Longtime Burlington City Councilor Chip Mason (D-Ward 5) won't seek reelection in March, creating an open seat in the city's traditionally Democratic South End.
Mason, 52, has served on the city council for a decade, and before that, on the city's Retirement Board and Board of Tax Appeals. He has chaired the council's Ordinance Committee, which vets policy on issues ranging from short-term rentals to zoning rules, since first being elected in 2012. Mason is a managing partner at Burlington law firm Gravel & Shea, a role that sometimes requires him to recuse himself from council business.
"During my time on the Council I have been proud to be a consistent advocate for policies that make our city more affordable, more livable, and more accessible," Mason said in a press release Thursday announcing his decision. "I have enjoyed collaborating with Mayor [Miro] Weinberger and my colleagues on shared priorities."
Indeed, Mason has been one of the Democratic mayor's staunchest allies, nearly always voting in lockstep with Weinberger's priorities. Mason's Ward 5 has generally been blue, but Mason had a close call lost in 2020 when he beat Progressive newcomer Nathan Lantieri by just 185 votes.
Mason's decision could have ramifications for the makeup of the council, which currently consists of six Progressives, four Democrats and two independents. Eight councilors, in the "ward" seats, are up for reelection this Town Meeting Day.
In an interview with Seven Days, Mason said the last two years had been particularly challenging. The pandemic forced meetings to go remote, and some recent in-person meetings have been uncivil, with audience members hurling insults and profanity at the elected officials. Mason said the changing tenor contributed to his decision to step down.
"There's been a lot of hot-button issues where the public is very passionate," Mason said. "It's hard to continue to be yelled at and criticized for doing what you think is in the best interest of the city."
Mason said he worries that the rowdy meetings may discourage people from running for office, but one candidate is already interested in Mason's seat. Ben Traverse — a parent, lawyer and chair of the city's Parks & Recreation Commission — said Thursday he'd seek the Democratic nomination at the party's caucus on December 19. Mason is backing him.
With three months to go before Town Meeting Day, it's unclear what much of the rest of the field will look like. The seven other seats up for reelection are currently held by four Progressives, two Dems and one independent, Ward 7's Ali Dieng.
City Council President Max Tracy (P-Ward 2) has been on the council since 2012 and nearly won the mayor's race this past March. But reached Thursday, Tracy said he hasn't decided about running for reelection.
Dieng, who also ran for mayor in March, had a similar response Thursday. He said he will "make a decision soon" about a reelection campaign.
Should Councilor Jane Stromberg (P-Ward 8) run again, she'd already have a challenger in Hannah King, a University of Vermont student who will seek an endorsement from the Democrats. King was previously campaign manager for Adam Roof, a former Ward 8 councilor who lost the seat to Stromberg in 2020. Roof now serves as the chair of the Burlington Democratic Committee.
Stromberg did not immediately return an interview request, nor did fellow Prog Zoraya Hightower (Ward 1), or Councilor Karen Paul (D-Ward 6). Christopher-Aaron Felker, chair of the Burlington GOP and a former council candidate, didn't return an email asking if the party planned to caucus before March.
Councilor Joe Magee (P-Ward 3), who was voted in during an August special election, said he will seek another term.
Burlington Progressives have yet to schedule a nominating caucus. Party director Josh Wronski said he expects to have a Prog candidate for a majority, if not all, of the eight seats that are up for grabs on Town Meeting Day.
Wronski said the party would be "heavily recruiting" for Ward 5, calling the Dem stronghold a priority given the open seat.