Burlington Democrats are poised to regain control of a city council and mayor’s office snatched from their hands nearly three decades ago.
If elections break their way, Queen City Dems could have a working majority on the city council for the first time since the mid-1980s, and the first mayor in office since that infamous 1981 election — you know, the one in which independent Socialist Bernie Sanders  defeated incumbent Democrat Gordon Paquette by 10 votes. Today, Sanders sits in the U.S. Senate, after Democrats helped him sail to victory in 2006.
The Progressives have become the entrenched bureaucracy struggling to remain relevant — a charge Progs leveled at the Dems in the 1980s.
Seems like the Birkenstock is on the other foot now, doesn’t it?
The only time Burlington has not had a Progressive mayor in the past 28 years was the two-year term of Republican Peter Brownell . In 1993, Brownell denied Prog Peter Clavelle  a third term. Clavelle had misjudged voter anger over a proposed tax increase and his decision to offer “domestic partner” benefits to city employees. Voters inevitably linked the two.
Fast forward to today, when no city-side tax increase has been proposed, and same-sex marriage is being debated in the legislature. Domestic partner benefits are standard fare in today’s workplace.
As it did in 1993, the Burlington Free Press has come out and dissed the Progressive candidate for mayor. But instead of endorsing a Republican, as it did in 1993 and in 1995, the Freeps surprisingly picked Democrat Andy Montroll  for the top slot. We thought Republican Kurt Wright  might have earned the honor since he’s got the same city-council creds as Montroll, plus familiarity with the inner workings of Montpelier. Plus he talks about “leadership” ad nauseam. Montroll may have comparable experience, but his demeanor more closely resembles that of the somnolent Progressive Bob Kiss .
That said, Independent Dan Smith  — a newcomer to politics as a candidate — earned the Freeps’ number-two vote. Impressive.
Democratic City Chairman Jake Perkinson is hopeful there will be plenty to celebrate at the Democratic victory party at Nectar’s on election night. He notes that five new councilors and a new mayor would represent a big political shift for the city.
“It will be very interesting to see how such a large turnover on the city council will change the dynamics on the council,” said Perkinson. “Especially with a new mayor.”
This year, five incumbents chose not to run — Progressives Tim Ashe  (Ward 3) and Jane Knodell  (Ward 2); Republicans Wright (Ward 4) and Craig Gutchell (Ward 7); and Democrat Montroll (Ward 6).
The Dems are running strong candidates throughout the city, and are only missing a candidate in Ward 1, home to incumbent Independent Sharon Bushor. Meanwhile, the Progressives have fielded only two council candidates — Marrisa Caldwell  in Ward 3 and Emma Mulvaney-Stanak  in Ward 2.
The Green Party is running a mayoral candidate as well as city-council contenders in four wards.
The Democrats currently hold six seats on the city council, the Progressives three, Republicans three. There are two independents.
In Ward 7, Ellie Blais, a former Democratic city councilor, is running as an Independent. The Democrat in the race is Eli Lesser-Goldsmith , and the Republican is Vince Dober. They are vying for the seat being vacated by Gutchell.
In Ward 4, two women are vying for Wright’s old seat — Republican Eleanor Briggs Kenworthy and Democrat Nancy Kaplan.
In Ward 3, Caldwell is facing a strong challenge from Democrat David Cain , who reached out to Progressives to run as a fusion candidate. They turned him down. In Ward 2, Mulvaney-Stanak is facing Democrat Nicole Pelletier.
Democrats in Wards 5 and 6 are only facing challenges from the Green Party. Mary Kehoe  — stepdaughter of Congressman Peter Welch  — is running for Montroll’s open seat in Ward 6, while Democrat Joan Shannon  is running for reelection.
As Ashe noted in “Fair Game” last week , he is worried that absent Progressive voices on the council, the city’s progressive-minded legacy could be in jeopardy.
A long-time city Dem who survived the Progressive rise to power disagrees.
“It was Democratic leadership that transformed this city,” said Rep. Bill Aswad , a former city councilor and planning commission chair. “Our vision changed this city for the better.”
Democrats were the ones who rezoned the waterfront, transformed Church Street, and built 1300 units of low-income housing — nationally touted accomplishments, he notes.
Aswad added, “I don’t think there will be a major shift in agendas, but I do think government will be more open.”
Today’s Dems are a different lot, argues Ashe, and some are still exorcising old demons.
“The Democratic councilors present very stark differences with their legislative counterparts,” said Ashe, now a Progressive-Democratic state senator. “They are more conservative, and some are still fighting a battle against the Sanders administration from the ’80s.”
For the Democrats who have been more or less exiled from Burlington City Hall for the past 28 years, it may be a victory well worth the wait.
Who’s Watching the Watchmen? — Let’s face it: Burlington has had its share of problems since longtime elections chief Jo LaMarche left the city to take a job as the Addison County clerk. Many wonder if the current team is up to the task of running an error-free election.
After last year’s March election, city Democrats hauled Chief Administrative Officer Jonathan Leopold and his assistant Ben Pacy into court for improperly unsealing a box of ballots during the recount of a New North End council race.
Since then, Burlington has had a statewide primary where not enough ballots were ordered for one ward. Then, last November, city election officials incorrectly reported vote tallies on election night, which caused confusion in a key county senate race — so much confusion, in fact, that one candidate asked for a countywide recount. Even with wrong numbers, the public got results several hours later than in any previous election.
In the world of baseball, that might been the equivalent of three strikes. But one of those strikes could have passed for a foul tip.
Now we learn that election workers were given bad info about how voting machines should be set up for the city’s instant runoff system. During a training two weeks ago, Pacy told election workers that ballot machines would be calibrated and cleared at City Hall — a procedure elected election officials used to carry out at the polling site, before voting started, to protect against voter fraud.
Ward 6 election official Owen Mulligan raised concerns, claiming elected election officials — not city employees and consultants — should ensure ballot boxes are clear before the polls open. That’s how it was done in 2006.
Mulligan contacted Seven Days, and subsequently his note to us ended up on a friend’s blog, Blazing Indiscretions .
When Mulligan’s complaint hit the blog, IRV supporter and consultant Terry Bouricius  called city hall and then replied on the blog claiming Pacy’s info was inaccurate. Yikes.
In 2006, he was a paid consultant for the city. This year, he’s doing some work pro bono, since few, if any, of the election workers in City Hall were around three years ago. Comforting thought.
“Owen was rightly upset,” Bouricius later told Seven Days. “But, what he would like to happen is actually what is going to happen.”
In other words, ward election workers will do what they have always done.
Pacy told “Fair Game” that the city had the wrong info to begin with and will clear the air at the next training. That occurs as Seven Days goes to press.
Mulligan is glad the issue is resolved, but isn’t happy about how he discovered the city’s screw-up.
“To learn from a comment on a friend’s blog that information given to me at an election training was incorrect is disconcerting,” Mulligan said.
Still, thanks to Mulligan, it’s good to know someone in charge of watching the election process is actually doing just that.
Telecom Turmoil? — A persistent issue in the mayor’s race is Burlington Telecom , and whether the city-owned cable, phone and Internet company will succeed or fail.
Concerns about BT’s inability to meet its target goal of providing service to all of the city has reached the Public Service Board. The city is trying to negotiate a new set of dates to meet this promise — a promise that, if unfulfilled, could spell trouble for the company.
And, as reported in “Fair Game” last week, the Kiss administration raised concerns about Councilor Montroll’s role with another telecom startup, ValleyNet , which is providing similar services to a municipal network in central and eastern Vermont.
Last week, Burlington Telecom’s long-time marketing and customer service manager Richard Donnelly resigned to take a job with the Vermont Energy Investment Corporation. Donnelly was one of the first hires at BT.
BT’s original Customer Service Manager Nicole Corriveau is filling in temporarily for Donnelly. A search for his replacement will begin soon, according to BT’s general manager Chris Burns.
Donnelley “left on good terms,” Burns said. “Richard was a very dedicated employee and contributed much to our organization during his tenure.”
Town Meeting Tallies — For 41 years, State Sen. Bill Doyle  (R-Washington) has been taking the civic pulse of Vermonters on Town Meeting Day. By now, it’s a tradition.
This year, Doyle’s survey poses 13 questions to Vermonters, including whether they support same-sex marriage or lowering the drinking age to 18. He’ll also ask their opinions on relicensing Vermont Yankee and a gas tax to fix roads and bridges.
In 2008, 54 percent of those surveyed supported gay marriage, while 51 percent did not want the gas tax increased. On VY, 43 percent said it should be relicensed, 40 percent said no, and 27 percent were unsure.
Doyle culls his questions from broad public debate and items that are on the minds of lawmakers.
This year Doyle will ask Vermonters if they think the state is an affordable place to live, and whether they are satisfied with public schools.
“It’s important for legislators to know how people feel back home,” said Doyle. In fact, lawmakers are often the ones who distribute the survey. This year as many as 180 communities will be polled.
To find out what Vermonters think, tune in to the Seven Days staff blog, Blurt, on Town Meeting Day. Doyle is going to provide the results as he gets them.
Media Notes — In the past two weeks, we’ve noted some of the awards won by Vermont newspapers and their scribes. Not to be outdone, the Burlington Free Press will add some top awards to their trophy case from the New England Newspaper Association .
For the second consecutive year, the Free Press has nabbed the Morley L. Piper First Amendment Award. The Freeps was recognized for its coverage of the conflict surrounding the Winooski city manager and the suspension of a Burlington Parks and Recreation Department  manager. Congrats go to reporters Matt Sutkoski and John Briggs, respectively, for their work. The state’s largest daily also won a Publick Occurrences Award for its coverage of Brooke Bennett’s disappearance.
The awards will be handed out next month at the New England Newspaper Association meeting. The group, which used to be only open to daily papers but now includes some weeklies, is not to be confused with the New England Press Association  — which includes community dailies and weeklies in its membership — or its recent awards announcements. One item on NENA’s agenda this year, however, is whether NEPA and NENA should merge. A cost-cutting measure, no doubt. Sign of the times.
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