Updated below with apology from mayoral assistant Mike Kanarick.
On Monday, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger's office alerted the local press to a "photo opportunity" that would take place on the back steps of City Hall at 9:40 a.m. the following morning. The occasion was the prelude to the mayor's first formal meeting with both Fletcher Allen Health Care CEO Dr. John Brumsted and the recently installed University of Vermont president, Tom Sullivan.
Photo ops are not a common occurrence in Vermont. They're staged publicity events more associated with the president of the United States than with the mayor of Burlington. Two other reporters in attendance — Joel Banner Baird of the Burlington Free Press and Greg Guma of VTDigger.org — said they had no recollection of a photo op in these parts.
Sure enough, though, the trio of local VIPs showed up on schedule with smiles for the cameras. Trying to follow up on last week's story about UVM's disinclination to construct more student housing, I asked Sullivan a question about why the university does not require juniors and seniors to live on campus — as, for example, St. Michael's College does.
Sullivan replied that in providing campus accommodations for 60 percent of its student body, UVM has already done more in this regard than have many other institutions of its kind. But before Sullivan could field a followup question — "Will UVM commit to building more student housing?" — mayoral aide Carina Driscoll intervened to announce that this was a photo op, not a press conference, so further queries would not be appropriate.
The White House press corps, by contrast, is sometimes able to get answers from the president to questions asked at "photo ops."
Weinberger, Sullivan and Brumsted then climbed the steps to city hall, paused for a few more clicks of cameras, and headed inside for their private discussion.
Mayoral assistant Mike Kanarick, who was not present at the photo op, called soon after it ended to apologize for its abrupt ending. Kanarick said he wants to emphasize that "the mayor has an open-door policy." Kanarick also arranged for Seven Days to conduct a half-hour interview with Weinberger early this afternoon. A Blurt on the mayor's remarks during that session will be posted soon.
Photo credit: Kevin J. Kelley