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March 04, 2009

Third Time’s the Charm

(Note to readers: This item was posted as an addendum to the online version of my column, but I post it here to hopefully spark some dialogue about the night's results).

In the end, the Progressives needed a little help from another party to hold on to the Queen City mayor’s seat. As he did three years ago, Progressive Bob Kiss won the day by picking up the second-place votes of his third-place rival.

In 2006, when the race went to an instant runoff, Kiss benefited from Republican Kevin Curley’s second-place votes to stay ahead of Democrat Hinda Miller. In 2009, it was the second-place votes of Democrat Andy Montroll that secured Kiss’ reelection. It’s a little surprising that so many Dems chose Kiss, especially since Montroll and a top Kiss aide, Chief Administrative Officer Jonathan Leopold, had been involved in a political imbroglio involving Montroll’s legal work with a perceived competitor to Burlington Telecom.

Kiss said the key to his victory was the same as it was three years ago. “I ran a campaign based on winning 50 percent plus one of the vote,” said Kiss, barely audible as his supporters cheered for him at Sweetwaters. He said that while Democrats and Progressive have their differences, “The Democratic Party has a broad spectrum, and I’m not surprised that I was able to pick up some of Andy’s second-place votes. I had a lot of supporters who are Democrats.”

The big story of the night was not just Kiss’ win, but Republican Kurt Wright’s defeat. He led Kiss in both the first and second instant-runoff rounds, but lost convincingly in the third.

Wright said he is mulling a recount request, which he has to make within 48 hours.

“I wouldn’t be asking for a recount simply thinking that it will overturn the election results,” said Wright. “But, I think it may serve voters to better understand how a candidate who wasn’t ‘first’ in the first two rounds could end up being the winner.”

Aside from that, Wright said his strong showing proved that a Republican can come close in the liberal bastion of Burlington.

“The race didn’t turn out the way I wanted, but I’m happy with how we ran our campaign,” Wright said during a post-election party at The Rusty Scuffer.

Despite the loss, Montroll said he, too, was pleased with how he ran his race, and is looking forward to devoting more time to his family and law practice.

“We raised a lot of good issues and received a lot of support,” Montroll said before a crowd of jubilant Dems at Nectar’s.

Montroll said a full recount may not be in order, but a closer look at the results may ease the minds of voters. “I think IRV has worked, but it may be time to take another look at it,” he said.

The IRV process inspired head scratching among poll watchers of all persuasions — except the Progressives, of course, who welcomed the outcome. Mild-mannered Kiss says he believes IRV is serving the city well, and not just because it’s helped him win the election twice.

Predicting he would “prevail” even in a traditional run-off election against Kurt Wright, Kiss said, “I think people do understand how IRV works and support it.”

IRV defenders should start dusting off their arguments. How well they respond to the questions and criticisms that arise from this dramatic mayoral contest will likely decide IRV’s fate going forward.

The Anatomy of a Race — So, what did it for Burlington Mayor Bob Kiss? About as low-key as an incumbent can be, he seemed to be merely “standing” for reelection rather than “running” for his life. But, in the end, he proved that nice guys sometimes do finish first.

Simply stated, none of his challengers was able to stick Kiss with a debilitating political issue. In 1993, when voters ousted Progressive Peter Clavelle, they did so because of anger over an ill-timed tax increase anger as well as the city’s decision to offer domestic partner benefits to gay and lesbian employees.

Nothing like that emerged in this race. The school budget ended up passing by a healthy margin, even in this tough economic climate. It’s also hard to unseat incumbents in Vermont — just look at the governor’s office — if the only assaults opponents can muster are on the candidate’s “leadership” and “vision.”

The low voter turnout indicates that a lot of people simply tuned out the race, or weren’t enthused by it. The exception? Supporters of Dan Smith. a newbie to city politics who sought to energize young professionals and students — a tough electoral row to hoe. His fourth-place showing — with only 1300 votes — was disappointing. But he was in a race with three strong party-based candidates.

“I wouldn’t have run this campaign any differently,” Smith said outside of Red Square, where his supporters gathered Tuesday night. “We got a lot of support across the city, and I think our message, and how we engaged the young professionals, is something I hope will keep people focused and active on finding that common cause across party lines to make the city better.”

City Council Rundown — As I predicted in “Fair Game” last week, Democrats picked up votes on the Burlington City Council. They gained one seat for sure. A run-off election in Ward 7 will determine whether they end up with two.

What does that mean? Not since the mid-1980s have there been so many Democrats on the council, which gives them almost outright control of the 14-member governing body.

Nancy Kaplan bested Republican Eleanor Briggs Kenworthy in Ward 4. They were vying for the seat vacated by Republican Wright.

In Ward 7, Democrat Eli Lesser-Goldsmith and Republican Vince Dober were separated by only a handful of votes, necessitating a run-off election.

The Progressives held onto their council seats in Ward 2 and Ward 3. Newcomer Emma Mulvaney-Stanak crushed her Democratic challenger Nicole Pelletier. Both were running to fill the seat being vacated by Prog Jane Knodell.

Progressive Marrisa Caldwell held off a spirited challenge from Democrat David Cain, a newcomer to city politics. That seat had been held by Progressive Tim Ashe, who opted not to run for reelection. Cain came within less than 40 votes of Caldwell, and is definitely a face to watch in city politics.

Democrats in Ward 5 and Ward 6 — Joan Shannon and Mary Kehoe respectively — won easily, as did Independent Sharon Bushor in Ward 1.

Another change worth noting is that the new city council will be gender balanced. There will be seven women and seven men overseeing the Queen City.

For Bushor, the idea of seven, women on the council was welcome news. “I don’t know if it will mean anything in terms of policy changes, but it will definitely be a positive image for young women to see and hopefully inspire.”

She couldn’t recall a time when that many women — especially from across the political spectrum — were on the council.

As to who might emerge as the next city council president — Republican Wright’s successor? It’s anyone’s guess. Progressive Clarence Davis has said he is interested in running, and Wright thinks he’d be a good choice.

Of course the Democrats, who now dominate the council, may have something to say about that.

Finally, for all those readers and campaign workers who lambasted me for my election predictions, which I posted on Blurt last Friday, I only have this to say: Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah!

Yeah, I called it. Well, except Ward 4. Seven out of eight ain’t bad.

And, oh yeah, thanks to the Burlington Telecom wifi connection at City Hall and all the hard work of the Seven Days election-night news coverage — we broke the news of Kiss' reelection to the state, as well as the outcome of the Winoosk mayoral election. Yeah us!

Got a news tip? Email Shay at [email protected]

Click here to follow Shay on Twitter.

"...we broke the news of Kiss' reelection to the state..."

Uh... yeah. Sorry. I broke the news at 8:17 and you didn't break it until 8:20. But kudos on Winooski.

I'm really hoping Kurt goes for the recount. It's the only way I'll fully trust the results (that I broke news of at 8:17).

Haik's blog is where I heard first. He also did in-depth interviews, transcribed in their entirety. They were really valuable. I realize 7 days did profiles of the candidates, but I found none of them revealing.

The real question is whether Mayor Kiss and his administration have learned anything from this election. Will they heed the call for more engaged leadership on the part of the mayor? Will the mayor take steps to curb the partisan playmaking on the part of his CAO?

And then there's the question as to whether the stronger Democratic caucus, with its bright new faces, will get past their constant support for neighborhood NIMBYs.

I find it pretty odd that Kurt Wright says IRV leads to "strategic" voting. This term usually means that people use their vote to try to engineer a certain result, at the cost of not voting their actual first choice. That's exactly the problem IRV solves! You can bet Dan Smith wouldn't have gotten 15% under our old "winner"-take-all system. Could some of those IRV critics explain their problem with voters having more real choices?

“I wouldn’t be asking for a recount simply thinking that it will overturn the election results,” said Wright. “But, I think it may serve voters to better understand how a candidate who wasn’t ‘first’ in the first two rounds could end up being the winner.”

I fail to see how a costly and time consuming recount is called for simply to help voters better understand the process. If the goal is truly voter education there are more appropriate and fiscally responsible methods.

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