Pandemic politics: Will Burlington voters play it safe?

Published: Mar. 1, 2021 at 4:06 PM EST|Updated: Mar. 1, 2021 at 8:05 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - According to some, the future of Burlington is in voters’ hands on Town Meeting Day. There are a number of big ballot items and a hotly contested mayor’s race that together could change the political landscape.

We know that out of nearly 26,000 active registered voters in Burlington, more than 8,000 ballots have already been cast by mail.

Experts I spoke with believe many want change in Burlington, but they say the pandemic could make voters play it safe.

“In COVID, incumbency has shown, in Vermont, to be a very powerful position,” Carina Driscoll said.

Driscoll, a former Burlington mayoral candidate, gave Mayor Miro Weinberger his biggest challenge in 2018. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ stepdaughter fell about 1,600 votes short. The independent, who got support from the Progressive Party then, believes people are ready for a change in the Queen City.

“So many of us want it, I think a lot of us want it in our hearts,” Driscoll said.

But she wonders how the pandemic will sway voters. Will they take the safe route and reelect the incumbent or take a risk on a new leader? She’s not sold on what Weinberger touts as successes but also isn’t sure a Progressive majority in Burlington is the answer either. It’s why she backing independent Ali Dieng in the race.

“I think a lot of people have reservations of having one party have so much control and say in policy and direction of the city,” Driscoll said.

Progressive Party leader Josh Wronski says Burlington voters appreciate the message of the hard left and are ready to elect Max Tracy.

“Burlington voters are really seeing that it’s time for a change, it’s time for a new direction for the city,” Wronski said.

He believes today’s Progressives are similar to that of former Mayor Bernie Sanders and are pushing for some of the same ideas, like livable wages and just-cause evictions.

“People in our community have been calling out for action on many of the issues we have been pushing for,” Wronski said.

“I think this a hugely important election for Burlington’s future,” said Kurt Wright, the former Republican City Council president and one-time mayoral hopeful.

Wright believes the pandemic could help the incumbent. Weinberger has held weekly press conferences since COVID took over headlines, keeping him in the public eye.

“I think a lot of people will feel you don’t change leadership in the middle of a crisis-type situation,” Wright said.

The Republican is supporting the Democrat Weinberger for mayor, saying he believes more people want to see a change in the City Council. The council leans Progressive and Wright believes many don’t agree with their decision to cut the city’s police force last summer, something the mayor has also fought against.

“I don’t agree with Miro on everything, but for sure, but I think that leadership and that check and balance is so important,” Wright said.

And what about the spoiler effect? Who might that help or hurt? Watch the video below for more on that and a look at previous elections in the city.

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