By Alice Dubenetsky
BURLINGTON – As Burlington Mayoral candidates Kurt Wright, Miro Weinberger and Wanda Hines try to garner the support – and votes – to win a seat in the Mayor’s office in March, it is often hard to make a clear distinction between Wright and Weinberger in regard to policies or their vision for the future of Vermont’s largest city. Both are sincere in their desire to set Burlington on a new, sustainable path to fiscal soundness, growth and opportunity.
However, for residents who are appalled at the lack of leadership and oversight that have characterized the current administration,
Wright may have hit on his most important attribute regarding his suitability for the office: experience in municipal government.
For the past six years, Burlington has been administered by a mayor with no experience in municipal government, and no background in business or finance. Before becoming mayor, Bob Kiss worked as Director of the Community Action Program and later as head of the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity. From 2000 until he became mayor in 2006, he represented his district as a Progressive in the Vermont House of Representatives where he continued to pursue his laudable goals in the sphere of social work and protection for workers, renters and those in need of an advocate. It is unclear what qualifications made him a suitable candidate for mayor of Burlington, however, and the results of his inexperience are now widely apparent.
Kurt Wright, by comparison, has run a small business in Burlington, and has served on the City Council, and as Council President for 2 years. Wright also serves as a State Representative, providing him with an insiders gasp of the mechanics of state government, and how best to work with the legislature and the governor to achieve the best results of that partnership for Burlington.
Wright is not afraid to express bold new ideas, such as his proposal to investigate the sale of Burlington Electric Department – a proposal many found stunning, yet intriguing. Wright contends that, according to his advisors in the energy field, the sale could net $100 million for the city, which would help defray the $48 million shortfall in the city pension funds, and repay the $17 million that was misappropriated by the Kiss administration in the Burlington Telecom debacle. Any remaining funds could be used to repair the bike path, which Wright refers to as one of Burlington’s “jewels”.
Wright’s tenure on the City Council and in Montpelier has given him a pragmatic opinion of party politics, and how a partisan divide can stifle even the best of plans and proposals. Citizenship over Partisanship is his campaign slogan, but it is also the way he has chosen to run his campaign and presumably will run the Mayor’s office and the city as a whole. Wright chose Democratic City Councilor David Hartnett, to manage his campaign, and Democrat John Ewing and Republican Charlie Smith to serve as campaign co-chairs. On his campaign website, Wright says repeatedly that the campaign is about Burlington, and not about party politics.
“What’s important to me in this election is that citizenship is far more important going forward than partisanship – and for too long in Burlington we’ve gone down the partisanship path with party politics playing too great a role in government in this city…we’ve seen too much of that in Washington and I think people are tired of that. They don’t want to see that here in Burlington.” Wright asks Burlington’s voters to focus more on choosing the right person, rather than a particular party, to lead the city forward.
Weinberger’s recent fund raising junket to Washington DC, where he was feted by Democratic heavy hitters Patrick Leahy and Peter Welch has only served to highlight Wright’s message about partisanship. Wright does not accept funds from outside of Burlington, and has no plans to do so because he believes the race should be about Burlington, and not about external influence wielded by outside-of-Burlington, inside-the-Beltway politicians.