Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger will stand for re-election less than six weeks from now. On Thursday night, he debated all three of the challengers who will appear on the Town Meeting Day ballot.
It was the second of three scheduled Queen City mayoral debates, and it was the first one to include independent political newcomer Patrick White. He wasn’t invited to the first debate, which took place last week.
The mayor, a Democrat, touted the rebuilding of the city’s finances as helping avoid layoffs during the pandemic. “It has been this administration that has taken the city from the edge of junk-bond status to a AA credit rating, saving $17-plus million and counting for taxpayers,” Weinberger said.
All three of his challengers had harsh words about the CityPlace Burlington development project downtown, which since August 2018 has been little more than a gigantic hole in the ground.
“We cannot continue to give developers whatever they ask for in hopes that in just giving them just a little bit more, we’ll be able to move this project forward,” said Progressive nominee and City Council President Max Tracy.
According to independent City Councilor Ali Dieng, the delays stem from what he sees as a lack of leadership from the mayor. “Why do we need to bring these developers to court? Because of a failed development that he brought to Burlington,” Dieng said.
Besides wanting CityPlace to be completed, independent political newcomer Patrick White, 29, wants more housing. “Most of the people my age and younger — I don’t know many of them that can afford $1400 to $1600 (per month), which is what I’m seeing for one-bedrooms in Burlington,” he said.
According to a 2018 report from the city’s Community and Economic Development Office, 60% of Burlington households are tenants rather than homeowners. Tracy wanted to see that situation reflected in housing policy. “Where I think we’ve gone wrong has been not doing enough to stabilize rents,” he said. “Wages have not kept up with rents in our community.”
The Burlington Police Department is also expected to serve as a central issue of the campaign. Dieng says he’s not in favor of de-funding the police. “This is about public safety, and public safety should be managed by those who have the knowledge and expertise,” he said.
This summer, activists occupied battery park for more than a month, demanding that three city police officers accused of excessive force be fired. One took a buyout and left the department; the other two are still with the BPD. “Some of the specific examples that the protesters were pointing to, I think, were completely valid,” White said. “And I think if the city had taken those instances of violence seriously from the get-go, we would never have seen an occupation of Battery Park like that.”
Weinberger said the police department has undergone reforms in his tenure as mayor and should continue making more of them. “I can stand for cultural and structural transformation, but I also stand for a well-resourced, professional police department,” he said.
The final scheduled Burlington mayoral debate is slated to take place on Friday night, February 5.