One has to assume that Miro Weinberger knew exactly what he was doing when he spent a goodly chunk of his Sunday speech attacking the Progressive Party. I mean, he spent most of his time building a case for his party and his re-election, but he had to know that the attack would dominate the news coverage — and would outrage the Progs.
His address was delivered to the city Democratic Party’s online caucus, which unsurprisingly gave him the party nomination in his bid for a fourth term. In the speech, Weinberger custom-crafted a concept of the Democratic Party writ large, a concept I find unconvincing.
Over and over again, he talked of data, science, and expertise as the foundations of his mayoralty. He recalled the ardent baseball fandom of his youth, which was sharpened by the sabermetric revolution launched by Bill James in the 1980s. It convinced him, he said, that “good analysis and the right experts can have a tremendous impact… and generate life-improving results.” Such as four Red Sox championships, presumably.
So, when he became mayor in 2009, he was “determined to make decisions based on evidence, not conventional wisdom.” He outlined a couple examples of evidence-based policymaking, and then tied it to the city’s response to the coronavirus, for which he claimed “one of the best records of any American city.”
Okay, well, he also governs one of America’s smallest cities in a sparsely populated state largely spared in the first wave, but whatever.
And this led directly into Weinberger’s attack on the Progressive Party.
“The voters face a very clear choice,” he said. “The Democratic Party aims to help people through science, data and expertise, while today’s Progressive Party has been moving in a different, rigid, ideological direction.”
He trotted out Exhibit A in any Democrat’s argument against Progressive governance: The Burlington Telecom mess that ended Bob Kiss’ mayoralty in disgrace. Which loses a lot of potency because the BT imbroglio happened more than a decade ago, and the Kiss Army is long gone. It’s like if Joe Biden had made the 2008 recession the centerpiece of his attack on Donald Trump.
The reaction from the Progs was swift and predictable, and it’s continuing. Rightly so. He called ideological governance “dangerous,” as if Progressives by their nature are unfit to govern.
There’s also the weirdness of his Democratic taxonomy. It fit his narrative, but it doesn’t fit the facts. The Democratic Party is not fundamentally technocratic. If anything, it’s chronically disorganized. It doesn’t have a rigid ideology because it can’t; it’s too politically diverse to ever march in unison.
But let’s get back to Miro and the Progs. After the 2020 city elections gave the Progressives the biggest share of seats on City Council, Weinberger downplayed the result and did his best to work with the new majority. Labeling the Progressive Party as dangerously ideological is kind of new for him. Should he be re-elected, it won’t help him get along with what’s likely to be a bigger Prog majority after the election.
That’s likely to be a bigger problem next year than it was this year, because it looks very much like the Progressives will add at least one seat. The Dems’ caucus produced some… shall we say interesting results. In the New North End, caucusgoers chose Kienan Christiansen, who’d already snagged the Progressive nomination, over actual Democrat Kerin Durfee in a lopsided 162-97 vote.
Weinberger’s attack may be designed to motivate his party’s base, who have no love for the Progs. It’s a curious — perhaps desperate is the word — tactic for a three-term incumbent. But he seems to realize he faces a distinct enthusiasm gap. At the close of his speech, Weinberger spoke of a “likely record turnout” on election day, and urged Democrats to get engaged in the campaign.
His party is not in the best of shape. It is seen by many as overly comfortable, a creature of the status quo that’s not particularly open to new people or new ideas. Its caucus attracted a little more than one-third the turnout of the Progs’ online caucus, held a week earlier. That’s partly because the Progs had a contested race for mayor, but it is a legitimate marker of enthusiasm.
In the last three months, the Burlington Democratic Party has lost its chair and deputy chair. The new chair is Adam Roof, last seen badly losing a bid for state Senate and before that, losing his bid for re-election to Council. Does that sound like a guy with his finger on the pulse of the electorate?
As I wrote previously, Weinberger’s best shot at re-election is by winning a plurality. Luckily for him, he doesn’t face a single Progressive challenger, but two credible candidates who are both sitting Councilors.
But even so, he’s got a battle in front of him.