- Courtney Lamdin ©️ Seven Days
- Maea Brandt at the polls
Democrat Maea Brandt won a special election in Burlington's East District on Tuesday, giving her party an advantage on the city council.
Brandt defeated Progressive Dina John, 606 to 421, according to unofficial results. Independent Jake Schumann got 60 votes.
“It's not easy, running for political office for the first time, but I had an enormous amount of help,” Brandt said, breaking away from her victory party at Halvorson’s Upstreet Café. “There's a lot of work to do, but I'm so excited to work with my colleagues on the city council to do that.”
Brandt's victory means Democrats have five members on the council to Progressives' four; there are also two independents. The council typically has 12 members but is down one person until Town Meeting Day, when voters will fill a vacancy in Ward 8. Brandt’s seat is also up for reelection in March, along with the council’s three other “district” positions.
Mayor Miro Weinberger sees Brandt’s win as a referendum on public safety, saying her promise to support rebuilding the police department resonated with voters. With Democrats in control, the council can “take aggressive action” to address violent crime and end homelessness, Weinberger said.
“[Voters] want a council that is going to be working together with the administration to make that happen,” the mayor said.
Brandt, however, received 55.4 percent of votes in the first round, avoiding a runoff entirely. John's total amounted to 38.5 percent; Schumann's, 5.5 percent.
The special election was triggered when Progressive Jack Hanson resigned in September. The East District, which includes Wards 1 and 8, encompasses the area east of North Willard Street, plus the University of Vermont campus and student-heavy neighborhoods surrounding Buell and Bradley streets downtown.
Brandt, 57, has lived in Burlington for 33 years and works as a lecturer in the Saint Michael's College arts department. Brandt said her concerns about public safety — including a recent uptick in gunfire incidents — were central to her decision to run for office. She says having more cops on patrol will reduce crime, and she supports installing acting Police Chief Jon Murad as the permanent chief. Council Progressives blocked his appointment in January with a 6-6 tie vote.
On Tuesday evening, Weinberger avoided answering whether he plans to revisit Murad’s appointment now that Democrats can outvote the Progs, saying only that he believes the department needs a permanent chief.
“Perhaps the council now is in a place to do that,” he said.
Public safety was also top of mind for Brandt’s opponents. John had argued that the city needed to address the root causes of crime, including by expanding affordable housing, not solely hiring more police. A Ugandan who moved to Burlington at age 4, John had also pledged to help rebuild trust between people of color and police.
The candidates also differed on housing policy. John and Schumann — both renters — advocated for boosting tenant rights by banning no-cause evictions in the city. Voters overwhelmingly passed a ballot item to do just that in March 2021, but Gov. Phil Scott vetoed it this past legislative session. Brandt, who owns two rental properties, voted against the measure.
Reached on Tuesday evening, John thanked her supporters and congratulated Brandt on her win. She said she’s not sure if she’ll run again in March but noted that, at age 22, her political career is far from over.
“I put up a really great fight,” she said. “I’m definitely someone who’s going to be here for the long run.”
Jonathan Chapple-Sokol, a Ward 1 resident and Brandt’s campaign treasurer, stood in the rain outside the school on Tuesday afternoon, waving to would-be voters. He said he supported Brandt’s bid because she has the qualities he looks for in a councilor.
“I want somebody who will listen, and I want somebody who will take their experience and use that to make decisions,” he said. “And that's what I see in Maea.”
Brandt will be sworn in at Monday’s council meeting.