If anyone had any doubts about his intention, Republican City Council President Kurt Wright laid it all to rest Thursday announcing he is a candidate for mayor of Burlington.
And, if you think Wright only has the support of the GOP in Burlington (yes, Virginia there is a GOP in the Queen City), think again. One of several people to warm up the crowd was none other than John Ewing, a lifelong Democrat. Gov. Howard Dean appointed Ewing to chair the the state's Environmental Board, which oversaw Act 250 appeals. He is also one of the founders, and current board chair, of Smart Growth Vermont.
Ewing joked that some in the room might think he took a wrong turn. But, he assured the standing-room only crowd in Contois Auditorium that his appearance was no fluke or momentary lapse of reason.
Ewing said his decision to back Wright in this election is based on not electing the person from the right party, but "electing the most qualified person."
Wright told the crowd his background as a council president, city councilor and state legislator make him uniquely qualified to tackle the pressing needs of the city: Economic development, keeping budgets under control, delivering key city services, and fostering a tri-partisan approach to solving problems in the Queen City. All items he said he has accomplished as city council president.
"Many across the political spectrum have encouraged me to run, citing the need for change here in Burlington — just as many believed it was needed in our country on November 4th," said Wright.
No mention of "hope" in his speech, but in Burlington "change" means tossing out a nearly 30-year-old Progressive-minded administration for one led by a Republican.
If elected, Wright would be only the second Republican elected to the mayor's office since 1981 when Independent Bernie Sanders came into office. Sanders was succeeded by Progressive Peter Clavelle (who later ran as a Progressive/Democrat). That Republican was Peter Brownell (pictured above shaking Wright's hand after Wright was elected city council prez by an 8-6 margin). Elected in 1991, he only served one, two-year term. Burlington mayors now serve three-year terms.
Wright enters a crowded field, but with arguably a reliable base of support in the city's more conservative New North End. Also in the race are Democrat Andy Montroll and Independent Dan Smith. Kiss will launch his reelection bid after Progressives gather on December 14 to nominate a mayoral candidate.
Wright’s entry into the race guarantees that Burlington’s next mayor will once again be selected using instant runoff voting. The system, in which voters rank their choices, was employed in 2006 to elect Kiss, although in that case the second place votes only served to extend Kiss' lead over Democrat Hinda Miller.
“I don’t think anyone will get 50 percent with four of us in the race, which means that second-place votes are going to be crucial,” Wright told "Fair Game" this week. Wright is hoping to best his second-place mayoral showing in 1999.
Wright ticked off a number of areas where the current administration lacked leadership, and where he stepped in to provide it:
- The rewrite of the city's zoning regulations
- Open & transparent government
- Training of election officials
- Ensuring senior centers remained open
- Pushing back against the school's $226 million bond
"I have to tell you—there is only so much a council president can do. Leadership needs to come from the top. There is only one person that is elected by the whole city and that is the mayor, and the mayor must lead," Wright said.
Wright said the city cannot move forward under the current climate of "mistrust and fear between the administration and departments."
Wright pointed to the ongoing fracas involving the Parks Department as one example of how this discontent was manifest within the city. He asked those in the room to help him usher in a new spirit of cooperation in Queen City.
"This election is not about party politics," he added. "I will govern the city in a tri-partisan manner just as I have as president and the administration will be made up of the best—regardless of party."