Ahead of the Progressive Party caucus on Wednesday, several candidates have already announced their intention to run for Burlington City Council in the Town Meeting Day election.
Spots in all eight wards are up for election in March 2020 and the Progs expect to endorse candidates in every race except Ward 6, according to Vermont Progressive Party executive director Josh Wronski. That seat is currently held by Karen Paul, a Democrat.
Political newcomer Zoraya Hightower is seeking the Ward 1 spot that's belonged to independent Councilor Sharon Bushor since 1987. Bushor and Hightower will go head-to-head for the Progressive endorsement this Wednesday, though each said she would run as an independent.
Hightower works for an international development consulting firm and has lived in Burlington for four years; she's served on the city's Development Review Board for two. She'd like to expand public transit and to create more affordable housing for residents and students.
It will be challenging to take on a 32-year incumbent, but "I think people are excited to see a change," Hightower said. "I hope to be the one to facilitate that."
Bushor said she's faced numerous opponents over the years but thinks her constituents appreciate her attention to housing issues and city finances.
"Every time you put yourself out there, there are two outcomes: You either win or you lose, and I don't think I've ever felt ... that it's a shoo-in," Bushor said of her 2020 chances. "Every candidate brings strengths and weaknesses to a position, so I think what people have to determine is who is best for this seat."
In Ward 5, a recent University of Vermont grad will run as a Prog for a seat currently held by Democrat Chip Mason.
Nathan Lantieri works as a wilderness therapy guide for an outfit in Waitsfield. In October, he finished up a yearlong post with the Church Street Marketplace, where he oversaw licensing for street vendors and performers.
If elected, Lantieri wants to implement city policies that combat income inequality and empower people over business interests.
"The whole point of this is to be a voice for the people, so I’m really excited to be able to get to do that," he said.
Another recent UVM grad, Jane Stromberg, will run as a Prog against independent incumbent Councilor Adam Roof in Ward 8.
Stromberg did not immediately return an interview request, but a press release issued by her campaign on Monday named the climate crisis as her top concern. Stromberg serves on the board for the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, according to the press release.
Roof, her opponent, has run as an independent since first being elected in 2015 but is considering a run as a Democrat in 2020. The Dems will caucus on January 7, according to Burlington Democratic Party chair Sam Donnelly.
"I welcome it," Roof said of the contested race. "Competition makes better candidates, and better candidates make better public servants."
In Ward 4, Sarah Carpenter is seeking both the Democrat and Progressive endorsements but said she'll likely run as a Dem. That seat is currently held by Council President Kurt Wright, a Republican who is undecided if he'll seek another term.
Carpenter retired last year after two decades at the helm of the Vermont Housing Finance Agency. If elected, Carpenter wants to focus on affordable housing, water quality and transportation issues, she said.
Wright had previously said this term would be his last but is now considering another campaign. Should he run, Wright's candidacy could pose a conflict with his job as cohost of "The Morning Drive," a news talk show on WVMT radio, because the station would have to offer him, Carpenter and any other challengers equal time on-air during the campaign.
Wright is inviting his constituents to call into the show on Wednesday to discuss the election; he'll officially announce his decision Thursday, on the air. He and Carpenter know one another from Wright's days as a state representative in Montpelier.
"I've got lots of experience in government, and I've got time and energy," Carpenter said. "[Wright has] been a councilor and has done some really good things for the city over the years, but ... I feel like I’d like to have an opportunity to contribute."
Burlington Republican Party chair Kolby LaMarche said the party hasn't scheduled a caucus and that Wright is the only potential Republican candidate in the race.
Progressive councilors Max Tracy (Ward 2) and Brian Pine (Ward 3) are officially running for reelection, they each told Seven Days. Democrat/Progressive Ali Dieng (Ward 7) is also running and will again seek both parties' endorsements, he said.
Neither Paul nor Mason immediately returned interview requests about their reelection plans.
Candidates must collect at least 30 signatures from residents of their ward to get on the ballot, according to assistant city clerk Amy Bovee. Petitions are due January 27 at 5 p.m.
The Progressive Party caucus will be held Wednesday, December 4 at 6:30 p.m. at Edmunds Elementary School in Burlington.