we have small business that is thriving here in Burlington. CEDO needs to play a more proactive role.”
Culcleasure: “Carina is exactly right. Our Community and Economic Development Office needs to be re-prioritized to meet the needs of not just small business owners but self-employment and cooperatives.”
Weinberger: “I do think CEDO is being really unfairly maligned in a lot of the statements in this campaign. You know CEDO worked very closely with Dealer.com to keep them here. The CEDO office today is stronger than it’s been in a long long time.”
Audio from the forum is courtesy of Channel 17 Town Meeting Television.