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Third Time’s the Charm


Published March 4, 2009 at 7:34 p.m.

(Note to readers: This item was posted as an addendum to the online version of my column, but I post it here to hopefully spark some dialogue about the night's results).

In the end, the Progressives needed a little help from another partyto hold on to the Queen City mayor’s seat. As he did three years ago,Progressive Bob Kiss won the day by picking up the second-place votes of his third-place rival.

In 2006, when the race went to an instant runoff, Kiss benefited from Republican Kevin Curley’s second-place votes to stay ahead of Democrat Hinda Miller. In 2009, it was the second-place votes of Democrat Andy Montrollthat secured Kiss’ reelection. It’s a little surprising that so manyDems chose Kiss, especially since Montroll and a top Kiss aide, ChiefAdministrative Officer Jonathan Leopold, had been involved in a political imbroglio involving Montroll’s legal work with a perceived competitor to Burlington Telecom.

Kiss said the key to his victory was the same as it was three yearsago. “I ran a campaign based on winning 50 percent plus one of thevote,” said Kiss, barely audible as his supporters cheered for him atSweetwaters. He said that while Democrats and Progressive have theirdifferences, “The Democratic Party has a broad spectrum, and I’m notsurprised that I was able to pick up some of Andy’s second-place votes.I had a lot of supporters who are Democrats.”

The big story of the night was not just Kiss’ win, but Republican Kurt Wright’s defeat. He led Kiss in both the first and second instant-runoff rounds, but lost convincingly in the third.

Wright said he is mulling a recount request, which he has to make within 48 hours.

“I wouldn’t be asking for a recount simply thinking that it willoverturn the election results,” said Wright. “But, I think it may servevoters to better understand how a candidate who wasn’t ‘first’ in thefirst two rounds could end up being the winner.”

Aside from that, Wright said his strong showing proved that a Republican can come close in the liberal bastion of Burlington.

“The race didn’t turn out the way I wanted, but I’m happy with howwe ran our campaign,” Wright said during a post-election party at TheRusty Scuffer.

Despite the loss, Montroll said he, too, was pleased with how he ranhis race, and is looking forward to devoting more time to his familyand law practice.

“We raised a lot of good issues and received a lot of support,” Montroll said before a crowd of jubilant Dems at Nectar’s.

Montroll said a full recount may not be in order, but a closer lookat the results may ease the minds of voters. “I think IRV has worked,but it may be time to take another look at it,” he said.

The IRV process inspired head scratching among poll watchers of allpersuasions — except the Progressives, of course, who welcomed theoutcome. Mild-mannered Kiss says he believes IRV is serving the citywell, and not just because it’s helped him win the election twice.

Predicting he would “prevail” even in a traditional run-off electionagainst Kurt Wright, Kiss said, “I think people do understand how IRVworks and support it.”

IRV defenders should start dusting off their arguments. How wellthey respond to the questions and criticisms that arise from thisdramatic mayoral contest will likely decide IRV’s fate going forward.

The Anatomy of a Race — So, what did it for Burlington MayorBob Kiss? About as low-key as an incumbent can be, he seemed to bemerely “standing” for reelection rather than “running” for his life.But, in the end, he proved that nice guys sometimes do finish first.

Simply stated, none of his challengers was able to stick Kiss with adebilitating political issue. In 1993, when voters ousted Progressive Peter Clavelle,they did so because of anger over an ill-timed tax increase anger aswell as the city’s decision to offer domestic partner benefits to gayand lesbian employees.

Nothing like that emerged in this race. The school budget ended uppassing by a healthy margin, even in this tough economic climate. It’salso hard to unseat incumbents in Vermont — just look at the governor’soffice — if the only assaults opponents can muster are on thecandidate’s “leadership” and “vision.”

The low voter turnout indicates that a lot of people simply tunedout the race, or weren’t enthused by it. The exception? Supporters ofDan Smith. a newbie to city politics who sought to energize youngprofessionals and students — a tough electoral row to hoe. Hisfourth-place showing — with only 1300 votes — was disappointing. But hewas in a race with three strong party-based candidates.

“I wouldn’t have run this campaign any differently,” Smith saidoutside of Red Square, where his supporters gathered Tuesday night. “Wegot a lot of support across the city, and I think our message, and howwe engaged the young professionals, is something I hope will keeppeople focused and active on finding that common cause across partylines to make the city better.”

City Council Rundown — As I predicted in “Fair Game” lastweek, Democrats picked up votes on the Burlington City Council. Theygained one seat for sure. A run-off election in Ward 7 will determinewhether they end up with two.

What does that mean? Not since the mid-1980s have there been so manyDemocrats on the council, which gives them almost outright control ofthe 14-member governing body.

Nancy Kaplan bested Republican Eleanor Briggs Kenworthy in Ward 4. They were vying for the seat vacated by Republican Wright.

In Ward 7, Democrat Eli Lesser-Goldsmith and Republican Vince Dober were separated by only a handful of votes, necessitating a run-off election.

The Progressives held onto their council seats in Ward 2 and Ward 3. Newcomer Emma Mulvaney-Stanak crushed her Democratic challenger Nicole Pelletier. Both were running to fill the seat being vacated by Prog Jane Knodell.

Progressive Marrisa Caldwell held off a spirited challenge from Democrat David Cain, a newcomer to city politics. That seat had been held by Progressive Tim Ashe,who opted not to run for reelection. Cain came within less than 40 votes ofCaldwell, and is definitely a face to watch in city politics.

Democrats in Ward 5 and Ward 6 — Joan Shannon and Mary Kehoe respectively — won easily, as did Independent Sharon Bushor in Ward 1.

Another change worth noting is that the new city council will begender balanced. There will be seven women and seven men overseeing theQueen City.

For Bushor, the idea of seven, women on the council was welcomenews. “I don’t know if it will mean anything in terms of policychanges, but it will definitely be a positive image for young women tosee and hopefully inspire.”

She couldn’t recall a time when that many women — especially from across the political spectrum — were on the council.

As to who might emerge as the next city council president — Republican Wright’s successor? It’s anyone’s guess. Progressive Clarence Davis has said he is interested in running, and Wright thinks he’d be a good choice.

Of course the Democrats, who now dominate the council, may have something to say about that.

Finally, for all those readers and campaign workers who lambasted mefor my election predictions, which I posted on Blurt last Friday, Ionly have this to say: Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah!

Yeah, I called it. Well, except Ward 4. Seven out of eight ain’t bad.

And, oh yeah, thanks to the Burlington Telecom wifi connection at City Hall and all the hard work of the Seven Days election-night news coverage — we broke the news of Kiss' reelection to the state, as well as the outcome of the Winoosk mayoral election. Yeah us!

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