Support for the Burlington Town Center redevelopment earned City Council President Jane Knodell a challenge from a member of her own party at a Progressive caucus Sunday night.
The Central District councilor easily defeated Tony Redington by a 21-6 tally to win the Prog endorsement for the March election. But the opposition served as a not-so-subtle reminder that members of the party are divided on some major issues.
“I decided to basically stand up to let her know that we’re very disappointed in her positions [supporting] the F-35s ... and the leadership position she’s taken [in favor of] the Sinex mall,” Redington said.
Redington is a member of the Coalition for a Livable City, a group opposed to developer Don Sinex’s towering $250 million mall makeover proposal. The group unsuccessfully lobbied against a zoning change on the November 8 ballot that will allow for buildings up to 14 stories in a sliver of downtown.
He admitted his challenge to Knodell was reluctant and short-lived — “It was a very civil race. It lasted about 20 minutes.” — but he got his point across. Wards 2 and 3, which make up Knodell’s constituents in the Central District, were the only two in the city that voted against the zoning change on Election Day, he noted.
Charles Simpson, another Progressive member of the CLC, was nominated to challenge Democratic Councilor Joan Shannon for her South District seat. Shannon, like Knodell, was an outspoken supporter of the mall project.
The selections came Sunday evening when more than 70 people gathered in the Edmunds Middle School gym to select Progressive candidates for City Hall in the March elections. Those who won endorsements must be approved by the party’s steering committee and will need to garner the required 30 signatures to secure their slot on the ballot, according to Burlington Progressive Party Chair Charles Winkleman.
Four city councilors representing districts are up for reelection on March 7. The eight ward seats come up for election in 2018.
No Progressives volunteered to run in the North District, a seat currently occupied by Independent Dave Hartnett.
Progressive Selene Colburn, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment, is considering stepping down from the council after winning a seat in the Vermont House in November. There is interest in her East District seat, Winkleman said, and the party may nominate a candidate at a later date. But Colburn “also wants to ensure a strong candidate would run for her seat before she decides to vacate,” he added.
Knodell, who could not immediately be reached for comment, wrote on Facebook shortly after winning the vote that she was “grateful for the support of the caucus.”
Winkleman on Monday downplayed any party rift. “Pro-development or those that are not for development, people in the LGBT community, the refugee community, people of color — I’m always trying to make sure those voices are heard,” he said. “Any hope of bringing some balance to the city hall is always a benefit for all citizens.”