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Video Part One of Two
In the clip below Kurt Wright, who lost the recent race for Burlington mayor, continued his farewell talk at City Hall with a tribute to Board President Bill Keogh. Keogh discussed what has worked in Vermont's largest city, and retiring Mayor Bob Kiss offered some final reflections. Plus, a group photo.
Video Part Two of Two
Shot and Edited by Greg Guma
Officials Bid Farewell before a New Team Takes Charge
By Greg Guma
3/28/12 -- The Burlington City Council split its attention between some lingering business -- downtown loitering and water flouridation* -- and a series of emotional farewells on Monday night during its final session before a new mayor, Miro Weinberger, and four new councilors are sworn into office next week.
“I think we have something to be proud about,” said Mayor Bob Kiss, who offered a few final remarks just a week before the end of his two terms in office. Referring to Burlington Telecom, whose finances marred his last years in power, Kiss predicted ultimate success due to the potential value of a publicly-owned fiber optic system.
“That is part of our economic future, so we can’t be faint-hearted as we push ahead,” Kiss advised. “Be careful, but don’t be afraid either. And we’re not afraid here in the city of Burlington.”
The four departing members of the city council include Democrats David Berezniak and Board President Bill Keogh, as well as Progressive Emma-Mulvaney-Stanak and Republican Kurt Wright, who ran against Weinberger. The council newcomers include two Progressives, Rachel Seigel and Max Tracy, and two Democrats, Chip Mason and Bryan Aubin.
The shift represents a one-seat gain for Progressives and a one seat loss for Republicans, with Democrats maintaining seven votes, just short of a majority.
Two candidates, both women, will compete to replace Keogh as Council President when the legislative body reorganizes next Monday. Some Democrats are uniting behind Joan Shannon, who currently chairs the Ordinance Committee and has worked closely with Keogh, her colleague from Ward Five in the city’s heavily-Democratic south end.
The other candidate is Ward 6 Independent Karen Paul, member of the powerful Board of Finance. As a result of the recent elections, the other four elected members of the Finance Board will have to be replaced.
Both Shannon and Paul endorsed Weinberger, who emerged on March 6 as the decisive winner in a three-way-race with Wright and Independent Wanda Hines. It was Weinberger’s first run for any public office, but Wright’s third bid for mayor. He has said it will be his last.
Although Kurt Wright will continue to represent Burlington residents in the state legislature, he opted not to seek another term on the council. In farewell remarks, he looked back at what he described as a “grueling race” for the city’s top job and asked Weinberger, who was in the audience, to come forward for a public handshake.
“I look forward to the next three years and watching that fresh start,” Wright said. Then he smiled, adding a light-hearted joke about his opponent’s campaign slogan. “I’m hearing that phrase in my sleep,” he said. “I keep saying nonpartisan (Wright’s catchphrase) but I keep hearing fresh start.”
Although Wright acknowledged several points of agreement with his former rival, he also challenged Weinberger to make good on some campaign pledges. “I want to see the gateway entrance developed into Burlington, the midtown motel being torn down and development happening there,” Wright said.
“I look forward to the decision on the Moran plant over the next 60 to 90 days. I look forward to 10 percent efficiencies occurring – that’s going to be a challenge, that’s about $4.5 million. And also solving the retirement system problem.”
Emma Mulvaney-Stanak, who has represented both Ward 2 and 3, reflected on her three years as a council member. The challenges created by BT made her colleagues more alert and activist,she concluded, “with eyes more wide open about the need to have this body just as informed about city finances and large decisions than ever before.”
She specifically mentioned her own efforts on behalf of a livable wage for city employees, as well as bringing “working people’s issues forward and a real community-based approach, including trying to talk about labor standards on city projects.” Public-private partnerships on climate change and other issues will be a major topic going forward, she predicted.
“Everything that we talk about has a global impact,” she added, “and everything global has a local impact.”
Mulvaney-Stanak also urged councilors to consider all points of view, and to help new members, especially “the novices from the Old North End. And treat them well – or I’ll be back.” Whatever lies ahead, Wright insisted, she is likely to re-engage in local politics at some point.
Bill Keogh called the last few years quite stressful. “The Burlington Telecom issue presented a major challenge, a challenge that offered few tools to effectively deal with it,” he explained. Keogh nevertheless praised elected officials and city staff for an “unparalleled sense of cooperation.”
He added, “Those of us who are leaving the council probably echo what many of us hear on the street: despite our shortcomings we have a strong sense of hope in the new council and new administration, and that the city will continue to be as great as it is.”
Like Wright and Keogh, Mayor Bob Kiss struck an optimistic tone. “It’s nobody’s fault that we move slowly,” he said. “The process of government deserves attention and a slow process so that what you get at the end is something that we hoped for.”
Countering a common assumption, he noted that partisanship does not always drive political decision making in Burlington. “When issues come up I’ve always looked for eight votes,” Kiss recalled, “and during the last six years I’ve never known where those eight votes are going to come from.
“What is very true is that different groups of people came together to shape government and the results of government going forward. It’s not truly driven by party politics. It’s often driven by personal views, the debate, and how people participate in the democratic process. That really is the democratic process, and it is at work in the city of Burlington.”
On April 2, Weinberger and new city council will attend Organization Day ceremonies, selecting board and committee leaders for the coming year. With backing from Democrats, Shannon enters the leadership race with an edge. But at least one Democrat, David Hartnett, who managed Wright’s campaign, often votes with Republicans. They and the three Progressives may prefer a council president who is not as closely aligned with the Democratic Party.
* for a more detailed report, visit VTDigger.org