Website for Burlington Council Candidate Cribs Text From Current Councilor | News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice


Website for Burlington Council Candidate Cribs Text From Current Councilor


Published February 21, 2023 at 11:04 a.m.
Updated February 28, 2023 at 3:21 p.m.

  • Left: Sam Simon | Right: Courtney Lamdin/Seven Days
  • Tim Doherty and Maea Brandt
Burlington City Council candidate Tim Doherty is pledging to be accessible and responsive if he's elected on Town Meeting Day. The Democrat running in the East District even used a page of his website to describe his commitment to constituent service.

It read: "The work of a City Councilor is undoubtedly difficult and time-consuming."

Sounds about right. But then the post took a curious turn: "As a teacher, artist and mother, I have grappled long and hard with the demands of public service," the post read.

Wait, what?

That's what supporters of Jake Schumann, Doherty's Progressive opponent, thought when they read the post. They contacted Seven Days after some internet sleuthing revealed that aside from an introductory sentence, Doherty's post was identical to one published by the sitting East District councilor, fellow Dem Maea Brandt.

Brandt, who isn't running for reelection, is indeed a teacher, artist and mother. Doherty is a defense attorney at Downs Rachlin Martin and a father.
Tim Doherty's campaign website - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • Tim Doherty's campaign website
Doherty said he didn't know about the mix-up until Seven Days asked him about it on Monday evening. The candidate said his website is managed by Adam Roof, his campaign manager and the chair of the Burlington Democratic Committee, and pledged to look into the matter.

Minutes later, Roof called this reporter to own up to the mistake. "There's an explanation that is very uninteresting," he said. Roof has since deleted the post, but it's archived on the web.

Roof said he uses the same template to build numerous candidates' websites and that when he published Doherty's post, "the source code [from Brandt's website] carried over."

"It saves me time because I'm volunteering my time to run these campaigns," said Roof, a former councilor himself.

But Schumann's camp thinks the sloppiness, while comical, raises questions about whether Doherty is prepared to be a councilor.

"If that care and discretion could not have been put into something as materially minimal as his current website ... I just worry about the work on the council," said Lee Morrigan, Schumann's campaign manager. "What is the work he's going to be putting in if he gets on the council? Is it going to be him reviewing things? Is it going to be him writing things?"

Roof balked at the suggestion.

"It's such a grasping of straws to try to say that Tim Doherty, who is by any measure capable and competent, that this somehow reflects how he would perform as a city councilor," Roof said, calling the Progs' fixation on the mistake "a deviation from what people actually care about."
Maea Brandt's campaign website - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • Maea Brandt's campaign website
The East District race is one of the more competitive ones on the ballot this March. Progs controlled the East District, which includes Wards 1 and 8, for more than two years until former Prog councilor Jack Hanson resigned in September to apply for a city job. Fellow Prog Ali House stepped down from her Ward 8 seat a month later. That left the neighborhood without any representation until Brandt was elected in December, giving Dems and their allies control of the council. The Ward 8 seat will be filled in a special election on Town Meeting Day.

Brandt planned to run for reelection in March but dropped out of the race last month. She endorsed Doherty, her friend and neighbor, and is his campaign treasurer.

Brandt has since removed most of the links from her website home page, but the sections — including the post about constituent service — are still visible by typing in the web address. Morrigan used that technique to find Brandt's post and compare it with Doherty's.
Morrigan is skeptical that a technical error is to blame. The two posts had different introductions, which Morrigan says indicates the text was edited and didn't simply autofill when Roof used the same template.

Morrigan also analyzed other posts and found similar language on the pages describing the candidates' positions on issues such as housing and climate action.

Under the header "Collaboration Over Dysfunction," for example, Doherty's site reads: "It is imperative that we join forces, honoring compromise and treating one another with respect, while taking responsibility for our actions no matter our political beliefs."

Brandt's said: "We need to work together, embrace compromise, and treat each other with respect while holding each other accountable — regardless of political beliefs."

For his part, Doherty said that section of his website was indeed inspired by Brandt since the two candidates largely agree on the issues facing Burlington. But the "constituent service" post in question was a mistake that his campaign addressed as soon as he was aware of it, Doherty said.

Doherty, a first-time candidate, said he's running a positive campaign focused on policy and that the website error "is a distraction at best." He said he worries that "this kind of gotcha thing" will discourage others from running in the future.

Will the copy-paste kerfuffle actually work in Doherty's favor? He suggested it could.

"People in the East District are tired of the politics as usual, tired of people bickering and blaming one another," he said. "What they really want is some serious folks on the city council who are going to do the serious, nonglamorous work in city government, and that's why I'm running."

Read more about the candidates in the February 22 issue of Seven Days.

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