Ryan Emerson, the Democratic candidate for a city council seat in Burlington’s Ward 2, has withdrawn from the race. Emerson announced his decision Tuesday afternoon, the day after Seven Days inquired about past allegations of domestic violence brought against him.
On two separate occasions in 2005 and 2006, a Chittenden County judge issued relief-from-abuse orders against Emerson, after Sarah Hart, the mother of his child, complained of allegedly violent behavior.
During an interview on Monday morning, Emerson acknowledged the orders but said he'd closed that chapter of his life. “I went through a very dark period in my life with alcoholism and depression. Now seven years later, looking back, I’m a lot different person. Sarah and I have a great relationship now, and I’m just moving on.”
Emerson, 27, emailed this statement to Seven Days on Tuesday: "This campaign has been about the issues facing Ward 2. Out of respect of the voters, and not wanting to distract from those important issues, I am formally dropping out of this race. I wish Max Tracy well in his second term of faithfully serving our ward."
The deadline for candidates to enter the race has passed, so Emerson’s decision clears the way for incumbent Max Tracy to secure a second term. He was the only Progressive candidate facing serious opposition. Emerson's announcement positions the party to up its representation on the 14-member council, from four seats to five.
Emerson announced his bid for the Ward 2 seat in early December, and public safety was a cornerstone of his campaign.
In particular, Emerson said, not enough police are patrolling the streets of Ward 2 on foot. He also pledged to address opiate addiction and associated crimes in the neighborhood.
Court records show that a Chittenden County judge issued the first relief-from-abuse order against Emerson in the summer of 2005. In an affidavit filed with the family court, Hart said that Emerson had smashed the front door window in her home. She then fled to her car, she wrote, and “As I sat in the driver’s seat he took a hammer and smashed open my rear windshield, glass flew everywhere.”
Both Emerson and Hart were 19 years old at the time. Their son is now 10.
In the affidavit, Hart also alleged other angry outbursts. “Ryan held his mother and I hostage with a knife after an argument we had. He had the knife to my throat in front of his mother,” she wrote. “Ryan has hit me and thrown things at me on several occasions. He has bruised my arms … from hitting me, has thrown beer bottles at me, and has thrown various other things at me when losing his temper.”
After holding an evidentiary hearing in which Emerson had the chance to respond to the allegations, Judge Linda Levitt on July 7, 2005 ordered Emerson to stay at least 200 feet away from Hart for six months, but allowed him to continue to spend time with his son.
In March 2006, less than three months after the first restraining order expired, Hart filed a second complaint. In a sworn statement filed with the Winooski police department, she alleged that Emerson had thrown things at her while she was holding their son. She added that he then took her cat and urinated on her car after she refused to let him into her house.
After another evidentiary hearing, Judge Levitt issued a second relief-from-abuse order in April 2006 — this time for two years.
In an interview with Seven Days, Emerson did not dispute Hart’s allegations. Hart has since married and has a different last name. She declined to comment out of concern for her son.
Emerson said he hasn’t engaged in violent behavior since the March 2006 incident and has sought treatment for depression and anxiety in the intervening years. “I’ve done my best to work hard and get treatment,” he said.
After stepping down as spokesman for the Vermont Democratic Party at the end of last year, Emerson went to work as the field director for a statewide campaign — still in its infancy — to improve access to early childhood education. Before that, he held a series of political posts. In 2010 he worked on Gov. Peter Shumlin’s campaign; he managed Chittenden State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan’s close, but unsuccessful, primary campaign for attorney general during the summer of 2012; and, later that fall, he ran Beth Pearce’s successful reelection campaign for state treasurer.
Emerson said Tuesday that he will donate the remainder of his campaign funds to the Burlington Democratic Committee or return contributions to donors who request them.