At least five people will seek the Progressive nomination for Burlington's special Ward 3 city council election in August.
The declared contenders — Ryan Addario, Julie Macuga, Joe Magee, Owen Milne and July Sanders — appeared in a virtual candidate forum hosted by the Vermont Progressive Party on Wednesday night. All five said that if elected, they would support policies to transform public safety, increase the city’s affordable housing stock and uplift the voices of historically marginalized city residents.
The special election is needed after former Ward 3 councilor, Brian Pine, resigned his post last month to serve as the director of the city’s Community and Economic Development Office.
Progressives are eager to hold on to the ward — a Prog stronghold that covers a portion of the city's Old North End and downtown — to keep their plurality on the council. Before Pine left, the 12-member body was made up of six Progs, four Dems and two independents.
Wednesday’s forum comes about a week ahead of the party’s June 17 nominating caucus. Online voting will be open for two days, with a winner announced on June 19. Democrats will caucus June 18 and name a victor on June 20.
Many of the questions posted by moderator and former Prog councilor Rachel Siegel focused on issues of racial and economic justice. Early on, candidates were asked how they define racial equity and how they’d incorporate those principles into policy-making.
Magee, a former staffer on Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) presidential campaigns, said racial justice should be incorporated into every council decision, saying that “we can’t continue to have a piecemeal approach … when it comes to dismantling systemic racism.”
July Sanders, a 21-year resident of Ward 3, proffered a similar response and added that councilors need to “analyze every [policy] area and see where it affects everybody, especially those that are being marginalized.”
Addario said he would listen to “the lived experience of people of color” when crafting policy. A development and marketing coordinator for the Lyric Theatre, Addario later added that he would pursue opportunities to connect New Americans with arts programs.
If elected, Milne, the director of the Lake Champlain Sailing Center on Burlington's waterfront, said he would ensure that “the game is no longer rigged to support only white people.”
Macuga — who called into the forum from Minnesota, where she was protesting a tar sands pipeline — said she would fight to abolish the city’s police force and stop the F-35 fighter jets that are “harming more communities of color disproportionately.” Macuga most recently worked for the environmental advocacy group 350VT.
Candidates also offered up ideas for how Burlington's next police chief could make the city safer. Officials restarted their search for the next top cop this month after pausing it during the pandemic. Burlington hasn't had a permanent police chief since December 2019.
Macuga said the chief should support the concept of “defunding the police and moving that money elsewhere.” Magee agreed, adding that the chief needs to support community control of police, something Mayor Miro Weinberger opposed late last year when he vetoeda Prog-led measure to create a citizen-led oversight board of the department.
Milne said that a chief’s mindset is more important than patrol experience.
“What we need is somebody that has a strong background in transformational, organizational change,” he said. “Because no matter who it is, [the new chief] is going to be walking into an institution with hundreds of years of embedded racism.”
Sanders suggested that a good chief would create a culture where every resident feels safe calling the police for help.
The candidates were tested on their partisan loyalty when Siegel asked which party they’d caucus with if elected. Four of the candidates vowed to join the Progs, while Milne — who is also seeking the Democrats' nomination — offered a more nuanced answer. Milne said he would caucus with whichever party endorsed him, unless he earned both parties' support; in that case, he said, he wouldn't join either caucus.
Addario previously told Seven Days that he planned to seek the Dems’ endorsement, but he said during the forum that he's "unsure" if he would. Regardless, Addario said he would caucus with the Progs.
In a lightning round, candidates indicated their level of support for various Progressive-led initiatives. All five said they “strongly support” ranked-choice voting in local elections — a system Burlington voters overwhelmingly approved on Town Meeting Day — and a newly passed ordinance that requires landlords to weatherize their rental units.
Every candidate voiced support for banning no-cause evictions — another ballot item that passed in March — and said they believe in the concept of rent control.
Other candidates could emerge before the party's caucus, which is scheduled for June 17 at 6 p.m. in the parking lot of the Sustainability Academy at Lawrence Barnes in the Old North End. The event will also be live-streamed on the party's Facebook page.