Burlington Progressives heard pitches on Tuesday from six candidates hoping to receive the party's nomination for city council races this Town Meeting Day.
More than 200 people registered for the virtual caucus, which featured uncontested races and several familiar faces. Incumbent councilors Zoraya Hightower (P-Ward 1) and Joe Magee (P-Ward 3) are hoping to be elected to another term, and longtime Prog Gene Bergman is running for the Ward 2 seat being vacated by outgoing Progressive City Council President Max Tracy.
Newcomers include Olivia Taylor in Ward 7 — an area of the New North End currently controlled by independent Councilor Ali Dieng — and Ali House, a social worker and University of Vermont senior who is running in the student-heavy Ward 8. The latter seat's current councilor, Jane Stromberg, announced last week that she won't seek another term.
Rounding out the potential Prog slate is FaRied Munarsyah, who will compete for the historically Democratic seat in Ward 5. Incumbent Councilor Chip Mason, a Democrat, is stepping down from that seat after a decade.
The party didn't put up candidates for Wards 4 or 6, seats that are now held by Democrats Sarah Carpenter and Karen Paul, respectively. Both are running for reelection this March, when all eight "ward" seats are up for grabs.
The Progs will announce their results after voting closes on Thursday at noon. None of the races are contested, but voters could decide not to endorse candidates.
In nomination speeches, candidates said they want to increase the city's affordable housing stock, fight climate change and protect houseless Burlingtonians.
Munarsyah, who organizes the mutual aid group the People's Kitchen, said he was motivated to run after Democratic Mayor Miro Weinberger ordered the closure of the Sears Lane homeless encampment last fall. More than two dozen people lived at the South End site at the time.
Munarsyah also supports increasing the minimum wage and banning no-cause evictions and is involved with Proposition Zero, a movement calling for Burlington to use a referendum process for ballot items.
"We need people to be organized, and we need people to be mobilized," he said. "I'm not running for the council seat — I'm here for direct democracy."
Magee also mentioned Sears Lane, saying he considered not running for reelection until he began working with campers and advocates to save the site, which was ultimately torn down.
"That made it clear to me that I need to step up and do this," Magee said, noting that in the next few weeks, he plans to introduce a stronger ordinance to protect campers from being displaced.
Magee also supports a renewed effort to create a community control board, a citizen-led panel with the ability to discipline police officers involved in misconduct. Weinberger vetoed the concept in December 2020.
Bergman, a retired assistant city attorney, echoed others' points on Sears Lane and climate policy. He added that he's excited to advance a zoning proposal that would allow UVM to build more student housing on its Trinity campus — a concept Weinberger announced in December as part of a 10-point plan to ease the city's housing crisis.
Taylor, a consultant for a global development firm, told the virtual audience that she wants to advocate for a new tax credit for landlords who rent to tenants on a long-term basis, with the goal of discouraging evictions. Taylor also wants the city to create a business development specialist position that would "provide free support" to businesses owned by women and Black, Indigenous and people of color, she said.
House, who was nominated by Stromberg, didn't list specific policies she'd support but rather emphasized her confidence that Burlington can tackle climate issues and housing challenges.
"I have so much hope. I really believe in our city," House said. "I believe we the people of Burlington have the power to create this positive, lasting, impactful change, and I believe that we can serve as an example to other cities."
Hightower, who was hesitant to run for reelection, shared House's optimism, saying she's inspired by how this year's candidates are "all incredibly different."
"That's actually really, really exciting to see," Hightower said. "If we were all to get elected, what a great slate that would be."
Should Prog voters approve the candidates, at least five of the council races would be contested in March. In Ward 1, Hightower would go up against Democrat Rob Gutman, and in Ward 3, Magee would challenge Republican Christopher-Aaron Felker.
Ward 5 would feature Munarsyah versus Ben Traverse, a Democrat-endorsed lawyer and chair of the city's Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Commission. Ward 8's contest would be between House and fellow UVM student Hannah King.
Ward 7 could have a three-way race between Dieng, Taylor and newcomer Aleczander Stith, who was endorsed by both the Democrats and GOP. Dieng has not publicly announced his reelection plans.
As of now, Bergman and incumbents Paul and Carpenter don't have any challengers, though independent candidates could still jump in the race. They have until January 24 to file election petitions with the city clerk's office.