News from Burlington, Vermont

On March 3, there will be local elections throughout Vermont.  Burlington, the largest city in Vermont, is one of the more third-party-friendly places in the nation.  It has instant runoff voting for local elections, a Progressive Party mayor, and in one city council race this year either an independent or a Green is guaranteed to win.  Burlington residents will be voting on a few city council seats and their mayor.

The Burlington Free Press has been doing a good job of reporting on the election.  This piece is an update on the race for mayor, which includes incumbent Progressive Bob Kiss, Green James Simpson, independent Dan Smith, and a candidate from each of the two major parties:

The candidates for Burlington’s next mayor have entered the final stretch of their campaigns. With just more than a week before the election, Progressive Mayor Bob Kiss, Democrat Andy Montroll, independent Dan Smith and Republican Kurt Wright debated for two hours Sunday afternoon at the Ohavi Zedek Synagogue in Burlington.

A crowd of about 50 people listened to the candidates rehash their stances on issues facing the city.

Some highlights:

• While his challengers promised a better Burlington, Kiss maintained all was well in the Queen City.

“What we have is a city that meets the needs of its people,” Kiss said. All of the city’s departments have a “high level of performance.”

The challengers, however, demanded more. The city was “coasting along,” though Burlingtonians are by nature “doers” and not “coasters,” Montroll said. The city has a stagnant grand list, and businesses downtown are closing, Wright said. The city needs vision in a time of crisis, Smith said.

• In a round of rebuttals, Wright said a candidate did not have to be an independent to reach across party lines. Smith, who has run as an outsider to partisan politics, took Wright’s statement as a jab.

Wright insisted he was not jabbing Smith, but simply trying to dispel the assumption that only independents could appeal to people of different political persuasions.

“Though I am a Republican, I am running an independent-based campaign,” Wright said, citing Democrats and independents who supported his run for office. Wright said his City Council experience would help him work with a council losing many long-time councilors.

Smith said his belief in fiscal responsibility, combined with his liberal and progressive values, would help him unite people.

Another piece of news from the race for mayor is that Vermont’s independent Senator Bernie Sanders has endorsed incumbent Progressive Bob Kiss. Sanders was very involved with the Progressive Party at its founding in 1999, although he has never actually been a member of the party. In the Senate, he caucuses with Democrats and considers himself a socialist.

FOX News and Burlington Free Press also covered the fact that instant runoff voting will be used in this election.  The Free Press was much more detailed, and is an interesting look at how an alternative voting system works in the real world:

Proponents argue that the system allows voters to detail their preferences, and a single ballot produces a majority result that saves the expense of a second election.

Detractors say some voters — those who don’t understand the ballot or who don’t rank their choices — are effectively disenfranchised.

In Burlington, 51 of Gierzynski’s students interviewed 1,096 voters emerging from polls in all seven wards.

The resulting UVM report found that while that first election using instant runoff voting “appeared to go very well,” with about 80 percent of the voters ranking two or more candidates, the results of the exit poll raised two concerns: class inequity and a “partisan divide.”

The Burlington Free Press also ran pieces on all of the candidates running for city council.  The only two third party candidates who seem to have a piece on them (some didn’t return a questionaire) are the Progressive and Green candidates in Ward 3:

Marrisa Caldwell

Progressive

Age: 32

Family status: Partner David Kreindler, 3 sons.

Length of time living in ward: 4 years

Education: BA, health care policy & social movements

Occupation: Project Coordinator, Office of Primary Care, UVM

Public service, civic engagement or political experience: School commissioner, 5 years (served from Ward 5 & Ward 3); PTO member; Wards 2 and 3 NPA Development Block Grant Award Committee; mayor’s task force on after-school care; Advisory committee, EEE pre-school program for the first inter-state K-12 school district in the country (Rivendell); former foster parent.

Candidate’s statement: I will bring practical and effective leadership to the City Council. As your school commissioner for the last 5 years I have gained extensive experience in crafting budgets, negotiating contracts with 7 bargaining units, developing policy, and working productively with other elected officials from across the city and the political spectrum. I have worked hard to ensure that our community’s voice has been heard. When Barnes and Wheeler were threatened with closure, I worked with hundreds of Old North End neighbors to keep them open. Likewise, I joined with Ward 3 residents, other Burlington taxpayers and workers to establish a livable wage for all school employees.

I envision a Burlington that offers safe, affordable housing for everyone and provides cost effective City services without placing unreasonable burdens on property tax payers. I will approach every issue from the perspective of working families, asking: how does this impact the cost of City services and how could it be done more efficiently?

I want Burlington to achieve even greater energy independence while reducing our environmental impact, saving energy dollars for households and businesses and creating “green collar” jobs. I envision a Burlington where businesses are able to start-up, grow and innovate while providing living wage jobs and reducing our community’s carbon footprint. By advocating for job training, employment and entrepreneurial opportunities in the emerging green economy – especially for people from disadvantaged groups – we will fight both poverty and pollution at the same time.

I will bring my experience, critical thinking, and leadership to the City Council and I will ensure that the people of Ward 3 are heard in City Hall. Please contact me if you would like to vote by mail, need to register to vote or if you have questions or concerns. www.marrisacaldwell.org (802) 578-7325

Steve Ekberg

Green Party

Age: 44

Family status:Single

Time living in ward: 16 years

Education:GED

Occupation:Activist

Public service, civic engagement or political experience: Former NPA member; Chairman, Burlington Green Party

Candidate’s statement: Ekberg’s statement was deemed unsuitable for publication in the Free Press.

19 thoughts on “News from Burlington, Vermont

  1. Steven R Linnabary

    The question period has already ended:

    Last Call For Questions For Jennifer Brunner
    Submitted by dpotts on Tue, 02/24/2009 – 6:16pm.
    Just a friendly reminder to get them in before 7 P.M.
    ####

    Brunner inherited LP lawsuit when she won the SOS race against Ken Blackwell. Blackwell had some very deep seated animosity against opposition candidates and parties.

    That said, she didn’t seem to know whether to continue the lawsuit against us. She very well could have, and kept us off the ballot in ’08. IMHO, she reluctantly decided against proceeding to the US Supreme Ct. But by waiting so long, she made it nearly impossible for any of the opposition candidates (from the Green and Libertarian Parties) to wage a “real” campaign.

    PEACE

  2. Ross Levin Post author

    It seems like her heart is in the right place at least. Sorry I forgot to post this earlier, I didn’t realize there was an end to the questioning period.

  3. Melty

    Instant runoff is an elaborate algorithm of elimination and reallocation. Briefly put, your vote is not your vote. It gets restacked and rerestacked. It’s got all the same problems ordinary choose-one voting has, plus it’s very complex, therefore full of glitches.

    The world’s simplest voting method is approval voting (choose-the-ones-you-like voting) and it’s far, far better than the world’s second simplest voting method, which is the choose-one-of-the-ones-you-like voting we do now.

  4. Damon Lane

    Hi, I live in Ward 3 in Burlington, help with Marrisa’s campaign, and am a Inspector of Elections, so I have a few answers for you.

    IRV does help 3rd parties and is not complex. Voters rank candidates: most favored to least. 1st choice votes are counted. If no candidates get a majority, the candidate with the least votes is eliminated and voters who ranked that candidate first get their 2nd votes counted, along with everyone else’s 1st vote. This continues until someone has a majority.

    People try to strategize, but really it works if you just honestly rank your preference. We do have an issue where the voting machines cannot print zeroes at the start of voting to ensure an accurate count, but I’m told that will be fixed by our next election, so that will be better and we could even do a hand recount this time if the public really didn’t trust the result.

    On the Greens and Progs: When I moved here I was Green, but now I’m Progressive because in Burlington, and maybe in Vermont as a whole, the Progs are kind of the serious 3rd party. Progs talk about issues and debate with major party candidates and run to win. The Greens conversely, I think run to raise awareness and eyebrows. They often have a table on our main pedestrian shopping street that proclaims 9/11 was an inside job. Steve, running for City Council, often rides around on a brightly colored bike that says “Nader Lives.” http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2368/1591600292_e28c4843db_o.jpg

    Now, I do think 9/11 has some questions around it, and that Nader has done a lot of good work, but the local Greens’ methods I think prevents voters from taking them seriously.

  5. anonymous

    “the local Greens’ methods”…good point. These are local Greens who have broken from the Green Party of the United States and do not represent the seriousness and intelligence of the vast majority of Green Party members in the United States.

  6. Melty

    I call that complex.
    There’s nothing to be gained from forcing a majority where there’s none. If you want voters to rank choices, drop the elimination and reallocation and you’ll have Bucklin Voting, an okay system that’s simple to use and is fairer to budding parties than ordinary voting, so long as voters are allowed to rank only as far as they want and a majority is not insisted on.

    As for “IRV”, you need only look to Australia where they’ve used it for decades, call it “preferential voting” and are run by two evils just like here. The roots of the problem are the elimination and reallocation, and the insistence upon cycling through til a majority is reached.

  7. JB

    For IRV and third parties, you just need to look to… Burlington. Bob Kiss’ campaign was boosted in 2006 because he didn’t have to worry about the spoiler impact when he jumped in the race late. The exact same dynamic helped the former Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, when he jumped in as an independent after the Labour Party there endorsed a Tony Blair-ish centrist.

    Go IRV! And maybe Burlington will go to the single transferable vote form of proportional representation for its city council elections some time.

  8. paulie cannoli

    Steve, running for City Council, often rides around on a brightly colored bike that says “Nader Lives.”

    I wasn’t aware that people were claiming he is dead.

  9. Ross Levin Post author

    Wow, thanks for the information Damon. That was the impression I’ve gotten of the Greens and Progs there, although the Greens are such a decentralized party that they really differ from state to state – just look at a place like Arkansas or Illinois where they’re not as large as the Progressive Party, but they’re still a serious and growing third party.

  10. Gridless

    Melty, i just think your statements are unfounded. The system is not complex in its execution. the voter is simply ranking choices of candidates. IRV gains you everything. It means that the candidate that the majority of people prefer will be elected. It doesn’t force a majority. It respects the wishes of the majority. And you are wrong about the vote. Your vote is your vote. If you vote with the majority, your participation is over. But if you first choice is not in the majority or can’t win, your second, third, and fourth choices are given weight in the rest of the process. It is inclusive and fair. And IRV “can” be third party friendly. You should read the studies on the math and mechanism. the advantages are clear.

  11. Melty

    Sorry for lateness,…just got back.

    JB, I’m a minarchist, but I get happy when Greens have success. The Greens do not have instant runoff to thank for those successes. As for Proportional Representation, it is desirable only for filling in boards of appointees.

    Gridless, voting in a ranking system is simple, and there are over a dozen such methods with names. Under instant runoff, the COUNTING is elaborate. It is you who is ignoring the “math and mechanisms.”

  12. Melty

    It is my understanding that, in Burlington, the Democrats and the Vermont Progressives are the main parties, and the Republicans are a minor party.

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