In a big win for Democrats on the Burlington City Council, Maea Brandt, a Saint Michael’s College professor, took 55% of first-choice votes to win Tuesday’s special election for the East District seat vacated by Progressive Jack Hanson, who resigned in October.

Brandt’s victory over Progressive Dina John, who took 38 percent of first-choice votes, and independent Jake Schumann gives Democrats five votes on the council, overtaking Progressive votes for the first time in six years. 

Adam Roof, the chair of Burlington’s Democratic party, said Brandt’s win means it’s “a slightly different political world here in Burlington.”

Josh Wronski, chair of Vermont’s Progressive party, says a 33% drop in voter turnout compared to Town Meeting Day in March was a deciding factor in the race. “People like Dina are especially reliant on working class people, renters, young people,” Wronski said. 

Brandt’s campaign emphasized her deep roots in the community — she’s a 30-year resident of Burlington. She also ran on a commitment to public safety and expanding affordable housing

Roof says Brandt’s presence could help change things on the council. He said Democrats are “looking to work on moving some of the things that have been tabled for a long time, not just related to public safety,” he said.

One is promoting Acting Police Chief Jon Murad to the position officially as residents voice frustrations concerning violent crime. Democratic Mayor Miro Weinberger says adding Democratic votes on the council increases that possibility.

Roof said the political makeup of council could change even more in March. “There are five seats open,” he said. “There are four district seats plus the open special election in Ward 8.” 

The contest for the Central District seat will not include Progressive Councilor Perri Freeman for the first time since 2019. She has announced she will not seek a third term.

Police Commissioner Melo Grant, a Progressive, has said she will seek Freeman’s seat.“We keep moving forward anyway,” Wronski said. “Even when we had six, we had to win independent or Democratic votes to pass anything,” he said. 

However, Weinberger and Roof say Brandt’s resounding win while backing of the police department are good signs for Democratic candidates moving forward. 

Brandt has announced that she is running for re-election in March, and both parties will hold their respective caucuses in the coming weeks to choose candidates to back in each of the five races.