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Meet the New Boss 

Fair Game

Bernie Sanders

Published December 14, 2011 at 12:25 p.m.

Fair Game is Seven Days’ weekly political column.

The Democratic machine that has dominated state politics for the better part of a decade is poised to reclaim the remaining brass ring of Vermont politics: mayor of Burlington.

By a clear 655-530 majority, Queen City voters at a Democratic caucus last Sunday chose “fresh” over “fusion” by electing political newbie Miro Weinberger over former Progressive city councilor and current state Sen. Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden).

The candidates were tied at 540 votes apiece after three rounds of voting and a recount on November 13, and the nominating process was suspended until last weekend. The monthlong gap gave Weinberger and his supporters time to regroup, and they used it well. The city’s Democratic establishment circled the wagons to keep out Ashe, a perceived Progressive interloper.

That Democratic clique has waited 30 years to reclaim the mayor’s office, and they probably smell victory.

Before they get the keys to the third-floor corner office, however, Weinberger has to beat Republican City Councilor and state Rep. Kurt Wright in the March general election. Wright has twice run for mayor, and lost, each time gaining more support. He garnered 32 percent in 2009; the next mayor will need to win at least 40 percent to claim victory.

If the Dems’ repeated attacks on Ashe are any indication, Wright can expect a rough ride. Democrats are likely to hammer Wright for being president of the city council, and chairman of the city’s board of finance, when Burlington Telecom was bleeding millions of dollars with nary a public peep of concern.

With the primary behind him, Weinberger knows he’ll need the support of Ashe and the Progressives to beat Wright. Upon winning, Weinberger immediately reached out to Ashe during a victory speech at Memorial Auditorium.

“I want to thank Tim for a truly great race, and I hope he’ll come out here and stand with me,” said Weinberger. Ashe obliged and gave Weinberger a hug. Aww. The sign of a budding political bromance? Or indicative of the Democratic mandate to retake city hall?

At a “unity” press conference Monday, Weinberger was more emphatic and direct about his need to build bridges with Progressives in order to build a center-left coalition to combat Wright’s likely emerging center-right coalition.

Ashe not only endorsed Weinberger on Monday, but pledged to help broker peace talks with key Progressives and with the Progressive Party itself.

Weinberger promised, if elected, to lead in the tradition of former Burlington mayors Bernie Sanders and Peter Clavelle. “I will take action and move the city forward with tolerance and ensuring no one is left behind,” he said.

Weinberger told Fair Game his harsh rhetoric during the caucus campaign was targeted at incumbent Mayor Bob Kiss and not the Progressive Party’s 30-year history of running the city.

“I have often agreed with a substantial number of issues they have championed,” said Weinberger. “It’s time to turn the page on the past six years … not the last 30.”

Progressives would be hard pressed to argue with that point.

"What does Republican Kurt Wright need to do to win the mayor's seat in liberal Burlington?"Post your answer below

(Tim Ashe is the domestic partner of Seven Days publisher and coeditor Paula Routly. See disclosure in Letters to the Editor.)

Burlington Progressives R.I.P. (1981-201?)

The Progressive Party’s obituary has been written many times in the past decade. When former Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle sought, and won, the Democratic nomination for governor in 2003. When the party looked like it didn’t have a candidate for mayor in 2006.

And now, post-Democratic caucus 2011.

That’s one reason the party’s city caucus Sunday night felt like a wake, with hand-wringing, memory sharing and a little crying.

State Sen. Tim Ashe was seen by some old-guard Progressives as their last best hope to hold onto city hall.

The Progs have no obvious candidate in the wings, a remarkable turn of events given that the party has dominated the city’s political psyche for three decades and self-identifies as the “most successful third party in the nation.”

Speaker after speaker at Sunday’s caucus said they were unimpressed by Weinberger’s take on Progressives’ bread-and-butter issues of social and economic justice. Oddly enough, no one mentioned that the most blue-collar candidate currently in the race is Republican Kurt Wright.

The crowd seemed split as to whether to run someone or not, but Ward 2 Progressive Max Tracy persuaded the party to hold off on making a rash decision.

“While I would like to see us have a candidate, I also know that we make bad decisions when we make decisions too quickly,” said Tracy. “We need to pause and think about our values and what our needs are and then see where the candidates sit.”

Does that mean they should run a less-than-ideal candidate? Take time to find the perfect one? Sit out the mayor’s race and focus on winning more seats on the city council? We’ll learn the answers to those questions when the Progs meet again in early January.

So, rather than let the Democrats write their obituary, it appears Progressives have chosen to write their own. Or write the party’s next chapter.

Pay to Play

Miro Weinberger may be a newbie to politics, but he raised campaign cash like a seasoned pro. In fact, he outraised and outspent Tim Ashe nearly 3-to-1.

As of Sunday’s caucus, Weinberger raised and spent around $40,000. Comparatively, Ashe raised about $16,000 and spent about $14,000.

How does their spending stack up with past races?

In the general election of 2009, incumbent Mayor Bob Kiss spent about $20,000; Democrat Andy Montroll about $25,000; Republican Kurt Wright spent about $34,000 and independent Dan Smith spent more than $51,000.

To date, however, state Sen. Hinda Miller holds the record: She spent close to $60,000 on her unsuccessful 2006 mayoral campaign, which included a primary against Montroll.

At this rate, Weinberger seems on pace to eclipse that mark.

Change, it turns out, doesn’t come cheap.

Randy Republicans

The Vermont GOP establishment let out a collective sigh of relief last week as former state auditor and current state Sen. Randy Brock (R-Franklin) announced he is running for governor in 2012.

The entire GOP establishment stood behind Brock at a Statehouse press conference, including several pols who flirted with gubernatorial bids themselves: former lieutenant governor Brian Dubie, Vermont GOP chairwoman Pat McDonald, State Auditor Tom Salmon, former governor Jim Douglas and current Lt. Gov. Phil Scott.

Brock is well liked and well regarded within the GOP. He’s a good public speaker and one of the party’s more articulate spokesmen for its key issues and values.

McDonald said she believes Brock’s candidacy will allow the GOP to fill out its electoral dance card for the 2012 elections.

Brock isn’t afraid to throw some rhetorical punches — something that will come in handy against Democrat Gov. Peter Shumlin, who is smooth on the stump and a sharp debater.

“Peter Shumlin’s policies — especially in the areas of health care and energy — are built on rosy assumptions and wishful thinking constructed over a foundation of quicksand,” Brock told supporters.

Follow that? It gets better.

“They are good at politics, they are good at promising all things to all people, they are great at dealing with the press, but my experience tells me that Vermonters want more,” said Brock. Come November 2012, Vermonters will see through Shumlin’s shallowness and realize “we can do better,” he said.

Sounds like a campaign slogan in the making.

Dubie Dos and Don’ts

Former lieutenant governor Brian Dubie, who moved to Franklin County after the 2010 governor’s race, dismissed speculation last week that he’s running for Brock’s open senate seat.

Dubie told Fair Game he’s got his work cut out for him putting four kids through college and helping to manage his family’s sugaring operation in Fairfield.

“We moved to Fairfield to help my brother Mark in the sugar woods. We will be real busy,” Dubie told Fair Game via email. “It was a privilege to have served on the school board and as lieutenant governor. I have no plans to run for the state senate.”

One Happy Union

Gov. Peter Shumlin and the Vermont State Employees Association settled on a tentative, two-year contract last week that restores past pay cuts and offers pay increases over the next two years.

The deal would restore a 3 percent pay cut effective July 1, 2012, that was enacted under Republican governor Jim Douglas. The cut was supposed to sunset in 2012, but Shumlin aides had been signaling that they might seek to keep the cut in place to help balance the state budget.

If VSEA members ratify the contract, state workers will see a nice stocking stuffer: 2 percent raises in each of the next two years. On the flip side, state workers will pay higher copays for some prescription medications and Columbus Day will no longer be a holiday.

The increasingly rancorous relationship between Shumlin and VSEA hit a low point in October when Shumlin called some state workers “greedy” and publicly asked that they withdraw a grievance against his administration. About 80 workers filed a grievance with the Vermont Labor Relations Board for emergency work completed in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene.

Shumlin’s tough talk played well with some Vermonters, but it rankled many rank-and-file Democrats, labor leaders and Progressives.

In fact, it appeared Shumlin could have been headed for an electoral collision course with union leaders and a possible left-wing challenger in the 2012 election.

Now? Less likely.

For the guv, this new union contract could be the gift that keeps on giving.

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About The Author

Shay Totten

Shay Totten

Shay Totten wrote "Fair Game," a weekly political column, from April 2008-December 2011.


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