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Tempers are kind of flaring in a way that you don’t often see in Vermont politics, especially local Vermont politics.

Burlington mayor's race: a primer

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"Politics" are different in Vermont's largest city. Since 1985, a successful third party, the Progressive party, has dominated local government there. Progressive voters essentially sent Sen. Bernie Sanders to Congress after re-electing him mayor of Burlington for successive terms.

But for the first time in almost 30 years, there's no Progressive running for mayor this year.

Paul Heintz covers politics for 7 Days, an alternative weekly newspaper based in Burlington. He says this race isn't so much about issues as personalities and shifting loyalties. And he says that even though there's no Progressive on the ballot, those votes will still make a difference.

He told Sarah Harris there's a history of bad blood between Progressives and Democrats, and this race is a bit of a turf battle.

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Harris: How did it happen that the Progressive Party isn’t represented among the candidates?

Heintz: Well there’s historically been a lot of bad blood between the Democrats and the Progressives in Burlington. It’s a bit of a turf battle. 

The incumbent mayor, Bob Kiss, is pretty unpopular. He’s been criticized for the Burlington Telecom, which is a municipal telecom company that was mismanaged. And so he did not run for re-election and then a gentleman named Tim Ash who’s a state senator tried to run as a Democrat Progressive. And he lost to the eventual democratic candidate, Miro Weinberger, in a very close primary.

I think what we’re seeing right now is tempers are kind of flaring in a way that you don’t often see in Vermont politics, especially local Vermont politics. The rhetoric just gets more and more amped up. The Democratic party has gotten involved and they’re sending out pretty aggressive press releases criticizing Kurt Wright.

The Democrats really over the past 15 or 20 years have taken about every significant office available. They now have the governorship, both houses in the statehouses and almost all the statewide elected offices. They see Burlington, the biggest city in the state, I think as a real prize. So they’re investing a lot of time and money into the race.

Harris: Can you tell us a little bit about each of the candidates—what issues they’re running on, what their platforms are, what their backgrounds are?

Paul: So there are three candidates in the race: Miro Weinberger, the Democrat. He says he’s going to bring a “fresh start” to  Burlington. He’s trying  to draw a clear distinction between both himself and the current mayor, Bob Kiss, as well as his opponent, Kurt Wright, who’s the Republican in the race.

Kurt Wright is an incumbent city counselor and state representative. And Weinberger has attempted to paint Kurt Wright as someone who’s complicit in the failures of the city over the last 10 years. Kurt Wright on the other hand says he has the experience for the job and that he’s the only person who can bring the city together. He’s earned the endorsements of Democrats, Independents, Republicans, Progressives, so he sees himself as a uniter.

The third candidate in the race is a woman named Wanda Hines. She also doesn’t have any electoral experience. But she’s worked in City Hall for a number of years. And she’s viewed commonly I think as not likely to win, but she certainly could push the election one way or another.

It seems like different candidates are getting endorsed by people they see as big political players. I’m wondering how much that actually matters in this race.

Weinberger, who’s the Democrat in this race, have received the backing of some members of the state’s Congressional delegation as well as the governor. So he has some heavy hitters in his pocket. Wright the Republican, on the other hand, doesn’t have big name endorsers, but a number of his fellow city councilors, most promimently a progressive, former democratic state representative endorsed him. That fits with his message of being someone who crosses party lines and can bring Burlington together.

The one factor that is still up in the air is whether Vermont’s independent representative Bernie Sanders will endorse one of the candidates. And the reasons that that is significant is bc there’s no progressive in the race, a lot of the progressives don’t seem to know who they’ll support. It’s a significant block of voters. And Bernie Sanders is the messiah to many of those people so if he is to swing his support to Miro Weinberger, for instance, that could be pretty significant. If he sits it out, all bets are off.

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