Updated below with additional comment from Weinberger campaign
Democrat Miro Weinberger hopped on a plane to Washington D.C. for a fundraiser this past Monday, and returned to Burlington the next day with $8000 in the bank for his mayoral campaign.
U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy headlined the 70-person soiree, which took place at the home of his former chief of staff, Luke Albee. Co-hosting was Bob Rogan, U.S. Peter Welch's chief of staff. (Fundraiser invitation at right)
Now the campaign of Republican candidate Kurt Wright is using his rival's jaunt to D.C. to criticize Weinberger for being an "elitist" who is bringing "Washington politics" to a local Vermont race. Last week, Seven Days reported that Weinberger had hired a Washington D.C. political consultant as a debate coach.
"It's a sad day for Burlington when you have someone who's going to reach out to the type of politics that are in D.C." said Dave Hartnett, a Democrat city councilor from Burlington's New North End and campaign spokesman for Wright. "I think it sends the wrong message."
Weinberger's campaign responded by saying that the fundraiser was attended mostly by "Vermont ex-pats" and that Weinberger's connections to Vermont's congressional delegation — he interned for Leahy after college — would serve the city well.
Weinberger, Wright and independent candidate Wanda Hines are competing for an open seat created when Progressive Mayor Bob Kiss announced he would not seek a third three-year term. Weinberger, a housing developer and airport commissioner, beat — and outspent — three rivals to secure the Democratic nomination in December. Meanwhile, the general election campaign is on pace to be one of the most expensive on record.
Hartnett said that Wright has pledged not to take campaign money from out-of-state or from political action committees. Weinberger's largest contribution to date was a $3000 check from Leahy's Green Mountain PAC and he raised thousands of dollars in the primary from individuals in Maryland, New York, Massachusetts, Missouri and as far away as Seattle, Wash.
"I don't think anybody should try to sugarcoat what's going on. I don't think anyone should try to protect this guy," Hartnett said of Weinberger. "He's an elitist and he's using his Washington D.C. politics and I don't think the people of Burlington will be receptive to that."
Hartnett admits the Wright campaign will raise "a lot of money" — probably $40,000 or more. "But it's going to be raised the Vermont way," he said. "The Burlington way."
For Wright, that has meant tapping the base of deep-pocketed Vermonters who have bankrolled many a political campaign, such as Angelo Pizzagalli, Ernie Pomerleau, Ray Pecor and Bruce Lisman, several of whom donated $1000. Wright recently held a $500-a-head fundraiser at Halvorson's restaurant in Burlington headlined by former governor Jim Douglas.
As for outside money, Wright has accepted one donation from outside Vermont: a check for $127.43 from Matt Gardi, a native Vermonter who lives in Key West, Florida.
Weinberger wasn't available to respond to Wright's broadsides earlier Wednesday because he was door-knocking and preparing for the evening's candidate forum on domestic violence, said campaign spokesman Mike Kanarick. Kanarick defended the D.C. fundraiser by saying the attendees were "people who have connections to Vermont, deep affection for Vermont and Burlington" or are Vermont "ex-pats" living in D.C.
"We kind of see it like an extension of Vermont down there in D.C.," Kanarick said. "From the beginning, Miro's focus is all about Burlington. ...But we need to raise money to be competitive against Kurt and Wanda. With Kurt, you have a guy who's worked hard 15 different times running for public office and that requires lots of fundraising."
Kanarick added: "Fundraising is a reality of running a political race that I don't think anybody really cares for, and yet to get our message out, as hard as we're working, there are expenses associated with it. And to get our message out against a very experienced politician like Kurt — and even Wanda, who's well known in Burlington as a community activist — we really need to work hard, not only on our volunteer base but on our fundraising."
The $8000 haul from the D.C. fundraiser doesn't show up in the campaign finance report voluntarily disclosed by Weinberger on Tuesday, even though the fundraiser occurred before the report's January 31 cutoff. Kanarick says that's because "we didn't have the checks in hand to add into the report and get the report out."
Nor could the Weinberger camp supply the list of attendees at the fundraiser, though Kanarick said it would do so by week's end. Meanwhile, the campaign is highlighting the number of Vermonters who have donated to the campaign. For the month of January, 149 of the 163 donors were from Vermont (129 were from Burlington).
Kanarick played up Weinberger's D.C. connection as a positive because it could help bring much needed federal assistance to the Queen City. "It's a fortunate thing that Miro has this great relationship with Sen. Leahy and Congressman Welch. And certainly we want to play that relationship out as well with Sen. Sanders."
Update: The Weinberger campaign sent this response to the Wright campaign's remark that Weinberger is an "elitist":
"If working with Vermont’s congressional delegation during this campaign or as mayor is elitist, then Kurt Wright must have decided he’ll pass up the opportunity to work with our federal delegation for the good of Burlington. There’s no place for personal attacks and political games in this campaign. Burlingtonians deserve better. Our campaign will continue to focus on the issues so important to our City — issues like getting our city finances in order, creating housing affordability and livability, growing jobs, and working in an engaged way as an advocate for education. We will continue to highlight legitimate distinctions between Miro and his opponents. We suggest that Kurt’s campaign sticks to the issues as well."