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Thursday, March 5, 2015

Burlington Democrats Likely to Lose City Council Presidency

Posted By on Thu, Mar 5, 2015 at 3:34 PM

click to enlarge Jane Knodell addresses a gathering of Progressives on Town Meeting Day at Magnolia Bistro. - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen
  • Jane Knodell addresses a gathering of Progressives on Town Meeting Day at Magnolia Bistro.
Non-Democrats now hold sway on the Burlington City Council, and that means they'll likely pick the next council president.

Councilor Joan Shannon, a Democrat, has played that role since 2012. But her party lost council seats on Town Meeting Day. On the new council, Democrats will occupy five of 12 seats.

Councilors on the other side of the aisle are angling to replace her. Four Progressives and two Progressive-affiliated councilors won seats last Tuesday. Republican Councilor Kurt Wright plans to side with the non-Ds on this vote.

The most likely pick: Progressive Councilor Jane Knodell, who's served as council president in the past.

"I am considering it," Knodell said in an interview Wednesday. Knodell, an economics professor at the University of Vermont, said she's assessing whether she has enough time to take on the role, and is having conversations with her fellow non-Democrats. She also noted, "I'm not the only person considering it among the non-D side of the table."

Wright, who's also served a stint as council president, said he'd consider doing it again, but only if Knodell decided not to put her hat in the ring. "My feeling is if Jane wants to be council president, she’ll be council president ... There will be no competition between us."

Independent Councilor Dave Hartnett, who had been a Democrat but lost the party's endorsement in January, echoed that assessment. Referring to Knodell, he said, "It's hers if she wants it." 

The council president sets the agenda. Wright said he thinks Shannon has done a fine job, but he argues that the council loses independence when the president shares the same party affiliation as the mayor. "I think there's a desire for the council to become more of what it should be — which is an independent body from the mayor's office," Wright said.

Shannon said, "I would serve if I were asked to serve." But, she continued, "I am sure they consider the ball to be in their court and I wouldn’t disagree with that."

Non-Democrats are planning to discuss the issue this weekend. The vote will take place in early April, after the new council has been sworn in. 

If they prevail? "I think the honeymoon for [Mayor] Miro [Weinberger] is over," Hartnett said.


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Alicia Freese

Alicia Freese

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Alicia Freese is a Seven Days staff writer.

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