Newly reelected Burlington city councilor Ed Adrian (D-Ward 1) — never one to mince words — said Town Meeting Day results in the Queen City send a simple message: Mayor Bob Kiss needs to step down from office.
"I think it's time for the mayor to step down," Adrian said during a live interview on Channel 17.
Adrian said the defeat of instant-runoff voting, combined with the city council losses of two Progressives, and the loss of a Democratic ally of the mayor send a clear message that voters have lost confidence in the city's top elected official.
"I think the voters clearly sent a message for him to resign," said Adrian. "It's time for him to show some leadership and step aside."
The mayor did not immediately return phone calls late Tuesday night.
Burlington voters rejected Instant-runoff voting by a 52 to 48 margin, with a substantial portion of the support to repeal IRV coming from the city's two New North End wards (see details below). Everything else on the Burlington ballot was approved by at least a two-to-one margin.
Tuesday's vote about IRV was largely seen as a referendum on Mayor Kiss and his handling of Burlington Telecom. If so, a 52-48 margin doesn't seem to be the wide-scale rebuke. For certain, Wards 4 and 7 clearly sent a message to the mayor.
Other city councilors weren't willing to go as far as Adrian in calling for the mayor to resign, but many agreed that the mayor needed to show more leadership.
"I think it's not helpful for anyone to come out tonight and call for the mayor to resign," said Republican Kurt Wright, who will rejoin the council. He defeated Ward 4 Democrat Russ Ellis by more than 300 votes.
"I think there has been a war of words between the mayor and the city council, and it has to stop," said Wright. "Certainly it's a rebuke, but it's not time to call for him to resign."
Wright said he hopes to bridge the gap between the mayor and the council when he returns to the council, and help the council provide some leadership — not just on Burlington Telecom, but on other issues facing the city, including economic development and the redevelopment of the Moran Plant.
City Council President Bill Keogh (D-Ward 5), who won reelection Tuesday night, also would not say whether he agreed with Adrian.
However, Keogh said, if he were the mayor here is how he would react to Tuesday's votes: "I would say, 'Hey, I'm in trouble. I've got to start listening to the public.'"
At bare minimum, Keogh said, Kiss needs to realize that voters want him to work with the council — not against it.
"He needs to start working with the council, and he has to start being more open with the council and the public," said Keogh. "Will he resign? No. Should he resign? That's something only the mayor can decide."
The voting results presented the council with a challenge also: It may need to provide the leadership voters desire.
"It's not generally the legislative branch that provides leadership, but the executive branch, but the mayor has failed in providing that leadership," said Keogh.
Independent City Councilor Karen Paul (Ward 6) echoed Keogh's sentiments.
"It's our time to step up and provide leadership where it really counts," said Paul.
When the new city council is seated in April, it will break largely along the same lines politically, with Republican gaining one seat from their current tally.
The new council will have seven Democrats, three Republicans, two Progressives and two independents. The current council has seven Democrats, two Republicans, two Progressives, and two independents. The Progressives had held one additional seat until December, when a councilor resigned because she moved out of her ward.
That councilor — Progressive Emma Mulvaney-Stanak — will return to the council from Ward 3. She ran unopposed. She joins fellow Ward 3 Progressive Marrisa Caldwell.
Progressives lost a seat in their longtime inner-city stronghold of Ward 2. Mulvaney-Stanak's seat went to Democratic newcomer Bram Kranichfeld. Kranichfeld, who chairs the Burlington Electric Commission, is a deputy state's attorney. He defeated Progressive Max Tracy by just 13 votes, 307-294.
Democratic incumbent David Berezniak (Ward 2) was reelected, defeating Progressive Jonathan Leavitt by a slim 10-vote margin, 302-292.
In Ward 1, Adrian easily won reelection against Progressive Miles Dougherty, 482-158.
In Ward 4, Republican Kurt Wright defeated incumbent Democrat Russ Ellis, 1087-717.
In Ward 5, Democrat Bill Keogh defeated Progressive Abby Russell, 778-509.
In Ward 6, Independent Karen Paul ran unopposed.
In Ward 7, Republican Paul Decelles defeated Democrat Greg Jenkins 911-515.
Here's how the IRV vote broke down by ward:
Ward 1: 405 to keep, 264 to repeal
Ward 2: 428 to keep, 185 to repeal
Ward 3: 510 to keep, 292 to repeal
Ward 4: 1203 to repeal, 606 to keep
Ward 5: 793 to keep, 545 to repeal
Ward 6: 490 to keep, 477 to repeal
Ward 7: 1006 to repeal, 437 to keep
The legislature will need to approve the repeal of IRV as it means the city charter must be amended.
A spokesman for the group 50 Percent Matters, a group that worked to keep IRV intact, said its work is far from over. "We're going to work toward having a candidate earn 50 percent of the vote be the standard for how we elect a mayor in Burlington," said Rep. Jason Lorber (D-Burlington). Lorber, who supports IRV on a statewide level, said Tuesday's defeat shouldn't stall efforts to put IRV in place for statewide offices.
Lorber pointed out that IRV was upheld in five of the city's seven wards, which indicated to him that enough voters do support a greater electoral threshold for mayor. He, and others, plan to work with the city council to propose raising the threshold to win the mayor's seat from 40 percent to 50 percent.
IRV opponent Sandy Baird, also a Democrat, said she thinks reverting to the old system that required a candidate to win 40 percent of the vote worked well and hopes this puts an end to IRV in Burlington, and in Vermont.
Baird said raising the standard from 40 to 50 percent is a bad idea and will guarantee runoffs in almost every race.
"I think IRV helped create a crisis in confidence in the mayor," said Baird.
Other Burlington Ballot Issues
Clarification to mayoral appointment process 6070-1060 (approved)
Repeal of instant-runoff voting 3972-3669 (approved)
Creation of clean energy district 5702-1708 (approved)
Fire truck bond 5863-1680 (approved)
Airport bond 5817-2091 (approved)
School budget 4230-2856 (approved)
Voters in Woodstock, Thetford, Bristol, Fayston, Brookfield, Montgomery, Moretown, Waitsfield, Danville, Cabot, Huntington, Sharon, Jamaica, Peacham, and Winooski voted to shut down Vermont Yankee in 2012 and replace it with renewable sources of energy.
In addition, Moretown added this clause to its resolution: "Entergy shall fund the training of Yankee's existing workers to build and maintain green energy production systems in Vermont to replace Yankee's power."
One town, Rockingham, defeated the measure and Cambridge took no action on it.
* * * * UPDATED * * * *
I caught up with Mayor Bob Kiss this morning to talk about election results in Burlington, and one city councilor's call for him to read the electoral tea leaves and resign. Here's what he had to say:
"I think Ed's suggestion is patently ridiculous," said Kiss. “I don’t think Ed is a constructive force on the council and he brings a tension to the process."
The mayor added that during his four years as mayor, the city has made many improvements — despite some of the current challenges.
“During the four years I’ve been mayor, the city has made improvements in terms of finance, infrastructure and arts and celebration. I think the city is performing in a much better stance than when I took office," said Kiss.
He also doesn’t share the assessment of Councilors Adrian, Keogh and Paul and Councilor-elect Wright that his office hasn’t provided leadership on key issues facing the city. “We face a challenge with Burlington Telecom, there’s no question, but there has been leadership from my administration across the board on a variety of issues and we have worked with the council on variety of topics as they merit discussion,” said Kiss.
He's not disheartened by last night's defeat of IRV, or of the three Progressives running in contested elections. "I think the Progressives running in Ward 2 ran strong campaigns, and the elections were close, which to me means that city voters continue to show support for Progressive values."
Kiss said the rejection of IRV was not unanimous across the city, and he believes it’s an issue that could come before voters again in the future. “Only 22 percent of voters voted in the election, and I think there are people who would like to see IRV remain in place,” said Kiss. “I think this is an issue we should keep talking about. I don't think yesterday's vote ends the discussion.”
The mayor said he would favor increasing the threshold to be elected mayor from 40 percent of the vote to more than 50 percent.
Correction: This post has been corrected as Progressive City Councilor Marrisa Caldwell's name was originally misspelled. My apologies.