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December 11, 2008

Wright Makes it Official — He's Running for Mayor

If anyone had any doubts about his intention, Republican City Council President Kurt Wright laid it all to rest Thursday announcing he is a candidate for mayor of Burlington.

And, if you think Wright only has the support of the GOP in Burlington (yes, Virginia there is a GOP in the Queen City), think again. One of several people to warm up the crowd was none other than John Ewing, a lifelong Democrat. Gov. Howard Dean appointed Ewing to chair the the state's Environmental Board, which oversaw Act 250 appeals. He is also one of the founders, and current board chair, of Smart Growth Vermont.

Ewing joked that some in the room might think he took a wrong turn. But, he assured the standing-room only crowd in Contois Auditorium that his appearance was no fluke or momentary lapse of reason.

Ewing said his decision to back Wright in this election is based on not electing the person from the right party, but "electing the most qualified person."


Wright told the crowd his background as a council president, city councilor and state legislator make him uniquely qualified to tackle the pressing needs of the city: Economic development, keeping budgets under control, delivering key city services, and fostering a tri-partisan approach to solving problems in the Queen City. All items he said he has accomplished as city council president.

"Many across the political spectrum have encouraged me to run, citing the need for change here in Burlington — just as many believed it was needed in our country on November 4th," said Wright.

No mention of "hope" in his speech, but in Burlington "change" means tossing out a nearly 30-year-old Progressive-minded administration for one led by a Republican.

If elected, Wright would be only the second Republican elected to the mayor's office since 1981 when Independent Bernie Sanders came into office. Sanders was succeeded by Progressive Peter Clavelle (who later ran as a Progressive/Democrat). That Republican was Peter Brownell (pictured above shaking Wright's hand after Wright was elected city council prez by an 8-6 margin). Elected in 1991, he only served one, two-year term. Burlington mayors now serve three-year terms.

Wright enters a crowded field, but with arguably a reliable base of support in the city's more conservative New North End. Also in the race are Democrat Andy Montroll and Independent Dan Smith. Kiss will launch his reelection bid after Progressives gather on December 14 to nominate a mayoral candidate.

Wright’s entry into the race guarantees that Burlington’s next mayor will once again be selected using instant runoff voting. The system, in which voters rank their choices, was employed in 2006 to elect Kiss, although in that case the second place votes only served to extend Kiss' lead over Democrat Hinda Miller.

“I don’t think anyone will get 50 percent with four of us in the race, which means that second-place votes are going to be crucial,” Wright told "Fair Game" this week. Wright is hoping to best his second-place mayoral showing in 1999.

Wright ticked off a number of areas where the current administration lacked leadership, and where he stepped in to provide it:

  • The rewrite of the city's zoning regulations
  • Open & transparent government
  • Training of election officials
  • Ensuring senior centers remained open
  • Pushing back against the school's $226 million bond

"I have to tell you—there is only so much a council president can do. Leadership needs to come from the top. There is only one person that is elected by the whole city and that is the mayor, and the mayor must lead," Wright said.

Wright said the city cannot move forward under the current climate of "mistrust and fear between the administration and departments."

Wright pointed to the ongoing fracas involving the Parks Department as one example of how this discontent was manifest within the city. He asked those in the room to help him usher in a new spirit of cooperation in Queen City.

"This election is not about party politics," he added. "I will govern the city in a tri-partisan manner just as I have as president and the administration will be made up of the best—regardless of party."

Good rundown. Brownell was 93 not 91 though, and Wright's entry doesn't guarantee IRV will pick the mayor, it just makes it a pretty safe bet.

This race is hard to peg. I almost feel like anyone might win at this point. I heard that Sandy Baird might be backing Kurt. I don't know what to make of all of this.

people can vote in some unscientific mayoral web polls here if they want to.

Why would anyone be surprised that John Ewing would show up? There's a reason there's a Progressive Party in Burlington. It's the lack of an opposition party.

IRV is totally gonna come in to play for this, and that's frickin' sweet!

1) We get to hear and choose from FOUR diverse candidates (at least) without even a whisper of "spoiler". More Choices = More Democracy.

2) The positions of the less popular candidates won't be ignored; leading candidates would be well-advised to engage with and perhaps even co-opt their opponents better ideas. The less popular candidates can always tell their supporters who to vote for 2nd (as Kevin Curley did last time "saving" Burlington from a Mayor Hinda Miller)

3) The debate should mostly stay on issues. With proportional representation every voter counts; no candidate will want to risk going negative and losing 2nd choice support.

I'm looking forward to a well-informed, heated campaign. I hope Bob Kiss decides to get into campaign mode after his nomination; He has a fine record as mayor, but some serious catching up to do campaign-wise.

How can Burlington have a mayor's race without either Kevin Ryan or Loyal Ploof...

"nearly 30-year-old Progressive-minded administration"

Please don't equate Clavelle and Kiss. Bob hasn't done a bloody thing since taking office, but at least he didn't wreak havoc with the City's finances like "Progressive Pete" did. Either way, the inevitable change that March will bring will be more than welcome.

"Please don't equate Clavelle and Kiss."

Absolutely agree that calling this a "nearly 30-year-old Progressive-minded administration" is a little misleading and simplistic. Clavelle's administration did suffer from a lack of openness, and we know why now I guess.

"Bob hasn't done a bloody thing since taking office"

Keeping the tax rate relatively flat for three years without cutting services isn't doing nothing, for starters....

"Keeping the tax rate relatively flat for three years without cutting services"

Wait until next year. The whole thing is backloaded.

Clavelle's administration did suffer from a lack of openness, and we know why now I guess. -VTProg

Assuming the premise that Clavelle's Administration lacked openness, do we know why?

What do we now know was the cause of a lack of openness?

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