A group called the Friends of Kurt Wright is mounting a write-in campaign to reelect the Ward 4 Republican councilor, who announced last month on his radio show, WVMT’s “The Morning Drive,” that he wouldn’t seek another term.
“[Kurt] been very steady. He gets along with every member of the council,” said Alex Farrell, a leader of the "Write-in Wright" campaign and a former GOP city council and Vermont Senate candidate. “To lose him, I’m not really sure the city can afford that.”
Wright had intended to run, but his radio gig complicated matters. Federal broadcasting rules require that WVMT must offer equal time on-air to both Wright and any challenger during the campaign. That wasn’t feasible, so station ownership told Wright he’d have to take a 60-day hiatus from the show. Wright chose to stay on air.
This week, Wright said he supports the write-in campaign and would gladly serve if he wins. He said he told organizers that he can’t participate in any way.
The unexpected development has prompted station ownership to consult with attorneys to ensure that it isn’t running afoul of equal time rules, according to John Mullett, the station’s operations manager.
“The important part is he’s not a candidate. He’s not behind this, and he’s not on the ballot,” Mullett said. “We do want to make sure that we handle everything properly.”
File: Sophie MacMillan
Though the Friends of Kurt Wright just organized last week, the idea of a write-in campaign started weeks earlier. Callers into “The Morning Drive” had vowed to support Wright at the polls, and Wright’s cohost, deejay Marcus Certa, has even suggested on-air that voters should “write in Wright." Wright has also posted about the write-in campaign on his personal Facebook page.
Certa said his comments were made in “a joking, schticky kind of way” and that “we are not on air pushing this agenda.” Mullett has since cautioned the hosts to steer clear of that kind of talk.
“It began as a joke, and obviously, to make sure that we are complying properly with everything, that will not be a joke [anymore].” he said. “We, of course, will be very careful about not doing anything that could be misconstrued in any way.”
Still, Wright’s daily radio presence — coupled with name recognition he has built during 25 years in Burlington politics — could boost the write-in effort. Wright couldn't recall a time when a Queen City councilor was elected as a write-in but acknowledged his win is “probably a little more possible than might sometimes be the case.”
Ward 4 candidate Sarah Carpenter, meanwhile, has secured both Progressive and Democratic endorsements at party caucuses this month and last. She is less concerned about airtime than she is about Wright getting the benefit of a campaign without participating in candidate forums and debates. Wright should have run a real campaign if he wanted to serve, whereas she is completely committed to the race, Carpenter said.
“I’m a little bit surprised about it going this way,” Carpenter said of the write-in campaign. “This is the way it goes, I guess, in politics.”
Former school board member Mark Barlow, who is also a part of the Wright write-in campaign, doesn't think Wright is skirting the federal rules so long as Wright isn't involved in the campaign. Barlow said he supports Wright's "constructive and moderate voice" on the council.
"He’s one of the last true, independent voices," Barlow said. "I would hate to see the council devolve into two camps: the Progressives and Democrats."