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Queen City Showdown: Meet Burlington's Mayoral Candidates

Burlington-mayoral-candidates-vpr-epp-2018-elder-connors-2018-dobbs-2015.jpg
L-R: Henry Epp; Liam Elder-Connors; Taylor Dobbs
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VPR
The candidates in the running to be Burlington's mayor this Town Meeting Day are - pictured from left to right - independent Infinite Culcleasure, independent Carina Driscoll and Democrat incumbent Miro Weinberger.

Burlington voters will go to the polls on Town Meeting Day to pick the next mayor of Vermont's largest city.

Democrat Miro Weinberger has held the position for the past six years and he's facing a challenge from two independent candidates: Infinite Culcleasure and Carina Driscoll.

More from VPR: Get To Know Who's Running For Burlington City Council

VPR spoke to the mayoral candidates about issues facing Burlington, such as development and affordability. Read excerpts and listen to longer interviews with the three candidates below.

These interviews have been edited for clarity and brevity.

Infinite Culcleasure
Headshot of Burlington mayoral candidate Infinite Culcleasure at the VPR studios
Credit Henry Epp / VPR
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VPR

  • Independent candidate
  • First time running for office
  • Worked as a community organizer, including helping families in Burlington and Winooski school districts
  • Candidate website

On balancing development and "city character"

“We actually articulate in our platform community benefit agreements — which is a tool that some cities use to hold developers accountable to not just the character of the neighborhood, but also so that some of the proceeds from these developments are going towards social programs that take care of our senior population, our youth and people who are struggling, you know, to try and get their lives back together.

“So as mayor, I would very much prioritize building the capacity of the residents who live in Burlington.”

On affordability

“Right now so-called 'affordable housing' units are being built after market-rate houses are being built, and so what we really need are low-income housing.

“We really need low-income housing more than we need affordable housing because affordable housing is tied to the area median income, which includes South Burlington, which actually then inflates what people can actually pay in Burlington. Poverty has actually been risen in Burlington.

“And one, I think probably very controversial ... strategy, would be to explore rent control — which I know is something that would have to be advocated for at the state level, but right now we have a real estate industry that has no limit on what they can charge for rent.

“I would advocate studying what that [rent-control] would look like because I don't think Burlington is the only city in Vermont and the only town in Vermont where people are struggling to pay their rent.”

On why Burlington residents should vote for him

“I think I have the same amount of executive leadership experience that Bernie Sanders had when he ran for mayor in 1981. I also have the same amount of public office experience that Mayor Weinberger had when he ran for office in 2012.

“The city should trust that no one person can meet the needs of 45,000 people and that I am a systems thinker, a team player.

“I am very good at delegating responsibilities … for people and matching people with their strengths, and that is what I would bring to the office of mayor if I was elected."

For more:

 

Carina Driscoll

Headshot of Burlington mayoral candidate Carina Drisoll at the VPR studios
Credit Liam Elder-Connors / VPR
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VPR

  • Independent candidate, endorsed by Progressives
  • State legislator from 2000 - 2002; served on the Burlington City Council from 2002-2004
  • Founded the Vermont Woodworking School in 2007
  • Candidate website

On balancing development and "city character"

“I look at these projects and I ask ‘What are we getting for the people who live here?’ We are getting a lot of commercial space that is expensive and residential space that is expensive, and we're getting a lot of additional housing that is being priced higher than the already too expensive housing in Burlington.

“So, you know, there can be tremendous opportunity in these projects, but we really have to go after it — and that is the role of the mayor's office and it is the role of our CEDO [Community and Economic Development Office] office and that's making sure that as the buildings go up, we are creating jobs for the people who live here. ...

“In addition we really need to be working closely with the developers, advocating for this city and remembering that Burlington is a highly marketable place to do business. These businesses, when they invest here, they do well — and we need to remember that. And we need a mayor who's advocating for the people who live here rather than accommodating this private investment and asking, 'What can we do for you?'"

On affordability

“For the past six years, really, we have seen an ethic that, basically, we are a city where if we develop — you know, allow private investment to come and develop expensive housing — that that will result in the rents coming down.

“And because that housing is more expensive than what is already on the market, six years in, we are not seeing rents come down. Ultimately those apartments and condos are filled or sold to people who are coming from elsewhere, and that is not doing anything for the people who live here.

“So we really need to reinvest our energy and the city's priorities need to be focused on the development of affordable housing and the protection of affordable housing — and that's not our city hall's current first instinct.

“So in order to do that, we need to be incentivizing affordable and mixed-use development in this city, we need to be leveraging the community assets that we do have."

On highlighting her connection to stepfather Sen. Bernie Sanders

“When I launched this campaign, it was very important to me that people see me as a person who has lived in this city for my entire life and have a very strong vision for what we need to be doing with this city. ...

“That said, I think it is really important for people to understand who I am, and I grew up in the city of Burlington while Bernie was mayor and while my mother Jane accomplished so many great and amazing things and really set an example for what it means to have an activist, community and economic development office.

“You know, it'd be a huge omission to not talk about Bernie in this campaign and not talk about the influence he and my mother have had on me.

“It is true that when you look at this race, you know, today — in 1981 when Bernie ran for mayor, it was very much a time where the Democratic establishment was making decisions with private interests and people were not really welcome at the table.

"I think that there are similarities to that today and I think as I look forward and what I'm looking to accomplish, you know, and what we're trying to do as our campaign, people throughout the city are feeling disenfranchised and they're ready for another political upset — and I’m trying to bring that upset.”

For more:

vpr-news-mayoral-driscoll-epp-20180220.mp3
Listen to Carina Driscoll's interview with VPR's Henry Epp.

Miro Weinberger

Headshot of Mayor Miro Weinberger at the VPR studios
Credit Taylor Dobbs / VPR File
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VPR File

  • Democratic candidate
  • Incumbent; first elected in 2012
  • Served on the Burlington Airport Commission before being elected mayor
  • Candidate website

On balancing development and "city character"

"People are right that [the Burlington Town Center] project is going to change the character of that part of the downtown — it's going to make it vastly better. That is one of the worst parts of our downtown right now — it's a terrible place for walking, we've had public safety issues there. It’s going to become one of the best, most vibrant parts of our downtown when this is built.

"I understand people have concerns about going higher and we are not going to push for any more increases in the height. But with what we have been doing, we are working, from my perspective, to preserve Burlington's character as a place that welcomes people of all backgrounds, incomes and ages. That is what we have historically been — the city of opportunity for people.

“If we don't allow any more growth, we're going to lose that very important part of our character. We're going to become a boutique city like Palo Alto or something, where we really don't have room for younger households, where we don't have room for the middle class — and that is not my vision of what Burlington should become."

On affordability

“I think we have a true affordable housing crisis. I've been clear on that from the very beginning of my administration and because it's a crisis, we need to bring all the tools we can to bear to improve Burlington's affordability.

“And we've done that for six years and it's been a change in direction. We have continued Burlington's proud legacy of building as much low-income affordable housing for low-income families and seniors as possible, and we've been very successful at that.

"What we have also said, however, is that we need to care about other types of housing for people of all backgrounds, incomes and ages. I've heard about too many young people having to move away from Burlington 'cause they can't afford to live here. I've had too many seniors tell me they've been searching for years to find a place in our downtown.

"We can change that, we are changing that. This is working. We're moving forward with housing at an unprecedented rate, and it's really quite concerning that the other candidates would take us back to the overly narrow housing policies of the past that, frankly, created a lot of the affordable housing crisis that we're now dealing with."

On criticism of his administration’s handling of public processes

"The way our system works is most of the initiatives that we have pursued — to restore our downtown, restore the waterfront, turn the city's finances around — have gone to the voters for the ultimate approval.

"And leading up to those votes we have had very strong public engagement. We have had major transparency efforts. We have put a lot of data out into the system.

"We have ... been a very accessible administration, and I think those efforts have been working. And we know that because all 17 times that we have gone to the voters to work with them on these major issues, they have voted for the direction the city was headed, often by a large majority. So I think we have a strong record of working closely with the public."

For more:

vpr-news-mayoral-weinberger-epp-20180220.mp3
Listen to Miro Weinberger's interview with VPR's Henry Epp.

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