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April 04, 2012

Two Democratic Party Big-Wigs Stepping Down

Howard Head ShotEditor's Note: Seven Days Staff Writer Paul Heintz contributed to this report.

Two days after the swearing-in of Burlington's first Democratic mayor in three decades comes news that two Democratic Party leaders are moving on.

Burlington Democratic Party chairman Steve Howard (pictured) is resigning effective April 6 so he can work on Chittenden State's Attorney T.J. Donovan's campaign for attorney general. Party bylaws prevent party officers from working on primary campaigns.

Additionally, Vermont Democratic Party executive director Jesse Bragg is resigning effective April 30 to move to Cambridge, Mass., in order to be closer to his family.

Both said they were leaving their posts voluntarily and on good terms.

Howard, who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 2010, moved to Burlington from his native Rutland last September to helm a party in the midst of a hotly contested Democratic primary for mayor. He oversaw the tumultuous four-way race — including an improbable tie and ensuing recount — through to the March 4 election, when Miro Weinberger defeated Republican Kurt Wright and Independent Wanda Hines.

Bragg took the helm of the state Democratic party in April 2011 following a stint as the party's political director. A 2008 University of Vermont graduate, Bragg also ran independent Dan Smith's campaign for mayor in 2009 and worked on the Democrats' coordinated campaign in 2008 when Gaye Symington was the candidate for governor.

Howard currently works for Donovan as a victims' advocate. When he was a state representative, Howard also roomed with Donovan's mother, state Rep. Johanna Leddy Donovan (D-Burlington), in Montpelier. His position with Donovan's campaign will be unpaid, Howard said.

T.J. Donovan is mounting a primary campaign against seven-term incumbent Attorney General Bill Sorrell, who has come under fire after a string of high-profile court losses. Echoing Donovan's campaign message, Howard said that Sorrell is a "good guy" who has accomplished a great deal, but said, "I just think it's time for a change."

Ed Adrian, a city councilor who is exploring a run for state Senate, will take over as acting party chair, Howard said. Howard said he will still chair a fundraising event on June 1 to refill party coffers drained by a drawn-out and expensive mayoral election.

Adrian told Seven Days, "My reign as acting chair will be short. I plan on voting for another person for chair at our meeting on [April] 11. I do plan on staying on as vice-chair for the time being."

Jesse BraggBragg (pictured) has been in Vermont for eight years and was executive director of the state party for about a year. He said the party is interviewing for his replacement now.

"It's just time for me to go," he said. "I'm shopping around with some other campaigns. The move was personal, not professional."

Bragg's departure is the second to hit the state Democrats in recent months. Communications Director Alicia D'Allesandro left her job last month for an identical job with the New Jersey Democratic Party.

Asked why she left, Bragg said, "She left because it wasn't a good fit for her with the state party and she had opportunities elsewhere."

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