Progressive city councilors in Burlington took aim this week at Mayor Miro Weinberger after Seven Days revealed on Tuesday that he knew more than he had previously said about a Twitter scandal that led former police chief Brandon del Pozo to resign last December.
Councilor Jane Stromberg (P-Ward 8) called Weinberger's nondisclosure "blatantly despicable" and said the mayor had "so much time to appropriately address this, and he has not."
"Honestly, at this point, it's just unforgivable," she said.
On July 3 of last year, del Pozo showed Weinberger a Twitter account he had created that mocked a critic, Charles Winkleman. The next day, del Pozo used the anonymous account to fire off several tweets attacking Winkleman.
Weinberger had previously said he found out about the tweets on July 28, 2019, when del Pozo admitted to what he had done. But the mayor had never revealed that his chief had shown him the account, before the first tweet was sent.
“It simply didn't occur to me ... to go back and talk about this bizarre, brief, prior interaction,” Weinberger said Tuesday. “In retrospect … I wish I had made that part of my attempt to share the full record of what happened. It wasn’t the focus of what I was trying to communicate.”
The detail only came out in a Monday federal court filing that contained a partial deposition of del Pozo in an unrelated lawsuit. The former chief, a former police sergeant, a current member of the force, and the city itself are being sued for a violent 2018 arrest.
Max Tracy, the city council president and the Progressive Party's mayoral candidate, said the new information is "deeply troubling." He faulted Weinberger for trusting that del Pozo would not use the account, despite the former chief's known penchant for engaging critics online.
"We have a leadership culture that tolerates this kind of misconduct, and we need to change that culture," Tracy said.
Councilor Ali Dieng (I-Ward 7), a fellow mayoral hopeful, said the latest news shows that "the sitting mayor is participating in secrecy" and that Weinberger lied to the public by not disclosing that he'd seen the account.
"Anyone saying this is not a big deal is part of the problem," Dieng said.
Some of Weinberger's fellow Democrats disagree. Councilor Joan Shannon (South District), one of the mayor's staunchest allies on the council, said it's unfair to judge Weinberger's actions in hindsight.
The mayor's handling of the scandal wasn't "his best moment," Shannon said, "but at the same time, I know that he has integrity and there's kind of a bigger picture here. That's how I categorize this."
While Shannon said she's not surprised that the Progs are in attack mode, she doubts that Weinberger will lose supporters over this latest revelation. She, for one, is standing by him, and her daughter is working on the mayor's reelection campaign. "We really have serious issues to focus on in the city, and these kind of things become a real distraction," she said.
Councilor Sarah Carpenter (D-Ward 4) agreed.
"We need to move on," she said. "I think we need to really focus on police transformation, some of the really good things that we're starting to work on."
Weinberger's political opponents aren't ready to let it go. A Dieng administration would be transparent, the candidate said, and this latest situation with Weinberger "is just another affirmation that change is needed."
Tracy's camp issued a statement Wednesday that took the same tone. "The actions by the Mayor and their impact on our community is a reminder of why we need transparent, thoughtful, and principled leadership," it read.
Winkleman, the target of del Pozo's tweets, doesn't want to wait for March — he thinks Weinberger should resign immediately.
"How can you see your chief of police create this fake account, even as a joke, and not do anything?" he asked during an interview this week. "That's just crazy to me."
The latest twist in the Twitter scandal comes as the city considers new oversight for its police department. The council voted 7-5 on Monday to put an item on the ballot that, if approved, would create an independent community control board to investigate police misconduct and mete out discipline.
Weinberger opposed the Prog-led proposal, which requires changing the city's charter. He had proposed giving the mayor a bigger role in police discipline, among other actions.
Councilor Brian Pine (P-Ward 3) said learning that Weinberger knew about del Pozo's account perfectly illustrates why the city needs more independent police oversight.
"The chief on their own, or the mayor on their own, is not a good way to ensure accountability," Pine said. "It's an example of why we need [more] sets of eyes looking at these types of issues so we can be sure the public's interest is being safeguarded."
The lawsuit that led to del Pozo's damning deposition is forging ahead. The attorney for the plaintiffs — three young Black men, including one who was knocked unconscious by a city cop in the fall of 2018 — is seeking to depose Weinberger. He argues in court papers that the mayor's knowledge of del Pozo's account undermines the city's credibility.
The city responded to the filing on Thursday, writing in a motion that the social media scandal is "a sideshow" and that the plaintiffs "have yet to explain how
this account, created after the incident involving Plaintiffs, has any relevance to any of their underlying claims."