Next Tuesday is Town Meeting Day, and voters in Vermont's largest city, Burlington, face a choice: Give another term to incumbent Mayor Miro Weinberger or pick a new city leader.
Weinberger is a Democrat and he's seeking his fourth term in office. He's being challenged by two sitting members of the city council, a Progressive, Max Tracy, and an Independent, Ali Dieng.
VPR’s Henry Epp spoke with Liam Elder-Connors about the race. Their interview is below and has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Henry Epp: So, Mayor Weinberger, the incumbent, is looking to get reelected to a fourth term. He's been in office since 2012, right? So why does he say he deserves another term?
Liam Elder-Connors: Well, he says he'd like to continue the work that he has been doing for the last nine years in the city. Part of this has to do, I think, with the coronavirus pandemic that's ongoing. Weinberger says that he really wants to continue the work of helping the city respond to that crisis.
Besides the coronavirus pandemic and the city's response to it, he wants to continue to help keep the city's finances strong, which is a pitch that he's made consistently through the nine years that he's been in office. He wants to work on improving Burlington's housing stock and also work on issues around climate change in the city. So that's kind of his general pitch to voters.
OK, and can you tell us about who's challenging him and why they say it's time for new leadership?
So challenging Mayor Weinberger is Progressive City Councilor Max Tracy. Tracy is the city council president and he's been on the council since 2012, the same year that Weinberger was elected. And he has consistently been one of the most vocal critics of Weinberger. And he says that over these last nine years, Miro has said he's going to do a lot of things and hasn't followed through on many of those.
You know, one particular issue that he would point to would be the redevelopment of the downtown mall, which, despite years of promises from the developers, has not been constructed, and Weinberger has been a proponent of that project.
We also have Independent City Councilor Ali Dieng who is running, and Ali was first elected in 2017. He is a New American. He lives in the New North End. And his pitch has been a bit more of a nonpartisan pitch saying that, you know, there's a lot of divisiveness in the city right now and that Mayor Weinberger and Councilor Tracy, you know, both the Progressives and the Democrats, are more reactive and kind of causing this and not really good at cooperating. And so, he's saying that he would be more of a compromising person and work to sort of bridge all the divides that have been cropping up in the city.
And I should just mention that there are four other Independents running for mayor as well: Haik Bedrosian, Will Emmons, Kevin McGrath and Patrick White.
And so, what are some of the big issues that are coming up in this race so far?
Well, policing has been consistently one of the most controversial issues. Since George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis, calls to reform the criminal justice system in policing have been heard throughout the country and in Burlington there have been calls to change the way that the police department is overseen by giving a civilian panel more power.
There is also talk around the staffing of the Burlington Police Department. The council voted this summer to reduce the staffing of the department by 30%, and now the Burlington Police's numbers have dropped a lot and Mayor Weinberger and the chief are advocating for making it so that they can hire more officers.
And that's something that progressive Max Tracy is not in support of. And Ali Dieng takes a little bit more of a kind of in between those two approaches [stance] in saying that there are probably some more issues to study about how to change policing in the city.
And finally, Liam, there hasn't been any public polling about this race, but do we have any indication of where things might be headed on Tuesday?
Yeah, I mean, I think that that's a really good question there. It's hard to say. I mean, if you look at campaign finance filings, Weinberger has raised over $100,000, though Max Tracy has also raised a decent amount of money, and he's been raising money from a wider base of donors and in smaller amounts. So, I think you could make the case for either candidate that those finance reports show kind of strong levels of support. Ali Dieng has not raised as much money as either of them, but, you know, he's been pulling in money from friends and neighbors and other supporters.
But I think it could come down to turnout because, you know, people have been voting already in Burlington. We have early voting going on right now, and that's been going on for a bit. We'll sort of see who else also turns out on Town Meeting Day and which areas of the city have more turnout. There are places that have traditionally been Progressive strongholds. There are places where Democrats generally turn out more, and so I think we'll just have to sort of wait and see what happens next week.
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