Burlington's first-ever Instant Runoff mayoral election was all over just two hours and five minutes after the polls closed. The inaugural run of the IRV system that eliminates the "spoiler" effect went as smooth as silk.
Shortly after 9 p.m. the final results flashed on the big screen in a packed City Hall Auditorium. Even before veteran City Attorney Joe McNeil could make the official announcement, Progressive old-timers such as John Franco and Martha Abbott burst into ecstatic cheers of jubilation.
No candidate received 50 percent of the vote on the first ballot. Third-place finisher Kevin Curley, the Republican, was eliminated and the second choices on Curley ballots were distributed accordingly between Democrat Hinda Miller, the second-place finisher, and Progressive State Rep. Bob Kiss who surprised almost everyone by finishing in the top spot in the first round with 39 percent of the vote.
It happened so fast most people were caught off-guard. The results on the big screen showed the quietest man in Burlington finished first with 4761 votes. That's one very big Kiss for the mayor's office, folks. And one very big kiss for the Vermont Progressive Party!
Across the crowded auditorium, Hinda Miller's campaign manager Christine Salembier and other supporters were stunned. Eyes became moist. The Democratic Party favorite and the big spender in the race had been soundly defeated. Miller the Millionairess had publicly predicted she would win the mayor's race with more than 50 percent of the vote on the first ballot. IRV wouldn't be necessary. Hinda was wrong. Dead wrong.
So what happened? After all, even yours truly predicted a "Mayor Jogbra" victory with IRV just one week ago.
In fact, as with Sunday night's Oscars, there was plenty of last-minute buzz in Burlington about an upset winner. In Hollywood, it was Crash getting Best Picture. In Burlington, it was Kiss getting the mayor's office.
The last-minute buzz was fueled by press reports featuring rather pointed criticism of Hinda by her former business partner and Jogbra founder Lisa Lindahl. But Miller supporters were particularly incensed over the story that ran Friday in The Burlington Free Press. The Freeps editorial page, controlled by conservative Publisher Jim Carey, had enthusiastically endorsed Hinda for mayor both in the Democratic caucus and in the general election. It looked like a lock.
But in Friday's paper, City Hall reporter John Briggs broke the news that Mayor Jogbra-to-be had served on the Burlington Airport Commission from 1999 to 2002 despite the fact that airport commissioners, like other Burlington city government officials, are supposed to be American citizens. Hinda the Canadian never bothered to become a U.S. citizen until 2002, when she launched her bid for a state senate seat.
Miller supporters were outraged by Briggs' report. A few told us they didn't think it was "news" at all and merely reflected gutter politics.
We told them they were nuts!
The anger of the Miller for Mayor Squad was reflected in Mr. Briggs' election report in Wednesday morning's Freeps. Neither Candidate Hinda nor her campaign manager had any comment for Briggs, though they spoke with other reporters.
You bet! It showed right through in the exclusive Ch. 17 interview Hinda gave to Rob Reiber.
"We ran a fantastic campaign. Wonderful people! So much help!" said Candidate Miller. "We took the high road, always the high road, and I can't say that for my opponents."
"You know, we live in a complicated town," said Hinda to Ch. 17's Reiber, "and I'm a little concerned. I'm a little frightened."
Hinda the Loser pledged her support for the winner, Progressive Mayor-elect Bob Kiss, "and his voyage to balance all the different constituents and what everyone wants, but the reality is that Burlington must decide how to grow and change and the next mayor has to embrace innovation, manage change and hold what we hold dear."
Nicely said. But then the scars of battle emerged.
"In the end it became a little bit — what can I say — I will call it the underbelly of politics," said Hinda.
"Are you inferring slander? asked Reiber.
"I'm just saying we took the high road," replied Hinda. She did not go into specifics.
Obviously, the more voters learned about Hinda, the more worried they got. Her list of campaign contributors was packed with wealthy Republican donors — the sort who contribute to the campaign coffers of Gov. Jim Douglas, as well as those of George W. Bush.
In the end, Queen City voters were not swayed by Hinda's Jogbra fame, her money or her prominent supporters, including Gov. Madeleine Kunin and Mayor Peter Clavelle.
The voters of Burlington stood behind a guy most do not know well — a soft-spoken, straight-shooting, down-to-earth Burlingtonian whose whole life has been about helping the have-nots in our city. Indeed, this could be the biggest Kiss the city of Burlington has ever received.
It also puts to rest all the speculation about the "end of an era" in what was once the most progressive city in America --the city that a loud-mouthed Brooklyn, New York, socialist named Bernie Sanders conquered in 1981. Sanders transformed Burlington into a place where everyone — not just the bankers and the big wigs — got a seat at the head table.
But Bernie's successor, Mayor Peter Clavelle, signaled the end of Progressive rule two years ago by joining the Democratic Party in hopes it would lead him to the governor's office.
Wrong move, Mayor Moonie.
Despite his bruising statewide loss to Gov. Scissorhands in November 2004, Clavelle stuck with his new political party and was an early and enthusiastic supporter of Hinda for mayor. In the process, Moonie left behind the people who once championed him.
Too bad, but democracy is alive and well in what continues to be the People's Republic of Burlington, Vermont.
P.S. More proof the voters of Burlington make up their own minds are the results on ballot item Question 6:
"Shall the city council be advised to use all lawful means to keep the men and women of the Vermont Air National Guard at home to provide air defense for the state and nation, and to prevent their overseas deployment to drop bombs in wars of aggression against other nations."
Every elected official we know of, including Mayor Moonie and the entire city council, urged residents to vote "no" on this one. It would, they warned, send the "wrong message" to the Pentagon. In retaliation, Donald Rumsfeld might shut down our Air National Guard base at Burlington International Airport.
Yes, indeed, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Despite the dire warnings, 4147 Burlingtonians voted yes — about 43 percent.
There's a message there, folks.
Go to http://www.ci.burlington.vt.us/ for complete Burlington election results.