Genese Grill, center, with members of the Coalition for a Livable City
Some Burlington Progressives and activists are incensed after Mayor Miro Weinberger denounced party-backed candidates last week as coming from a “reactionary fringe.” Weinberger made the remark at a Democratic caucus where he condemned opposition to city projects, including the downtown mall redevelopment.
Members of the Coalition for a Livable City, a group that has opposed the mall plan, may adopt the label and dub themselves the “reactionary fringe,” said John Franco. He’s a veteran of the mayoral administrations of Peter Clavelle and Bernie Sanders, and an attorney who is representing the coalition.
“Trash talk doesn’t usually end well,” Franco said. The remarks will come back to haunt the mayor, he predicted.
Independent city council candidate Genese Grill, who is also a member of the CLC, characterized Weinberger’s comments as inaccurate and misdirected.
“In calling everyone who was against his rezoning of the downtown core a ‘reactionary fringe,’ Mayor Weinberger has insulted almost half of the people in this city,” Grill wrote in an email to Seven Days. In response, Grill is inviting others to join her in protest at next week’s city council meeting.
At the Burlington Democratic caucus, Weinberger directed the pointed remarks at candidates nominated by the Progressive Party who, he said, were “opposing much of what we are trying to achieve.” Their positions, he said, have been “shown to be anti-environment, anti-senior, anti-business, and even anti-equity.”
Only one Progressive candidate, Charles Simpson in the South District, is challenging a council incumbent. Party chair Charles Winkleman is running for a seat in Burlington’s East District against Democratic candidate Richard Deane.
Weinberger last Thursday asked fellow Democrats to nominate Progressive council member Jane Knodell, the council’s president, to retain her Central District seat in her race against Grill. Attendees obliged, but not without some dissent.
The following morning, Weinberger resolutely stood behind his remarks. “What these candidates represent is not just principled disagreement about [the Burlington Town Center],” he said in an interview on Friday. “There is a small group that is opposing a wide range of the city’s efforts that has been the city’s priorities for a long time.”
Meanwhile, a storm of comments — on both sides of the issue — have erupted on social media and on a story on sevendaysvt.com.
“I am a member of the ‘radical fringe’ which opposes the Mayor’s monstrosity on the marketplace and am helping the opponents in their legal and regulatory challenges,” Franco said in a sevendaysvt.com comment. But, he added, he would nevertheless cast his vote for Knodell come March.
Some mall critics say the redevelopment debate was more robust as a result of the CLC activism.
“There is no doubt in my mind that many important conversations about the mall ... would not have taken place without the respectful, thoughtful dialogue that I and other Progressives offered,” Winkleman wrote in an email to Seven Days. He voted against the mall-related ballot items in November, he added, but not without serious deliberation.
“Holding a different opinion doesn’t make someone reactionary — it makes them a part of a healthy democracy,” he said.