Burlington Mayoral Race Cools Down

(In honor of the hackneyed campaign headline, “_________ Race Heats Up,” the favorite of unimaginative headline writers desperate to gin up a little reader interest. And yes, the Free Press deployed it during the campaign for mayor of Burlington, which was never, ever, ever close.)

Well, if there’s any widespread revolt over Miro Weinberger’s alleged secret plot to pave the open spaces and fill the city with skyscrapers, it sure didn’t show itself on Town Meeting Day. Weinberger won a second term with 68% of the vote; the two challengers beating the anti-development drum managed less than 30%.

So, Monday Morning Quarterback, what does it mean? Glad you asked.

The accusations against Weinberger didn’t stick because (1) anti-development sentiment in Burlington represents a loud minority; most residents, I think, would like to see reasonable growth, (2) Weinberger consistently presented a reasonable approach and hasn’t given the voters any big reason to mistrust him, and (3) by all appearances, he ran the city competently in his first term. And after the Bob Kiss Experience, voters were happy to see simple managerial competence.

Corollary to point 3: the Burlington Progs are still suffering from the aftereffects of the Kiss Experience. Especially when their candidate is a hippie-lookin’ holdover from past Progressive administrations. It’ll take them a while longer to win back the trust of Queen City voters.

The Progs’ candidate, Steve Goodkind, refused to admit that Weinberger might actually be popular, heaven forfend; he credited the mayor’s “great machine.” By which he presumably meant Weinberger’s massive fundraising advantage.

That certainly didn’t hurt, but if we’ve learned anything from recent gubernatorial elections, it’s that Money Can’t Buy You Love. If there was widespread disaffection with Weinberger, the voters would have scrambled to the nearest available Scott Milne, no matter how underfunded or dubiously qualified. It’s tough to argue with 68% support.

On the other hand, there’s the City Council vote, which saw the Democrats lose ground and the Progs gain, probably leading to a Progressive council president. Was this a mixed verdict by the voters?

Yes and no, but mostly unclear. If the voters were convinced by the anti-development argument, it seems to me that they would have concentrated their ire on Weinberger. Also, and more saliently, the council results are tough to interpret because of the massive overhaul of ward boundaries. You’d really have to do a deep analysis of the vote, comparing it to previous elections.

One example: a new ward was created in student-dominated precincts. Students, as they are wont to do, stayed away in droves. (Overall turnout was 25%, but in Ward 8 it was under 10%.) As a result, Prog-leaning independent Adam Roof beat the Democrat despite getting less than 200 votes. That total would have earned him a brutal defeat in any other ward.

So the Progs had an unearned edge in Ward 8. I have no idea if that’s true across the city because I’m not a deep-numbers guy. I’ll leave that task to the experts.

The result does leave Weinberger facing a divided City Council with the Progressives likely enjoying a narrow organizational majority. He’ll have to work with the Progs and independents, which could mean a slightly more measured approach to development.

Of course, I’m not convinced that Weinberger ever had a secret plan to pave Burlington. By all indications, he wants to pursue a measured approach anyway. For the crowd that thinks “developer” is a dirty word, his intentions will always be suspect. But that crowd suffered a pretty thorough defeat in Burlington yesterday.

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