Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Burlington's Future and the Race for Mayor

Last week a tree became the latest casualty of redevelopment, ostensibly to make way for a widened bike path but actually to ready the area for a future hotel on the shore -- something that was unthinkable just a few years ago.

"Greg is a very original thinker, a sharp analyst, and a walking archive of Burlington political history... he is raising critical points that need to be addressed if our city is to avoid becoming simply a corporate brand that is unaffordable and exclusive. He's organizing a meeting on Dec. 2nd to expand the discussion." -- Ben Dangl, editor, Toward Freedom

On Dec. 2 at 7 p.m., a meeting in Burlington has been scheduled to discuss strategies for the upcoming March 3 elections and issues like waterfront redevelopment, the sale of Burlington Telecom, re-empowering the Neighborhood Planning Assemblies (NPAs) with funding and hiring control, legalizing marijuana and raising the local minimum wage, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by rethinking transportation, establishing an independent arts commission, divesting from fossil fuel companies (an issue the City Council has declined to place on the March ballot), and establishing a study commission to look for solutions to the housing crisis and how to make Burlington a more affordable place to live. 

Although Steve Goodkind has announced that he will run for mayor, at this point it's not yet clear how or whether he will address most of these questions -- or even whether he will run as a Progressive after three decades of work under Progressive mayors. For more on the Dec. 2 meeting, see the Facebook event page, "What About Burlington?"

One of the reasons for the meeting is to decide whether there should and can be a serious, substantive challenge to Mayor Weinberger, campaigning on the issues, concerns and grassroots agenda emerging locally. To that end, several people have encouraged me to enter the race and I'm giving it serious consideration. 

The announcement that Steve will run does alter the dynamic a bit. In my view, he was a competent DPW director. But he was also an integral part of a discredited leadership and cannot duck answering for its mistakes. There's also a big difference between being a competent bureaucrat and a political leader. We saw that play out with Bob Kiss as mayor. At this point, Steve's positions on most current issues are unknown and he has declined to reveal them, while mine are clear. That said, his entry does complicate the decision on whether to run. 

In short, the question I am now considering is whether to proceed anyway or, as I did 35 years ago when Bernie Sanders and I were both organizing mayoral campaigns, step aside for someone else. I'll be listening, watching closely, and thinking it over between now and Dec. 2. In the meantime, I have asked my current supporters to spread the word, invite others, and let me know what they think. If the prevailing sentiment is that Steve is the right person and the only challenger needed, I need to hear why. The responses, along with discussion on Dec. 2, will be a significant factor in my choice. This will tell me, for example, whether there is sufficient enthusiasm and support to create an effective campaign on the issues that really matter.

This is an important moment for Burlington. In the next few years, decisions will be made that could transform the community for generations. If I do run, my goal will not be just to win, but to challenge complacency, provincialism, gentrification and the current redevelopment push, and to open up debate on crucial choices facing the city we love. What I find out in the next two weeks will determine whether that happens. I look forward to hearing what Burlington residents have to say and how they feel about a real independent voice in the race. 

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