Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Another Realignment in the People's Republic: Part Two

One outcome of the March 2012 elections in Burlington was already clear by January: the next mayor would not be a member of the city’s Progressive Party. In November 2011, Mayor Bob Kiss, the third progressive to serve as chief executive since 1981, had decided -- under pressure -- not to seek a third term.
    In December, Sen. Tim Ashe, a former Progressive City Councilor who hoped to run as a fusion candidate with the Democratic nomination, narrowly lost to Miro Weinberger in a hotly contested caucus race. Five years later Ashe is President Pro Tempore of the Democratic-controlled Vermont Senate.
Ashe, Lorber, Kranichfeld and Weinberger debate.
      After deferring a final decision for more than a month, on the last Sunday of January 2012 local Progressives finally voted, unanimously, not to field a mayoral candidate for the first time in decades. About 30 people attended the party’s caucus at the Fletcher Free Library, somewhat fewer than had showed up in December.
     Progressive Rep. Chris Pearson suggested that it was time to “streamline.” Last November, after a decade in the Vermont House, Pearson became a State Senator, elected as a Progressive-Democrat.
     In a 2012 post-Caucus statement, Party Vice-Chair Elijah Bergman explained that local Progressives believed “the best way we can continue to stand up for low and moderate income residents is to focus on winning city council seats.” To that end, however, the Party had nominated only two council candidates.
     In Ward 2, Max Tracy went on to defeat Democrat Eric Covey for the seat being vacated by Democrat Dave Berezniak. In Ward 3, Rachel Siegel was recruited for a successful race against Democrat Sean Hurley, filling the spot previously held by Emma Mulvaney-Stanak. She had announced plans to "take a break" from elected office. Mulvaney-Stanak has since become chair of the Vermont Progressive Party, and Siegel has left the Council to become director of the Peace & Justice Center.
     Bergman said in 2012 that members of his party “look forward to meeting with the announced mayoral candidates and sharing our priorities and vision for the city.” But he also suggested that an endorsement for Independent Wanda Hines was possible, although she hadn't requested it. At the Caucus, Hines appeared to be the clear favorite. In the end, however, the biggest Progressive endorsement came from Bernie Sanders, who backed Weinberger.
     Many progressives argued that Kiss was a poor communicator and criticized his handling of financial troubles at Burlington Telecom. Hines, who at the time worked on equity issues in the city’s Community and Economic Development Office, was one the few public figures who defended the administration and mayor.
     Shortly after the Progressive Caucus, Weinberger issued a statement proposing a coalition “to tackle vital affordable housing, education, environmental, poverty and workers issues facing the city.” He credited the Progressive Party for making “enormous progress over the last 30 years as a result of strong leadership” and said he hoped to “earn the support of Burlington Progressives.”
    Since then his attitude has changed. Last week, while endorsing  Progressive Councilor Jane Knodell in her re-election bid, Weinberger simultaneously attacked her Party for nominating candidates “from a reactionary fringe that is opposed to much of what we are trying to achieve.” He was talking specifically about two candidates, Genese Grill and Charles Simpson, both running insurgent campaigns in opposition to the mayor's development agenda. Grill is actually challenging Knodell as an Independent.
     In 2012, Weinberger also argued that progress had stalled in Burlington during the previous six years. But he was careful then to assign the lion's share of the blame to Mayor Kiss alone. During the Democratic caucus fight, Ashe and the other Democrats in the race took a similar stand.
     Five years later, Progressives still have four City Council seats. But Selene Coburn is on her way to the State legislature and Knodell, like other Progressives in the legislature and state office, have forged a working alliance with Democrats, an informal fusion that informs decisions and priorities.
     Weinberger defines the current dynamic as "a struggle going on for the soul of the party of Sanders, Clavelle and Knodell.” But the real questions remain the same as they were ten years ago, another moment when local Progressive leaders decided to support and share power with Democrats: Whose Party is it, and where is it heading? 

Part One

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