By all rights, Miro Weinberger’s bid for re-election as mayor of Burlington ought to be in deep trouble. During his current term, he has overseen the continual failure of the CityPlace redevelopment, embarrassing leadership shuffles in the Police Department, and a summer of protests over cops accused of excessive force.
Not to mention the arrival of ROOOARRR sorry, the arrival of the RRRROOOOARRRR dammit, the F-35’s RRRROOOOOOAAARRRR screaming across the skies RRRRRROOOOOOOAAAARRRRRRR oh c’mon, of the Queen City.
(Yes, that’s a Thomas Pynchon shoutout. Mandatory reading for the mid-70s college intellectual dudebro.)
There’s also the inevitable Incumbent Fatigue that eventually afflicts administrations, both internally and in public perception. (Vermont Governors usually get at least six years in office if they seek it, but rarely more than eight. Miro’s approaching nine right now.)
And did I mention that Miro won re-election with only 48 percent of the vote last time around?
He still won, because two progressive challengers split the remainder.
And wouldn’t you know it, that seems the most likely scenario again this year. It’s certainly Weinberger’s best hope for success.
It’s a dismally familiar scenario for this observer, who’s watched Purity Wars divide progressive parties and movements for something like 50 years. And I’m sorry, but I usually fall on the pragmatic side of this.
After the jump: Storytime!
In the early 1980s, the Ann Arbor Food Coop was in serious financial trouble. At the time, it was a crunchy-pure food operation. No meat, no refined sugar, no coffee, that kind of thing. I was part of a members’ committee to come up with a survival strategy. In the end, we decided to dilute the Coop’s purity and allow the sale of previously forbidden products. The Coop rebounded, and is now an established, vibrant presence in the city. Much like Montpelier’s Hunger Mountain Coop and Burlington’s City Market, it offers a full array of organic, vegetarian, and far-out wellness resources as well a measured selection from the Forbidden Fruits of the grocery world.
But this only happened after months and months of long, enervating discussions between the Pragmatists and the Purity Police. One of the losers in the debate was a guy I’ll refer to as Bil, with one L, because that was his name. Bil was a hardcore organic/vegan, which is fine for him. But he wanted the Coop to remain unsullied, even if it meant financial failure. The next November, the Coop stocked a selection of locally-raised turkeys — which, at the time, were unavailable in other retail outlets. One day, Bil walked past the cooler, pointed at the turkeys, and shouted “MURDERED CHICKENS!!!”
That’s what comes to mind when I think of political purity.
The race as it stands right now: Weinberger will get the Democratic Party nod. Councilors Brian Pine and Max Tracy are vying for the Prog nomination, which will be determined by a vote of registered caucusgoers that begins with a live online caucus tonight (Tuesday 12/1) and ends Thursday at 7 p.m. (The Progs have reported a record number of registrants for the caucus.)
And then there’s Councilor Ali Dieng, who seems intent on an independent candidacy, a.k.a. the wrench in the works. I mean, it’s great to see a non-cis white male in the race, but he has no shot at winning.
He would, however, create a split in Progressive/progressive ranks, much as Infinite Culcleasure did in 2018. That would allow Weinberger to prevail with even a smaller share of the vote than he won last time. (There’s also another independent hopeful, Patrick White, who has apparently never sought elective office before and who won’t be taken seriously unless he proves otherwise.)
After winning a Council majority last spring, the Progressives are fervently hoping to take back the mayor’s office for the first time since Bob Kiss left in, well, disgrace. But their best shot at winning is the least likely scenario: a straight-up race between Weinberger and Pine.
That would involve convincing Dieng to put his ambitions on the back burner, which is unlikely at best. It would also involve Pine winning the Progressive nom. Pine has a clear edge over Tracy in experience, having been involved in progressive causes since the 1980s, worked at the city’s Community Economic Development Office for 18 years and served twice on City Council before and after CEDO. He’s also, for what it’s worth, gotten off to a strong start in fundraising. He claims to have raised roughly $10,000, outpacing Tracy by a margin of more than six-to-one.
But all those things may prove to be a net negative in the Progressive caucus. The party has enjoyed an influx of youthful energy in recent years, and this year’s police protests are likely to feed into that. I have to believe that the record high caucus turnout reflects that energy, which should give Tracy an edge over Pine.
But while he may be the more appealing caucus candidate, he’s the weaker choice for the general election. I don’t see how Tracy beats Weinberger, especially with Dieng splitting the progressive purity vote.
Pine has a better shot at appealing to centrist and center-left voters looking for an acceptable alternative to Miro. Tracy might be too much of a wild card for many.
But I see a lot of Bils turning out for the caucus, and voting for the seemingly purer offering. They’d be shooting themselves in the foot, but hey, that’s the go-to option in progressive movements. If history repeats itself, Burlington’s left will be divided and Weinberger will win re-election — with or without a majority of the vote.
Ali would certainly not split progressive votes like Infinite did in 2018. They are miles away from each other ideologically. I suspect Ali will mostly pick up votes from the NNE, which is probably more likely to hurt Miro considering the base Ali enjoys in his district