Former Burlington mayor Bob Kiss confirmed today what he's hinted about for months: He's running for state Senate this November. The former Progressive told Seven Days he'll run as an independent for one of Chittenden County's six Senate seats.
Kiss, who served in the Vermont House from 2001-2006, said he won't shy away from his controversial record as mayor in the campaign.
In fact, the former mayor said he'll welcome the chance to talk about his six years in office and answer critics of his handling of Burlington Telecom. The municipal telecom provider violated its state license agreement by borrowing $17 million in taxpayer funds without repaying it.
"Maybe more than I've had an opportunity in the past, I'll be happy to talk about issues in Burlington as much as I can," Kiss said in a phone interview Thursday.
Over the next two weeks, Kiss plans to collect the 100 signatures he needs to get on the ballot and begin building a campaign team. The candidate filing deadline is June 15.
No candidate has won election to the Vermont Senate in recent memory without a D or R next to his or her name. Two senators now serve in the body as fusion candidates: Tim Ashe and Anthony Pollina were endorsed by both Democrats and Progressives. But Kiss is undeterred by that historical hurdle.
"Being an independent voice in the Senate makes a lot of sense — it makes the most sense," Kiss said. "Voters in Chittenden County tend to vote for the person not just the politics. For a lot of reasons that puts me in a good position."
Kiss was elected five times as a Progressive (three times as state rep, and twice as mayor) and for years was the party's highest-profile office-holder in Vermont. He said he did not consult party leaders before making the decision to go independent.
"I reflect back on the last couple of years, and my position on the issues is really more of an independent voice," Kiss said. "I'm definitely running as a progressive, but it's a small 'p.' Progressive politics don't get cordoned off by a political party. It's sort of the person who runs."
Five of six incumbent Chittenden County senators are seeking re-election this year; Democrat Hinda Miller is not. Burlington City Councilor Ed Adrian, a Democrat, is running and Burlington resident Loyal Ploof has said he is collecting signatures to run.
On Burlington Telecom — the biggest black eye of Kiss' tenure — the former mayor repeated his contention that BT is "critical to Burlington's future and we can work our way through those issues.
"The city was left in really good shape," Kiss said. "We had an issue to deal with in terms of BT but I think we can work our way through that. The result of having fiber to home and business will be an incredible asset to businesses."
Kiss said he will also campaign on a state budget that "meets Vermont's needs, new jobs, expanding the economy, sustainable policy and practice, support of universal health care — a lot of the same issues we've been working on in Burlington for the last six years."
Meg Brook, chair of the Progressives' Chittenden County committee, said Kiss could have run as a Progressive with or without the party's blessing simply by collecting the signatures as a Prog. All the committee could do is vote to endorse or not endorse Kiss, and Brook wouldn't hazard a guess as to what the party would have done.
Does Kiss have support among Progs?
"I really don't know," Brook said. "My gut is that yes he does, but whether it's in Burlington or not [I don't know.] People in Burlington — they got frustrated, there were communication issues, there was a lot of emotion there. And I think it did blur the big picture a lot. It got very much down to the minutia and very much down to one or two things that they really didn't like. Once people take a step back and it settles a little bit, there's going to be all of this historical remembrance of other things that happened that weren't in the picture for that last little bit."
File photo by Matthew Thorsen