There Are Plenty of Potential Successors to Outgoing Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger | Politics | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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There Are Plenty of Potential Successors to Outgoing Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger


Published October 4, 2023 at 10:00 a.m.

Carina Driscoll - COURTESY
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  • Carina Driscoll

Friends, family members and city officials surrounded Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger last Thursday as he announced that he will not seek reelection in March. Among them was at least one person who is considering a run to replace him: veteran City Councilor Joan Shannon (D-South District).

In an interview on Monday, she said she's heard from "a ton of people" encouraging her to seek the position. "It's a big decision," she said, "and I'm not making it until I am ready."

Burlington voters have never elected a woman to the mayor's office. At least three others are also testing the waters: Carina Driscoll, a business owner who challenged Weinberger in 2018; C D Mattison, a tech consultant; and Vermont Rep. Emma Mulvaney-Stanak (P/D-Burlington), a former city councilor.

With no mayoral incumbent on the ballot for the first time since 2012, the pool of prospective candidates is only expected to grow. And the election comes at a pivotal time. While Weinberger has touted his work stabilizing Burlington's finances during his tenure, a severe housing shortage, the opioid epidemic and a mental health crisis have shaken residents' faith in city leadership.

Should they run, the potential candidates will have time to stake out positions on the big issues facing Burlington. Neither Democrats nor Progressives are expected to hold nominating caucuses before late November or even December.

But public safety will undoubtedly loom large on Town Meeting Day. In Burlington, which currently has no elected Republican officials, that could benefit a Democratic candidate: The party has put Progressives on the defensive ever since the now-infamous 2020 vote to reduce the size of the police force through attrition. In March, Democrats who supported hiring more police won several council elections, giving the party a functional majority on the body.

The dynamic is starkly different from that of the 2021 mayoral contest, when Weinberger defeated former council president Max Tracy, a Progressive, by just 129 votes.

Whoever wins this coming March will likely need a larger margin of victory. That's because the city is implementing an instant-runoff voting system, in which voters rank candidates in order of preference. If no one gets a majority of votes, the person with the fewest is eliminated and the second-choice votes of everyone who picked that candidate are tallied. The process continues until somebody wins more than 50 percent of votes.

The system theoretically reduces the spoiler effect, where a third-party candidate "steals" votes from similar candidates to help an opponent win. That could boost an independent such as Driscoll, who ran with Progressive backing in 2018 but lost to Weinberger in a three-way race. That year, she earned 35 percent of the vote compared to 48 percent for Weinberger. The third candidate, Infinite Culcleasure, also an independent, won 16 percent of the vote.

Driscoll previously served on the Burlington School Board, the city council and in the legislature. The daughter of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), she now runs Butter Bar & Kitchen, a restaurant in the New North End. On Monday, she said she hadn't thought of entering the race until she learned that Weinberger wouldn't. Burlington needs a mayor who will address public safety issues in a way that considers everyone, she said: people struggling with addiction, business owners and residents.

"Whether I run or I support someone else, that is the most important question," she said.

Joan Shannon - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Joan Shannon

Driscoll would likely face stiff competition from Shannon, a Democrat who's served as a city councilor for two decades, including a stint as the body's president. Shannon, a real estate agent, is one of Weinberger's staunchest allies on the council and has been resolute in her vision for public safety. She was one of three councilors who voted against cutting the city police department's staffing.

She also supported the closure of the Sears Lane homeless encampment in 2021, a stance that made her a target of activists who wore "Fxck Jxxn Shxnnxn" T-shirts to council meetings.

But Shannon has proven extremely popular with her South End constituents. Last election cycle, she trounced challengers in the Democratic caucus, as well as Progressive and independent opponents in the general.

C D Mattison - COURTESY
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  • C D Mattison

Mattison, another potential candidate and a Democrat, also lives in the South End. She has a more complicated relationship with Weinberger and his policies. She considered running against him in 2021, then decided not to because she thought the city needed stable leadership during the pandemic. She served as his campaign treasurer instead.

But Mattison grew disenchanted with the mayor, feeling that he divided the city by pushing a narrative that Burlington is less safe with fewer cops, she told Seven Days last year. She also criticized Weinberger when Tyeastia Green, the city's first and former racial equity director, left her job after reportedly not feeling supported in her role.

Mattison said she's "exploring all options and having key conversations" before deciding whether to enter the race.

Mulvaney-Stanak, who lives in the Old North End, once chaired the state Progressive party and leads the party's caucus at the Statehouse. In Montpelier, Mulvaney-Stanak has sponsored bills to boost legislator pay and require safe storage of firearms — the latter a concept also supported by Weinberger. In 2022, she voted in favor of a charter change to ban no-cause evictions in Burlington, but Gov. Phil Scott vetoed it.

Emma Mulvaney-Stanak - COURTESY
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  • Emma Mulvaney-Stanak

Mulvaney-Stanak was the first to express interest in running. Shortly after Weinberger's announcement, she posted on X that she was "seriously considering" it. On Monday, she said she was leaning toward it more and expects to make a decision within two weeks.

"[I've] received quite an overwhelming response of folks who are encouraging me to really do this thing," she said.

At least one Prog has vowed to support Mulvaney-Stanak if she runs: Tracy, the former councilor and mayoral candidate. He said he's not running again.

Also not running again: former city council president Kurt Wright, a Republican who lost to Weinberger in the 2012 mayoral. Wright, host of a talk radio show, said people have urged him to run, but he's declined.

Other familiar politicians are leaning against running. Tim Ashe, the former Vermont Senate pro tempore, ran for the Democratic mayoral nomination in 2011 but lost in a close race to Weinberger. "I haven't ruled it out," said Ashe, who is now deputy state auditor, "but for a variety of reasons, the timing isn't great for me."

Councilor Ali Dieng (I-Ward 7), who lost to Weinberger in the 2021 race, said he likely won't run again. Dieng, whose seat is up for election in March, is considering leaving elected office altogether. "I think people will need fresh blood," said Dieng, who has served since 2017.

Others won't say. Burlington GOP chair Christopher-Aaron Felker largely dodged questions about a possible candidacy, instead emphasizing that the city needs a strong leader. "Whether or not that's me has yet to be determined," he said.

Brian Pine, a former city councilor who sought the Prog nomination in the 2021 race, didn't respond to an interview request. Nor did City Council President Karen Paul (D-Ward 6).

In interviews and press releases last week, Weinberger recalled some of his accomplishments. When he first took office in 2012, the city's credit rating was close to junk bond status after Progressive former mayor Bob Kiss diverted city funds to save the failing Burlington Telecom. Weinberger raised the credit rating six steps during his tenure, saving taxpayers millions of dollars. He built up cash reserves, which helped the city weather unexpected costs during the pandemic.

He also completed a number of infrastructure projects, including a renovation of City Hall Park and upgrades to the bike path. Most recently, he helped kick-start construction on the long-stalled Champlain Parkway.

And while Weinberger's political career in Burlington may be ending, he hasn't ruled out a bid for higher office. In an interview last week, he said he remains concerned about the drug crisis, housing shortage and rising rates of homelessness.

"Those issues won't fix themselves," he said. "I am definitely going to explore whether there's some way for me to have an impact."

Disclosure: Tim Ashe is the domestic partner of Seven Days publisher and editor-in-chief Paula Routly.

Correction, October 4, 2023: A previous version of this story incorrectly described Driscoll's relationship to U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

The original print version of this article was headlined "Next Up | There are plenty of potential successors to outgoing Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger"

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