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Monday, March 14, 2022

Montpelier City Clerk John Odum to Run for Secretary of State

Posted By on Mon, Mar 14, 2022 at 4:11 PM

John Odum outside City Hall in Montpelier. - COURTESY OF JOHN ODUM
  • Courtesy of John Odum
  • John Odum outside City Hall in Montpelier.
Montpelier City Clerk John Odum launched a run Monday for Vermont secretary of state, a position in which he hopes to protect the integrity of Vermont’s election process through his experience in cybersecurity.

Odum, a native of Kentucky, moved to Vermont in 1996 to attend Goddard College in Plainfield and stayed to work on political campaigns and in the nonprofit sector, most recently as clerk in the state capital for the last 10 years.

Odum is a certified ethical hacker, which means he has expertise in testing how easy it is for bad actors to gain access to computer systems. It's a credential that could come in handy if he succeeds in winning election to the statewide office, which handles professional regulation, local and state elections, business services and other administrative duties.

Odum noted that the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee concluded in 2019 that Russia targeted election systems in all 50 states in the 2016 election.

“We’re talking about foreign threats to our democracy,” he said.
Odum doesn't have a bachelor's degree; he left college before graduating in order to take a job with the Vermont Democratic Party, and he remains a Democrat. He noted  he has a certificate in election management from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota and an array of IT certifications, including certified network defense architect. He’s also a board member at the Cyber Policy Initiative at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy.

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Friday, March 11, 2022

Burlington City Council Candidate Appeals Election Results in Court

Posted By on Fri, Mar 11, 2022 at 1:59 PM

Aleczander Stith (far right) on Town Meeting Day - FILE: LUKE AWTRY
  • File: Luke Awtry
  • Aleczander Stith (far right) on Town Meeting Day
Burlington City Council candidate Aleczander Stith is taking the Ward 7 election results to court, contending that the city may have violated election law by failing to contact voters who cast defective ballots.

Stith, a Democrat, asked for a recount after losing the Town Meeting Day election to incumbent Councilor Ali Dieng, an independent, by just two votes. The recount, held at city hall on Monday, confirmed Dieng’s 795 to 793 victory. Stith filed his appeal in Chittenden Superior Court on Friday.

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Thursday, March 10, 2022

Map of New Legislative Districts Advances in the House

Posted By on Thu, Mar 10, 2022 at 7:34 PM

House District Map - SCREENSHOT ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Screenshot ©️ Seven Days
  • House District Map
A key committee signed off Thursday on a map redrawing the legislative districts for the 150 members of the House of Representatives, the latest milestone in the laborious, once-a-decade legislative rebalancing process known as reapportionment.

The House Government Operations Committee unanimously approved new boundaries for 109 legislative districts that will be in place for the upcoming primaries and November general election. The Senate is undergoing a similar process for its 30 members but is lagging behind the House.

Committee chair Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas (D-Bradford) thanked her colleagues for their patience while sorting through a complex process.

"I never appreciated before how frustrating it is to try to put together a puzzle in which two matching pieces say, 'Don’t put us together,'" she said.

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Monday, March 7, 2022

Recount Confirms Dieng Will Keep Seat on Burlington City Council

Posted By on Mon, Mar 7, 2022 at 8:45 PM

Councilor Ali Dieng (I-Ward 7) - COURTNEY LAMDIN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Courtney Lamdin ©️ Seven Days
  • Councilor Ali Dieng (I-Ward 7)
Incumbent Ali Dieng (I-Ward 7) will retain his seat on the Burlington City Council after a recount at City Hall on Monday confirmed his two-vote win over challenger Alec Stith, a Democrat.

The daylong process ended with the same vote count as on Town Meeting Day: Dieng with 795 votes, Stith with 793 and Olivia Taylor, a Progressive-endorsed independent, with 89.

As soon as the election was certified, Dieng clapped and threw up two “V” signs for victory. Stith rushed over and shook his opponent’s hand.

“I’m highly confident about the election system we have in Burlington,” Dieng told a scrum of reporters after the vote, adding that he felt encouraged even with such a narrow margin.

“I’m a proud city councilor,” he said. “I’m someone who’s really loved in the New North End.”

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Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Happy Town Meeting Day! Get Out and Vote, Vermont

Posted By on Tue, Mar 1, 2022 at 1:32 PM

Checking in voters at the Miller Center in Burlington - LUKE AWTRY
  • Luke Awtry
  • Checking in voters at the Miller Center in Burlington
Town Meeting Day might look different again this year, but the vibe is the same.

Vermonters are voting — by voice, by mail, by paper ballot — as part of the state's unique tradition of direct democracy. Town clerks and volunteers are doing their part to count ballots and keep the polls running. Candidates are out for one last 12-hour campaign push before polls close at 7 p.m.

For the last few months, Seven Days has covered various Town Meeting Day issues in municipalities around the state. Here's what you need to know:

February 28: "Scott Blocks Brattleboro's Bid to Lower the Voting Age"

February 25: "Burlington Seeks a Makeover for Main Street With TIF Bond"

February 23: "Democracy How? The Pandemic Has Weakened — but Not Killed — Vermont’s Grand Town Meeting Day Tradition"

February 23:
"Burlington Voters Will Again Consider New City Spending — and a Tax Hike"

February 23:
"Winooski, Montpelier Will Allow Noncitizens to Vote, but Few Have Signed Up"

February 18:
"Milton School Board Race Jolted By Candidates’ Manifesto"

February 16:
"Local Commotion: National Divisions on Race and Equity Are Roiling Vermont School Boards"

February 9:
"Control of the Burlington City Council Likely Hinges on One Race: Ward 8"

February 2:
"A Proposed Tweak to Burlington’s Charter Sparks Impassioned Debate Over Sex Work"

January 18:
"Burlington Progs Consider Six Candidates for Council Seats"

January 12:
"Burlington Council Elections: Hightower Will Run, Stromberg Won't"

January 12:
"Burlington’s Town Meeting Day Could Look Much Different for Progressives"

December 19: "Burlington Dems Endorse Five Candidates for City Council Elections"

December 9: "Burlington City Councilor Chip Mason Won't Seek Reelection"

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Friday, February 25, 2022

Burlington Seeks a Makeover for Main Street With TIF Bond

Posted By on Fri, Feb 25, 2022 at 2:42 PM

A conceptual view of Main Street - CITY OF BURLINGTON
  • City of Burlington
  • A conceptual view of Main Street
Imagine Burlington’s Main Street with wide sidewalks, protected bike lanes and a luxurious tree canopy. Art installations, rain gardens and cafe-style seating would line the streets, and wooden swings would give visitors a place to watch sunsets over the lake.

Such an urban paradise could be possible, city officials say, if voters pass a $25.9 million bond on Town Meeting Day. If approved by a majority, the spending plan would revamp a six-block stretch of Main Street — from South Union to Battery Street — in the city’s downtown tax-increment financing district. The bond would also pay to either relocate or rehab the city’s 160-year-old “ravine sewer” line at the corner of Main and South Winooski Avenue.

Unlike other money items on the ballot this year — a 4-cent tax rate increase and a $23.8 million capital bond — the TIF bond wouldn't raise residents’ taxes. TIF allows municipalities to borrow money with the expectation that the infrastructure improvements created in the district will generate revenue to repay the debt.

With a March 2023 deadline for Burlington to take out loans for TIF projects in this district, officials say the bond question is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to transform downtown — without raising taxes, to boot. But some opponents have suggested that the promise is too good to be true, and have argued that the conceptual design doesn’t wholly address safety concerns.

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Thursday, February 17, 2022

Vermont's Deputy Secretary of State Announces Run for Top Job

Posted By on Thu, Feb 17, 2022 at 3:43 PM

Chris Winters - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • Chris Winters
Deputy Secretary of State Christopher Winters confirmed Thursday that he is running to replace his boss, outgoing Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos, who announced on Monday that he won't seek reelection in November.

Winters, a Williamstown native and 25-year state employee, is running as a Democrat. He said his experience in the office would allow him to “hit the ground running” and carry forward the traditions of transparency and nonpartisanship that Condos and his predecessors valued.

“I’m running as a problem solver who’s done the job,” Winters told reporters on Thursday. “I want to ensure stability and continuity at a time when conducting elections has gotten more complicated than ever, at a time when everything we thought to be true was under attack.”

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Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Secretary of State Jim Condos Won't Seek Reelection

Posted By on Tue, Feb 15, 2022 at 3:20 PM

Secretary of State Jim Condos - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Secretary of State Jim Condos
Updated 5:01 p.m.

Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos announced Tuesday he will not seek reelection this fall, ending his 12-year term as the state’s top elections official.

The 71-year-old Democrat, a former South Burlington city councilor and state senator, said that after 35 years in public office, he was looking forward to retiring. Still, he did not rule out running for public office in the future.

“While I have enjoyed this job every day, I am looking forward to a new chapter next January at the conclusion of my current term,” Condos told reporters during a virtual press conference.

Condos said he has worked hard to ensure that his office was run in a nonpartisan manner, and he was proud that the state has been nationally recognized as a leader in elections, business registrations and records management.

“I am grateful to have been provided the opportunity to help protect, defend and enhance our democracy,” he said.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Burlington Progs Consider Six Candidates for Council Seats

Posted By on Tue, Jan 18, 2022 at 9:02 PM

Attendees at the Progressive caucus - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • Attendees at the Progressive caucus
Burlington Progressives heard pitches on Tuesday from six candidates hoping to receive the party's nomination for city council races this Town Meeting Day.

More than 200 people registered for the virtual caucus, which featured uncontested races and several familiar faces. Incumbent councilors Zoraya Hightower (P-Ward 1) and Joe Magee (P-Ward 3) are hoping to be elected to another term, and longtime Prog Gene Bergman is running for the Ward 2 seat being vacated by outgoing Progressive City Council President Max Tracy.

Newcomers include Olivia Taylor in Ward 7 — an area of the New North End currently controlled by independent Councilor Ali Dieng — and Ali House, a social worker and University of Vermont senior who is running in the student-heavy Ward 8. The latter seat's current councilor, Jane Stromberg, announced last week that she won't seek another term.

Rounding out the potential Prog slate is FaRied Munarsyah, who will compete for the historically Democratic seat in Ward 5. Incumbent Councilor Chip Mason, a Democrat, is stepping down from that seat after a decade.

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Monday, January 17, 2022

Benning Launches LG Bid by Promising to Be a 'Cheerleader' for Vermont

Posted By on Mon, Jan 17, 2022 at 5:27 PM

  • Screenshot ©️ Seven Days
  • Sen. Joe Benning
State Sen. Joe Benning (R-Caledonia) announced his candidacy for lieutenant governor Monday, the third person in as many weeks to enter the race to replace outgoing Lt. Gov. Molly Gray as she runs for Congress.

The first Republican to enter the field said that if elected, he would use the largely ceremonial post not as a stepping stone to higher office, but to highlight the “civility and integrity” of Vermont and its people.

“It is a position that I envision as a cheerleader for the State of Vermont in trying to make our image, if you will, known not just around the United States, but indeed around the world,” Benning said.

The former Senate minority leader joins Rep. Charlie Kimbell (D-Woodstock) and Patricia Preston, executive director of Vermont Council on World Affairs, in making his campaign official. Others who’ve expressed interest in running include former Democratic representative Kitty Toll of Danville and former Democratic/Progressive lieutenant governor David Zuckerman, who served two terms before running unsuccessfully for governor in 2020.

Unlike other candidates “pontificating about what social ill they are going to attack,” Benning said that as lieutenant governor, he would recognize the inherent limitations of the job.

The LG presides over the Senate and steps into the shoes of the governor if needed. The lieutenant governor has no power over legislation except for casting rare tie-breaking votes, he noted.

“The reality of the job, though, is that I [would] have very little impact in the state Senate itself,” he said.

While he would never shy away from expressing his views on issues, Benning said, he’d shift gears from crafting legislation to being an ambassador for the state, such as attending new business openings or other events requiring the participation of a state official.

Benning stressed his strong working relationship with Gov. Phil Scott and members of his administration. He noted that he campaigned for Scott and spoke with him three weeks ago about running. He suggested voters might prefer a lieutenant governor closely aligned with the official he or she might be called upon to replace.

“If something happened to the governor where he was unable to fulfill his role, my candidacy offers about as seamless a transition as you can possibly imagine because I know all those people,” Benning said.

The defense attorney and history buff spoke with reporters and others via Zoom from his home in Lyndonville, shelves full of law books and a historic map of Vermont the wall behind him.

Benning said his next move will be starting to raise the $300,000 to $500,000 he thinks he'd need for a successful campaign.

The 65-year old senator was first elected in 2011. He acknowledged that in a primary, he could face opposition from more conservative Republicans who oppose some of his positions. This includes his support for Proposition 5, which would enshrine in the state Constitution protections for women’s reproductive rights. However, Benning said he and those voters share core Republican values: smaller government, lower taxes, a strong education system, personal responsibility and individual liberty.

Benning previously told Seven Days he was saddened that “somebody was using [the LG role] as an obvious stepping stone to someplace else,” a reference to Gray.

He declined to repeat that critique Monday. Instead he praised Gray for doing an “admirable job” of coming into a Senate “where she knew no one” and moderating the chamber during a pandemic.

“Different people have different paths to arrive at where they want to be,” he said.

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