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Burlington mayor to focus on ending systemic racism during 4th term

Published: Apr. 6, 2021 at 5:07 AM EDT|Updated: Apr. 6, 2021 at 5:19 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger Monday evening outlined his hopes to end systemic racism in the city, along with pandemic recovery initiatives as part of his State of the City address.

“We must acknowledge that racial justice is our most pressing issue and our hardest challenge. And it is one that we have failed to get right over a period of time that stretches before our country’s founding into the present day,” said Weinberger, D-Burlington.

Weinberger began by touching on how Burlington continues to navigate the pandemic but quickly turned to address racial disparities in the city.

“I’m seeking to learn to make racial justice central to the work of local government and to become an anti-racist leader who identifies racism and dismantles it,” he said.

Some of those new initiatives include an annual Juneteenth celebration, a substantial increase in the size of the Racial Equity Inclusion and Belonging Department, a new focus on how to increase Black homeownership, and continued police reforms.

“Our public safety reform efforts in the last couple of years simply have not succeeded in achieving the cultural and structural change that is needed, or in forging the new consensus on public safety in Burlington that they all hope they would,” Weinberger said.

City Council President Max Tracy, P-Ward 2, who narrowly lost the mayoral election to Weinberger, said he was happy Weinberger chose to focus much of his speech on addressing systemic racism.

“They’ve been real significant issues in our community for a long time and issues that we really haven’t seen this administration address with nearly enough seriousness or follow-through. So, I think while it is heartening to hear these words this evening, the real work remains yet to be done,” Tracy said.

Kurt Wright, the former Republican council president, said he was disappointed in the speech, saying the mayor didn’t adequately address public safety concerns and how the city will use federal COVID dollars.

“It’s fine to strike a tone of reconciliation and talk about racial justice because we all want that. And I want to be clear that I do, too, but you also need to speak to the people who voted for you and elected you, and I think he did very little to none of that tonight. This speech seemed to be Miro’s atonement speech,” Wright said.

The newly elected council now has one less Democrat and one more independent. Weinberger pledged to work with them to help achieve his goals of eliminating racial disparities.

Weinberger also took the time to apologize again to his racial equity director. He originally tasked Tyeastia Green to oversee a study of the police department to figure out what resources and personnel were needed to run it. He then switched course and assigned that role to the head of the Burlington Electric Department, who is a white man. He later apologized and reinstated Green.

Weinberger did not address the controversy surrounding his director of police transformation, whose final report was plagiarized and didn’t offer a detailed plan to address the future of public safety. In a statement, the mayor said he wasn’t happy with the results of the report, but refused our follow-up questions.

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