Freeman Unseats Incumbent Knodell for Burlington City Council | Off Message

Freeman Unseats Incumbent Knodell for Burlington City Council

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Perri Freeman - LUKE AWTRY
  • Luke Awtry
  • Perri Freeman
In a Burlington City Council upset, upstart Progressive candidate Perri Freeman knocked off Central District incumbent Jane Knodell, according to unofficial results.

The news drew cheers at the Progressive Party's gathering at Rí Rá on Church Street.

"It's a new time in Burlington, folks!" Vermont Progressive Party executive director Josh Wronski told the crowd.

After serving a total of 19 years on the council as a Progressive, Knodell lost the party's nomination at its caucus in January. She later decided to run as an independent, but couldn't overcome Freeman's impressive get-out-the-vote effort. Freeman earned 928 votes, about 54 percent of the total, compared to 643 votes, or 37 percent, for Knodell. Democrat Jared Carter earned 144 votes, or 8 percent of the total.

"It feels great," Freeman told Seven Days. "I'm excited to get to work."

She specifically highlighted a livable wage campaign and initiatives to help mitigate climate change.
"On a hyper-local level, people are starting to show they want something different," Freeman said. "They want a different vision" of a city "for the many, not the few."

She appeared exhausted after a long, hard-fought campaign. Asked if she's relieved it's all over, Freeman quipped, "My dog is glad it's over."

In another upset, Progressive Jack Hanson unseated incumbent Richard Deane (D-East District). Hanson won 837 votes (61 percent) to 546 votes (39 percent) for Deane.
Jack Hanson - LUKE AWTRY
  • Luke Awtry
  • Jack Hanson
Hanson entered the party at Rí Rá to cheers and hugs from supporters.

"This is a historic night in Burlington," he said, vowing to "reshape this city." He thanked his supporters.

"This is a progressive city. East District is a progressive district. Let's party!" he said.

Democratic Mayor Miro Weinberger described Deane's loss in the East District as "a real blow."

"I think people may not appreciate what they're losing in Richard on council," the mayor told a Seven Days reporter. "I know there will be some who say this is a real problem for the future of this administration and Democrats."
With 1,367 votes or about 53 percent of the total, Democrat Franklin Paulino defeated the Progressive-backed Kienan Christianson (1,135 votes, 44 percent) for the North District seat currently held by Democrat Dave Hartnett, who did not run for reelection.

Paulino, speaking at the Democrats' party at the Vermont Pub & Brewery, said his campaign worked to build a diverse coalition of support in the New North End, and that he plans to continue doing so on the council.

"Honestly, I'm just looking forward to working hard for our people, and I think I will deliver on that promise," Paulino said, describing himself as "excited as heck."

In the South District, incumbent Democrat Joan Shannon won 1,423 votes, or 66 percent of the total, in fending off Progressive candidate Mohamed Jafar (669 votes, 31 percent) and independent Paco DeFrancis (75 votes, 3 percent).
Shannon said she wasn't surprised by her wide margin of victory and said the results of the other races weren't necessarily a strong referendum on the current administration. "You win some, you lose some," she opined.

Jafar, whose campaign was derailed a month ago when his offensive old tweets surfaced, urged on his fellow Progressives at the party gathering.

"We made the progress we needed to make, we flipped the seats we needed to flip, and so we move forward from here!" he said. "Let's go, let's go."

Wronski attributed Freeman and Hanson's success to their grassroots organizing. "When you knock on doors and you talk to residents like two or three times, this is what you end up with," he said.
He said the party would use the momentum to pick up more seats next year and win the mayoral race in 2020.

"This was one of the most amazing ground games this city has ever seen," Wronski told the crowd. "There were those who said Burlington wasn't ready for an activist city council. I'd say they're ready."

Knodell's supporters, including some longtime Progs, gathered at Butch + Babe's on North Winooski Avenue.

"We tried hard," Councilor Brian Pine (P-Ward 3) said while hugging an acquaintance.
Jane Knodell - JAMES BUCK
  • James Buck
  • Jane Knodell
The crowd of about 15 people cheered when Knodell arrived.

"I’m super proud of the campaign we just ran," she said. "A lot of people in the room worked super hard for me and I really appreciate it. I feel like I let you down."

Knodell continued: "I was going to set [Burlington Telecom] on a positive path, I was going to look out for the Family Room, I was going to look out for the seniors … and we did all these things. And it turned out to be not the thing that mattered to [voters].”

Knodell said she had emailed Freeman to congratulate her. But the ousted incumbent also appeared to take a shot at her opponent.

“I’m not sure how to interpret what happened today, but I will say that I am a little concerned about the future of the city and exactly what’s going to be happening in Contois come April” when new councilors are sworn in, she said.

“It’s one thing to be an organizer and to win a campaign, and we sometimes win campaigns by telling very scary stories to people, not all of which are true.”

Knodell thanked her supporters, especially Pine, who "gave up a lot" for the campaign. She vowed to stay engaged with city politics.

“I will continue to be involved with issues. I am not throwing my signs away," Knodell said to laughter and applause. “Hold onto your buttons.”

Burlington Progressives won another victory as they defeated the city's plan to expand the downtown improvement district. The plan, which was defeated 56 percent to 44 percent, would have allowed downtown businesses to pay to receive services such as additional trash removal, marketing and promotional events. Currently, those are only available to shops along the Church Street Marketplace.
Opponents had argued that it would have made downtown more expensive and less welcoming to residents.

Mayor Weinberger, speaking at the Democrats' party, said the DID expansion proposal marked a "very big change" that voters weren't ready for. He said the authorization request left many details to be ironed out later, which made it hard to quell voters' doubts.

Voters passed the other five ballot items. They overwhelmingly agreed to Weinberger's plan to reform the city's permitting process and create a new Department of Permitting and Inspection.
Burlingtonians also said they were in favor of banning single-use plastics and eliminating the business personal property tax.

Both school and city budgets, which included property tax increases, also passed.

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