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March 06, 2012

Weinberger Wins Burlington. Wright Loses Third Bid For Mayor. Progressives Gain City Council Seat

DSC03295This story was reported by Paul Heintz, Kevin J. Kelley and Andy Bromage. Graphics by Tyler Machado.

Riding his outsider image to a decisive victory, Miro Weinberger took Burlington City Hall by a wide margin Tuesday night, becoming the first Democrat to hold the mayor's office in 31 years.

Now it’s time for Burlington to learn how to pronounce his name.

It’s “muh-ROH,” for the record.

In an election many political observers expected to come down to the wire, Weinberger stormed the city, taking close to 58 percent of the vote to Republican Kurt Wright’s 37 percent and independent Wanda Hines’ five percent. The Democrat heavily outperformed his opponents in the city’s South End and Old North End, and he kept the score close in Wright’s home territory in the more conservative New North End.

“Burlington voters have spoken. They have spoken loud, and they’ve spoken clear. And this city is ready for a fresh start,” Weinberger told a packed house at his campaign’s victory party at Nectar’s. “That fresh start begins tonight.”

Surrounded by his wife, daughter and parents, Weinberger told an enthusiastic crowd, “What this campaign was fueled by from the start was you and your grassroots efforts.”

He said the campaign’s 350 volunteers made 45,000 phone calls since the start of January, including 8500 get-out-the-vote calls today alone. Not mentioned was his massive fundraising advantage. Weinberger outspent Wright by more than two-to-one, raising more money — $118,000 since he joined the race in September — than the entire 2009 mayoral field combined.

The campaign mailed 28,000 pieces of campaign literature.

“It’s only with this type of support that a political outsider with a funny name that no one knew how to pronounce could end up right here tonight,” Weinberger said.

Weinberger’s victory was a big win for the Vermont Democratic Party, which poured organizational and financial resources into the local race. Relishing the taste of victory, party chairman Jake Perkinson took the stage before introducing Weinberger, saying, “It’s been a long time coming.”

Conceding the big challenges facing Weinberger as mayor, Perkinson asked the crowd, “Are you with him?”

“Yeah!” they shouted back.

“I’m taking down all your names,” he responded.

DSC03281The mood was far more subdued a block away at The Scuffer on Church Street, where Wright’s campaign set up shop as results trickled in. The three-time mayoral candidate conceded the race to reporters early and then huddled with friends and supporters before speaking to the crowd.

“We have run a good campaign. We ran a really positive campaign. I’m proud of the campaign that we ran. Unfortunately, it was not successful,” Wright said.

Thanking those who “stuck their necks out on the line” to support him, Wright said he was proud of the campaign he ran, even if he ultimately came up short.

“As a Republican, I gave it my best shot. I don’t have any regrets. I ran the race that I wanted to run. I ran as who I am and that wasn’t good enough. As I said, I gave it my best shot and that’s all you can do,” he said.

Though congratulating Weinberger and wishing him well, Wright returned to his campaign script, saying he was David going up against Goliath.

“We were running against an opponent who was unknown and had no record, which is a very difficult race, particularly when you’re a Republican in Burlington. We were up against a really well-heeled machine that will probably end up spending maybe $150,000 between the money they spent and the money the party put in,” he said.

Wright told reporters after his concession speech that he would make no immediate decisions about whether he would run for re-election to the Legislature.

Weinberger succeeds two-term Progressive Mayor Bob Kiss, who decided against seeking re-election after the mismanagement of Burlington Telecom left him all but unelectable. Kiss won election in 2006 and again in 2009 with the help of instant-runoff voting, a rank-choice voting system that Burlington voters repealed in 2010.

In this race, many observers predicted that Hines could win 10 percent or more, meaning Weinberger or Wright would clinch victory with less than 50 percent of the vote. To win now in post-IRV Burlington, a mayoral candidate only needs 40 percent plus one of the vote. 

Wanda HinesHines (pictured) campaigned largely on her biography as a longtime Burlington resident with close ties to the city's small but growing minitory community. She ran a bare-bones campaign with no paid staff and little organization on a somewhat vague motto of "Your Choice, Your Community."

At Channel 17 studios Tuesday night, Hines said the “best person won” — meaning Weinberger — and that he ran a “smart, tactical campaign.” Hines said she expected to do better in her home turf in the Old North End. She finished behind Weinberger and Wright in both Wards 2 and 3. "I guess people aren't ready to come out," Hines commented.

During the campaign, Hines frequently defended city hall, where she's employed as director of the Social Equity Investment Project. Asked whether she felt underprepared for the campaign, Hines replied, "I might not have been versed on issues.” But after numerous debates, she said, “it became a little redundant.”

Asked if she would run again, Hines hesitated before answering: "no."

Republicans lost one seat on the 14-member city council — the Ward 4 seat Wright vacated to run for mayor. In that ward, Democrat Bryan Aubin beat Republican Ellie Briggs Kenworthy, 1095 to 974. In Ward 7, incumbent Republican Paul Decelles beat Democrat Tom Ayers, 965 to 868.

In other council races: Councilors Ed Adrian (D-Ward 1) and Karen Paul (I-Ward 6) both ran unopposed. In Ward 5, Democrat Chip Mason beat independent Kirstin Daigle, 1177 to 453. 

Progressives were able to claim some measure of victory Tuesday night as well, despite losing control of city hall and not running a mayoral candidate this year. Old North End voters showed they still support the Progressive Party's positions.

Both of the Prog candidates for city council — Max Tracy in Ward 2 and Rachel Siegel in Ward 3 — easily defeated their Democratic opponents, even though Democratic mayoral candidate Weinberger won strong majorities in both wards.

The election outcome adds a seat, Tracy's, to the Progressive bloc on the 14-member council. The Progs will have three councilors (incumbent Councilor Vince Brennan was not up for re-election) in addition to Ward 1 Independent Sharon Bushor, who usually votes with them. In a politically unfavorable atmosphere, the party has done more than hold its own; it has advanced by recapturing a council seat that has been in Dem hands for the past four years.

The post-vote gathering of about 50 party faithful at Magnolia Bistro on Lawson Lane had the good cheer of a victory party despite the absence of a Progressive candidate at the top of the ticket.

“There's a new generation of Progressives taking over,” said Morgan Daybell, the party's executive director. The dual victories in the Prog heartland by Siegel, 41, and Tracy, 25, show “the campaign machine is still alive,” Daybell added. Siegel attributed her win in part to “the tremendous amount of volunteers we had.”

The Town Meeting results will lead the Progs to consider running candidates in Burlington outside the Old North End in fall races for the state legislature, Daybell said.

The Progressives expressed hope for positive political relations with Miro Weinberger, the Democratic victor in the mayoral race.

“I've known Miro for a long time and I personally get along great with him,” said Siegel, who revealed that she had nevertheless voted for Independent candidate Wanda Hines. “I hope he will have a balanced way of running things and not keep it party-oriented."

Vince Brennan, the other Ward 3 Progressive councilor, said dealings with the Democrats could be easier once Bob Kiss is gone. Brennan, who endorsed losing Republican candidate Kurt Wright, said that the Democrats had tried to squeeze Kiss politically on almost every council vote.

Progressives interviewed at Magnolia appeared nonplussed at Kiss' recent suggestion that he might run for a Chittenden County state Senate seat this year. None of the Progs wished to be quoted by name on this subject, but they made clear that Kiss would be unlikely to have the party's support to run for Senate and predicted he would have little chance of winning.

At Channel 17, Burlington Progressive Party vice chairman Elijah Bergman praised Weinberger for "exciting people in a new way, attracting people with social media." Bergman said Weinberger's experience as a developer and positions on bike lanes is encouraging.

Bergman's praise is notable because Progressives openly questioned Weinberger's commitment to working class values during the primary campaign, when many Progs were backing state Sen.Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) in the mayoral caucus. Asked about that, Bergman said Progressives have a whole platform — and that Weinberger shares some, but not all, the Progs' priorities.

"When there are issues, we will not hesitate to raise issues," Bergman said. " But it will not be gratuitous. A lot of Progressives were key to his victory. The real test is going to be governing."

Click here for a recap of our Town Meeting liveblog.

Burlington City Council Results:

Ward 1
  • Adrian (D): 709
Ward 2
  • Tracy (P): 503
  • Hammerslough (D): 297
Ward 3
  • Siegel (P): 755
  • Hurley (D): 440
  • Ruloff (I): 44
  • Salese (I): 40
Ward 4
  • Aubin (D): 1095
  • Kenworthy (R): 974
Ward 5
  • Mason (D): 1177
  • Daigle (I): 453
Ward 6
  • Paul (I): 1118
Ward 7
  • Decelles (R): 965
  • Ayres (D): 868

Burlington School Budget

  • Yes: 5359
  • No: 4490

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