A University of Vermont senior will represent Democrats for the Ward 1 seat on the Burlington City Council ballot in March.
Jillian Scannell, 22, won the majority of votes during Sunday night’s caucus at Edmunds Elementary School. With 27 of 51 votes cast, she beat independent incumbent Councilor Sharon Bushor (14 votes) and newcomer Zoraya Hightower (10 votes).
“It was really exciting to be a part of the grassroots democratic process,” Scannell said. “I’m just really looking forward to the race ahead.”
Of eight council spots up for election in March, only the Ward 1 seat was contested during Sunday's caucus. The same was true during the Progressive Party caucus last month, when Hightower earned the nomination over Bushor. The Progs had previously backed Bushor during each of her campaigns since her first in 1987.
On Sunday, each candidate was given five minutes for a stump speech. Scannell, who is the UVM student body president, said her relationship with UVM trustees would help in conversations about student housing, long a point of contention between the city and university. She also promised to be more engaged than current councilors, some of whom she criticized for using their cellphones during meetings.
"It's time for a councilor that is responsive and values open communication with the community,” Scannell said.
Her opponents also focused on housing. Bushor, who had never before sought an endorsement from the Dems, said she supports the city’s inclusionary zoning policy, which mandates that housing developments contain affordable units, and the city's livable wage ordinance. She pledged to bring “energy, time and commitment” to the council.
Hightower said housing is her top priority. Noting that she’d formerly "dealt with housing insecurity," Hightower said she’d introduce reforms that require landlords to give tenants ample notice of rent increases and to offer tenants the right of first refusal if landlords list their property for sale.
The losing candidates vowed to remain in the race: Bushor as an independent and Hightower with the Progressive endorsement.
Earlier in the evening, Mayor Miro Weinberger told the crowd that voters need to elect more Democrats “who deliver ambitious yet practical and affordable solutions” to the housing crunch and climate change. As he spoke, a group of protesters stood silently, holding signs that read, “Who Arrests Slumlords?” and “Excessive Homes Not Excessive Force,” a reference to recent incidents of police brutality involving Queen City cops.
Mayor Miro Weinberger
Charles Winkleman of the Burlington Tenants Union led the protest with FaRied Munarsyah, the organizer of Proposition Zero, a grassroots group that wants to give residents the power to get binding questions on the ballot. Questions that currently make it onto the ballot by way of a citizen-led petition are considered nonbinding, meaning the council is not required to act.
In a press release issued before the caucus, the protesters said they aimed to call attention to “collusion and corruption” in Burlington Democratic politics.
Afterward, Winkleman, a Ward 1 resident, said he was disappointed that none of the candidates discussed CityPlace Burlington, the long-stalled project in the middle of downtown, or the social media scandal that led former police chief Brandon del Pozo to resign. Del Pozo had anonymously trolled Winkleman online, as had Deputy Chief Jan Wright, who is currently on administrative leave as the city investigates her conduct.
"It sounds like the Burlington Democratic party is entirely OK with everything that's happened in the city in the past five years,” Winkleman said.
Other candidates won support in uncontested races. Ward 2 voters nominated Ryan Nick from the floor; he’ll challenge incumbent Progressive Councilor Max Tracy on Town Meeting Day.
Incumbents Chip Mason (Ward 5), Karen Paul (Ward 6) and Ali Dieng (Ward 7) all earned endorsements. Of the three, only Mason will face opposition on Town Meeting, from Progressive challenger Nathan Lantieri.
Independent incumbent Councilor Adam Roof got the Ward 8 endorsement. He said that for the first time since 2015, he’ll run as a Democrat. Progressive Jane Stromberg is also running for the seat.
Ward 4 candidate Sarah Carpenter won the Democratic endorsement Sunday night and a Progressive nod last month. She said she hasn’t yet decided whether she’ll run as a Democrat or Democrat/Progressive. The incumbent for the seat, Republican City Council President Kurt Wright, has said he will not seek reelection.
The Dems did not have a candidate for Ward 3. Incumbent Brian Pine, a Progressive, is running for reelection in that ward.
But later Sunday, after the caucus, Munarsyah argued that the election results were invalid because some of the candidates did not win a majority of votes and shouldn't have won the endorsements. Residents endorsed candidates by an "aye" or "nay" voice vote in uncontested races.
Munarsyah said the Ward 5 chair "refused repeated requests by myself and others for an actual vote count."
“We are disputing the caucus process,” he wrote in a Facebook message.
Burlington Democratic Party chair Sam Donnelly said he’d check in with each ward chair and follow up with Munarsyah later this week. Any official dispute is handled by the party executive committee, which would likely nominate the very candidates that the protesters are contesting, Donnelly said.
"This, to me, seems like an intentional disruption," he said, adding, "I do not think that anything that went on this evening is in violation of either state law or party bylaws."
Clarification, January 18, 2020: Hightower referred to "housing insecurity," not homelessness, during the caucus.