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December 06, 2013

Vermont Democratic Party Spokesman to Challenge Progressive Burlington City Councilor

EmersonDemocratic operative Ryan Emerson said Friday he's leaving his job as spokesman for the Vermont Democratic Party and running for the Burlington City Council.

"I'm running because I really want to step up and do something different," Emerson (pictured at right) said. "I feel like I can bring a lot to the Old North End. It's been my home for the past few years. I've worked behind the scenes in Vermont politics and I want to use that experience to help my community."

If nominated at a Burlington Democratic Party caucus next Wednesday, Emerson would face off against Progressive Councilor Max Tracy for a Ward 2 seat in the Old North End.

Asked why he thought Tracy should go, Emerson said, "There's nothing wrong with Max Tracy. He seems like a great guy. This is about me and what I can do for my community."

Emerson did say he disagreed with Tracy's vote to bar F-35 fighter jets from being based at the city-owned Burlington International Airport. He said the council "wasted a lot of time" debating the issue and that banning the planes could have jeopardized federal funding.

"I think not allowing F-35s to be based here and giving Burlington that liability and making it possible that we wouldn't have an airport, I think that would be an irresponsible decision," he said.

While saying he opposed the F-35 ban, Emerson declined to say whether he supported or opposed the Air Force's decision this week to base the planes in Burlington.

"I don't have an opinion on that issue myself," he said.

Emerson, who is 27, says he's lived in Ward 2 since 2010, when he worked as a field organizer for Gov. Peter Shumlin's 2010 gubernatorial campaign. In 2012, he managed Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan's unsuccessful campaign for attorney general. Immediately after that, he managed State Treasurer Beth Pearce's successful bid to keep the post to which she was appointed two years prior.

In an email he sent friends and supporters Friday, Emerson wrote that "because of my experience, I'm pretty inoculated against the hardships that many first time campaigners inevitably experience, and I have a realistic expectation of what a struggle it will be to win a close election against an incumbent where less than 500 votes will be cast."

Tracy, a 26-year-old international admissions counselor at the University of Vermont, moved to the ward five years ago and was elected to his first council term in 2012. He said he's looking forward to campaigning on his record.

"I think that over the last two years, I've been incredibly dedicated to my ward and really delivered on multiple fronts," Tracy said, citing his work fighting the F-35s and supporting "nuts and bolts" neighborhood issues, such as new sidewalks and stop signs.

He was quick to question Emerson's experience in municipal government.

"While I think that Ryan has significant political experience, I don't really know what he's done in terms of city politics," Tracy said. "I just don't know what he's going to bring to the table. That's the big question at this point."

Emerson declined to respond to the comment.

In the email to friends, Emerson said he's leaving his position as communications and outreach director at the Vermont Democratic Party on January 17, at which point, he wrote, "I am transitioning into a field director role at another non-profit."

But when asked about his professional plans Friday, Emerson at first denied that he's leaving his job at the party.

"I'm not," he said. "At this stage in time, I'm going to remain at the party."

After declining several times to explain the discrepancy between his response to the question and his email, Emerson said that he was, in fact, leaving the party.

"I will be leaving on January 17, as the email says," Emerson said. "I do plan on leaving in the middle of next month on good terms."

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