The Burlington Progressive Party's last best hope to keep control of City Hall went up in ashes Sunday night. In a runoff election at Memorial Auditorium, Miro Weinberger easily beat state Sen. Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) to win the Democratic nomination for mayor.
Weinberger (pictured) and Ashe tied 540-540 after three rounds of voting at the Democratic caucus in November. That kicked off a one-month mini campaign before yesterday's final round.
When votes were tallied Sunday, Weinberger came out with 655 votes to Ashe's 530. Out of the 1331 eligible voters, 1188 cast ballots.
Sunday was a caucuspalooza in Burlington. Earlier in the day, Queen City Republicans caucused in the New North End to nominate the man Weinberger will face in March: two-time mayoral candidate Kurt Wright. Later that evening, after Weinberger's nomination, Burlington Progressives assembled in the Old North End and debated whether to endorse Weinberger, run their own candidate or sit this election out.
The crowd at Memorial Auditorium erupted into cheers when Weinberger was named victor. As he took the podium, Weinberger turned to Ashe and asked him to join him on stage and thanked his rival for running what he called a "high road" campaign.
"I want to thank Tim for a truly great race, and I hope he'll come out here and stand with me," said Weinberger. Turning to Ashe he added, "Your commitment to Burlington has been truly remarkable and you did a great deal to make sure that this campaign remained a high road campaign and I appreciate that."
Ashe gave Weinberger a hug. Awww, a budding political bromance perhaps? A new voter man-date? Time will tell.
Weinberger thanked his family, his volunteers and those who cast ballots on his behalf, but acknowledged that as a first-time candidate, he still has a long road to travel before he can declare victory.
"We can't stop now and I hope you'll join with me and work with me to make this possible," said Weinberger. "With your help and your voice and your vote we can make this vision of 'Burlington at its best' a reality."
And with that, the infamous Progressive "machine" — which has been turning out voters to caucuses and general elections for three decades — was outmanaged and maneuvered by a crop of new Democrats who are organized and motivated to recapture City Hall after 30 years of exile.
That history is what fueled portions of both parties — Democrats and Progressives — for the past month.
Ashe struggled to break free of his Progressive past while establishment Democrats circled the wagons around Weinberger; he won public endorsements from current and past city councilors, state lawmaker and two former governors. Ashe, meanwhile, saw no big name Democratic endorsements and was dogged by his past support for Progressive Mayor Bob Kiss and Burlington Telecom.
Despite these complaints, Ashe told Seven Days that he will support Weinberger as a candidate going forward and will do all he can to help Weinberger reach out to Progressives. During the campaign, Progressives were not impressed with Weinberger, at times claiming he seemed like he was speaking more for business and upper-income interests in the city than for working families and the poor.
"I told Miro I will help him reach out to not just to individual Progressives for their support, but in a more formal way with the Progressive Party," said Ashe.
Ashe reiterated that point later as Progressives gathered across town at the Integrated Arts Academy. Ashe visited the Progressive Party caucus to thank some of them for volunteering on his campaign and to say that Weinberger knows that he needs to "build a bridge to many of the people in this room." He received a standing ovation from the Prog faithful and joked about coming there to accept the party's nomination for mayor (something Ashe repeatedly pledged he would not do).
Weinberger, too, told Seven Days that he's tried hard to focus his harsh rhetoric solely on the Kiss administration and not the entire Progressive Party or the party's 30-year history of running the city.
"I have often agreed with a substantial number of issues they have championed," said Weinberger. "I've tried not to burn bridges with the Progressives in this race and focus my comments on the Kiss administration."
Progressives and Weinberger may potentially share more in common on that point — a distaste for the Kiss administration — than any other. Progressives were willing to put "No Candidate" on their mayoral ballot if Kiss had decided to seek the party's nomination — a sure sign that the party viewed a Kiss candidacy as a descent into a death spiral.
Still, what to do? This conundrum was evident later Sunday among the 40 or so gathered at the Progressive Party caucus. Speaker after speaker said they were unimpressed by Weinberger on the party's bread and butter issues of social and economic justice. But, does that mean they should still run someone even if they don't have the ideal candidate?
The winning argument was offered by Ward 2 Progressive Max Tracy (pictured), who urged the party to hold off on making a rash decision about whether to endorse a mayoral candidate.
"While I would like to see us have a candidate, I also know that we make bad decisions when we make decisions too quickly," said Tracy. "We need to pause and think about our values and what our needs are and then see where the candidates sit."
So rather than let the Democrats write the Progressives' obituary with Weinberger's victory, the Progressives decided to hold off imminent death and perhaps write their own political obituary in another month.
To ensure that they, too, could delay a decision on a candidate, the Progressives will meet again in early January — ahead of the late January deadline to file candidate petitions for mayor — and decide whether to endorse someone in the mayoral race.
Between now and then, several Progressives agreed to listen more to what Weinberger had to say and also begin the process of talking to potential candidates.
At the GOP caucus on Sunday, Republican Kurt Wright easily won his party's nod. Fewer than a dozen Republicans met in a small room inside the Miller Center in the New North End to endorse Wright''s third bid for mayor.
The nomination was merely a formality and Wright didn't deliver a speech. He said his focus is on Tuesday's campaign kickoff, which he promises to be a bipartisan affair. Perhaps even tripartisan.
"For me, this race isn't about a political party, but about who can best lead the city," said Wright. Which, of course, makes sense when you're a Republican in a very liberal city.
(Disclosure: Tim Ashe is the domestic partner of Seven Days publisher and coeditor Paula Routly).