Tag Archives: Miro Weinberger

BTV throws a technology pickle party

Throughout its history, information technology has been a man’s world. You’d think the most modern of industries would have relatively enlightened attitudes, but not so.

Disappointing. Maddening. But you’d think that the (allegedly) most enlightened of high-tech wannabes, Burlington, would actively promote the role of women in high tech. It is, after all, the Queen City, yo.

Uh…

Well…

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger is trying to revitalize BTV Ignite, the two-year-old initiative to turn the city’s high-speed Internet infrastructure into an economic engine. He’s appointed a new Executive Director; more on that in a moment. There’s also a new Board of Directors, and guess what?

The BTV Ignite Board of Directors (not exactly as illustrated)

The BTV Ignite Board of Directors (not exactly as illustrated)

They’re all men.

Stephen, Dan, Neale, Charles, Peter, Jonathan, and Tom.

Well hey, at least they’ll be able to tell dirty jokes and hold board meetings in the sauna.

Jesus Christ, Miro. Did you even think about this? Couldn’t you have found a token woman, at the very least?

Or maybe ask Neale Lunderville to wear heels?

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The best darn Plan B in state politics (UPDATED)

Update: I don’t know how this escaped my notice (and that of the entire Vermont political media), but WCAX-TV beat me to the punch by about six weeks. See addendum below.

The Democratic race for governor is a three-way (at least) tossup, with no one willing to lay odds on a single contender. The Republican race, on the other hand, appears to pose a stark contrast: if Lt. Gov. Phil Scott runs, he would enter the 2016 gubernatorial race as the favorite. If he doesn’t run, the VTGOP will be left with an unappetizing choice of steam-table leftovers. Or maybe Bruce Lisman, the canned succotash of the Republican buffet.

However… another name is being bandied about the political rumor mill, and it’s one hell of a good one.

Neale Lunderville.

Let me make it clear, he’s not running for governor. He’s not even running for running for governor. If Phil Scott does run, he’ll have Lunderville’s wholehearted support. Or so I hear.

But if Scott chooses not to run? Lunderville could be a formidable candidate. He’s got solid Republican credentials from his service in the Douglas administration. He knows how to run a campaign, dealing the dirt so His Nibs could sail above it all. And, thanks to the generosity of our Democratic leaders, Lunderville has steel-plated credibility as a bipartisan fixer.

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Police Chief Superspy: Is this what Burlington needed?

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger has announced his choice for new police chief: Brandon del Pozo, a veteran of 18 years with the New York City Police Department. He has, as they say, risen rapidly through the NYPD ranks; his current post is Commanding Officer in the Strategic Initiatives Office.

Hmm. The most famous NYPD “strategic initiative” I know of is its free-range intelligence unit, which routinely ignores jurisdictional boundaries in its search for potential terrorists. According to a 2011 report on NPR, NYPD Intelligence has “teams of undercover officers… who basically just troll ethnic neighborhoods. …They also have informants known as mosque crawlers” who serve as “the eyes and ears of the police department inside the mosques.”

The latter, notes NPR, would “seem to violate the federal privacy act.” It further notes that the unit is “creative in ways that come right up against the line of what the federal government or other police departments either can do, or feel comfortable doing.”

The expansionist NYPD even has an intell office in the Middle East, which seems like quite a stretch for a city police force.

Wait a minute, Mr. del Pozo himself claims credit for that.

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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.

Burlington will grow. Burlington must grow.

The race for mayor of Burlington has a clear and concise theme, at least in the minds of the media: it’s a referendum on development, with incumbent Miro Weinberger favoring growth and his main opponents, Steve Goodkind and Greg Guma, resisting change. It’s an oversimplification, but there’s a lot of truth in it — especially when his critics are typecasting the Mayor as a willing partner of rapacious developers.

There’s a big disconnect at work here. In reality, the question is not, will Burlington get bigger? The question is, how will it grow and how will it manage change? Because like it or not, Burlington is going to grow. In fact, I would argue that Burlington needs to grow, for the sake of Chittenden County and the entire state.

Burlington is a highly desirable place to live. Beautiful setting, great food, a lively cultural scene, close to recreation of all sorts, and full of opportunity for entrepreneurs and garden-variety job-seekers. Its housing market reflects all of that: homes and rental properties are scarce and expensive.

The city itself has seen modest population growth, from 36,000 in 1960 to 42,000 in 2010. The population pressure has been forced outward: in the same 50-year period, while Burlington’s population has increased by roughly 18%, Chittenden County’s population has nearly tripled — from 63,000 in 1960 to 157,000 in 2010.

That outward development pattern carries heavy costs: loss of farmland and open space, traffic density over a wider area, higher costs for building and maintaining infrastructure, and the toll on Lake Champlain from all those impervious surfaces. This trend is only going to continue, and the region would be much better off if more of the development were to take place in Burlington.

Vermont likes to position itself as a technology center. To the extent this is true, its hub is Burlington. That’s where the activity is, that’s where most of the techies want to live, that’s where the successful tech enterprises and startups are located. If our tech economy is to grow, Burlington will grow with it. If we artificially depress growth in Burlington, we will also limit the growth of the tech sector.

The state has a real problem with its aging population. Burlington is the most attractive place in Vermont for young people to live*. But as things stand now, many of them are priced out of a market in which supply fails to meet demand. Burlington is our best hope for attracting a cadre of young people who can build their careers and raise their families in Vermont. We can best do that by boosting available housing and rental stock. This is especially true for the working-class Burlingtonians so cherished by Goodkind and Guma: if housing prices are high and rentals are scarce, how does that enhance the city’s affordability?

*Quick story. When we first moved to New England, we lived in a town of about 4,000 people in New Hampshire. We liked it, although there were some drawbacks. A couple years after our arrival, a younger couple from our old hometown moved to the same NH town. And they moved out within a year, relocating to a city of 50,000, because small town life was just too damn quiet. They were actively unnerved by it. A lot of people are like that. And by most outside standards, Burlington is the only real city in Vermont. 

The tides of history, geography and finance have made Burlington, and Chittenden County, the locus of Vermont’s economy: its population center, its best hope for the future. That’s made Burlington a prosperous and vibrant place to live, which wasn’t the case through most of its existence.  With that success come internal challenges and external responsibilities. You can’t evade that by just saying “No.”

As for the desire to preserve Burlington’s “character,” whatever that means, it’s an impossible dream. Burlington is changing. Burlington is growing. Resisting development is not a wise or tenable strategy. Managing development, so that the future Burlington is a desirable place to live and work, is the right approach. The future Burlington might not look exactly like the present edition, but it can be an even better place — for its residents and for the entire state.

This is not an endorsement of Miro Weinberger’s candidacy. I don’t live in Burlington and I haven’t studied his performance or his opponents’ records enough to make that judgment. I’m writing what I see from a distance, and among many of his opponents I see a futile misperception of reality.

 

No place for gun images in political advertising

Update: A recut version of the ad has been posted on YouTube. See below. 

I am, frankly, amazed that someone as media-experienced as Greg Guma would produce a political ad showing his opponent with a target on his face followed by the sound of a gunshot. That’s just a complete WTF in my book.

Guma posted the ad, which attacks Mayor Miro Weinberger for being too pro-development, on YouTube a few days ago. The “target” is actually the logo of the Target chain, and it’s an unspoken reference to the possibility that a Target department store might become a tenant in the renovated Burlington Town Center mall.

It’d take a singularly savvy viewer to catch that reference. In real time, it’s a target over Weinberger’s face followed by a gunshot.

This is not okay. And Guma should know better.

Apparently he doesn’t. He’s defending the ad as “humorous.” Yeah, ha ha ha, politician, target, gunshot. Fun-nee.

We can’t judge the alleged humorousness because Guma has pulled the ad from YouTube. But he did so, not because it’s tasteless, but because the Weinberger photo was taken by the Burlington Free Press, which jealously guards its copyrights. He told the Free Press that he might repost the ad with a different photo, complete with target and gunshot.

Please don’t.

It may already be too late for this, but what Guma needs to do is issue a profound apology for the ad. And not one of those weaselly “I’m sorry to anyone who was offended…” Just a plain old “I was wrong, I apologize to Mayor Weinberger and the voters of Burlington, and I won’t do it again.”

Also, anyone in the liberal/progressive community who’s supporting Guma for Mayor: please don’t try to make excuses for this. There is no excuse. Remember when Sarah Palin’s PAC produced an ad that put gun sights on a map of the United States, each representing a Democrat she was hoping to defeat? Guma’s ad is the same thing.

Actually, it’s worse. At least Palin’s ad didn’t have any pictures of politicians.

Postscript. It looks like Guma has posted a new version of the ad, minus Weinberger’s photo and the gunshot sound. Still waiting for the apology. Note that this ad was posted today, February 13. 

Endorsement or Recommendation? Seems to be no difference.

A few days ago, Phil Scott and Right to Life raised a bit of a stink about a TV ad from Dean Corren’s campaign, which sought to draw a distinction between Corren’s solid pro-choice record and Scott’s, which is mostly but not entirely pro-choice. And it pointed out that Scott had the backing of RTL.

The issue raised by Scott and his kinda-sorta friends at RTL is that the group has not “endorsed” the Lieutenant Governor, but merely “recommended” him.

“Recommended” does sound a bit less formal than “endorsed,” but is there really a difference?

Well, on Sunday, the Burlington Free Press issued its predictable endorsements of Governor Shumlin and Phil Scott. But it didn’t use the verb “endorse” anywhere on its editorial page.

In fact, the first sentence of the gubernatorial editorial says…

“The Burlington Free Press editorial board recommends Peter Shumlin for governor.”

The Scott editorial begins with…

“Vermonters should return Phil Scott to Montpelier as lieutenant governor.”

By Phil Scott’s standards, neither he nor the governor have been endorsed by Vermont’s Largest Newspaper. I hope he doesn’t claim otherwise.

Also, earlier today, my email inbox was graced by a missive from Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger on behalf of State Sen. Phil Baruth. I’ll have more to say on this later, but for now I’d simply like to note the wording:

“I want to put in a strong recommendation for… Phil Baruth.”

Hm. Guess that’s not an “endorsement” either.

Or, alternatively, Phil Scott has no basis for complaint about Dean Corren’s ad.

Dems endorse Corren, but their assistance will be limited

The Democratic Party State Committee, meeting today in Montpelier, formally endorsed Dean Corren, the Progressive Candidate for Lieutenant Governor, who had won the Democratic nomination in the August primary as a write-in candidate.

The vote was 31 for Corren and 4 against. I’d presume that most or all of the “no” votes concerned Corren’s strong support of ridgeline wind power. At his debate with incumbent Phil Scott, Corren referred dismissively to the “imagined horrors” of wind farms.

All those who spoke at the meeting were strongly supportive of Corren; Windham County chair John Wilmerding called him “a crucial addition to our slate” because of his advocacy of single-payer health care.

However, thanks to potential conflicts with campaign finance law, the Democrats will not share their database or voter lists with Corren, and he will not take part in the Dems’ Coordinated Campaign.

Some Dems had earlier voiced concern about sharing the party’s robust data with a longtime Progressive who might well pass it on to his fellow Progs. Democratic Party officials said there would be no sharing — but not because of concerns about sharing, but because of legal limits on tangible support to a candidate who has accepted public financing, which Corren has.

Under the law, a candidate who takes public financing cannot accept additional contributions. And because of “the proprietary nature” of the party’s data, said Executive Director Julia Barnes, sharing the information or adding him to the Coordinated Campaign would be considered a donation to the Corren campaign.

There was one hint of Dem/Prog friction. Former party staffer and candidate for Burlington City Council Ryan Emerson McLaren* noted Corren’s vocal support for Democratic candidates, and urged Corren to make the same plea to the Progressives in Burlington who, Emerson said, might nominate a candidate to oppose Burlington’s “fantastic mayor” Miro Weinberger. Emerson asked Corren to urge the city’s Progs to support Weinberger’s bid for a second term. At the meeting, Corren offered no immediate response; nor did he really have the opportunity to do so.

*Please note corrected error: it was not Ryan Emerson, but Ryan McLaren, who raised the Burlington issue. My mistake, and my apologies to Ryan Emerson. 

One other tidbit of news from the meeting: Three statewide Democratic officeholders who won their respective Republican nominations in the August primary because they finished first in write-in votes have all decided to decline the VTGOP nomination. Auditor Doug Hoffer had previously announced he would decline; Secretary of State Jim Condos and Treasurer Beth Pearce have now joined him.

Which means a bunch of big embarrassing vacancies on the Republican ballot this fall. Good times.

A new nominee for the Most Dangerous Republican award

Last December, around the time of the fabled Chris Christie fundraiser for the Vermont Republican Party (projected take, a quarter mill or so; actual take, less than 50K as far as I can tell from the party’s financial filings), I posited that there was one figure in the downtrodden VTGOP who could pose a threat to the Democrats as a statewide candidate. It wasn’t Phil Scott; it was the closest thing we have to a Chris Christie — a short-tempered, get-things-done, “willing to work with both sides” kind of guy named Thom Lauzon, Republican Mayor of Barre. 

I still think he’s a solid potential statewide candidate, should he ever choose to climb the ladder. But another name has been suggested to me, and it’s an excellent choice. In fact, offhand I’d have to say he’s an even better Most Dangerous Republican than Lauzon.

I’ll give you the name, but first it’s Story Time, kids!

Starting in 2002, Craig Benson spent two disastrous years as Republican Governor of New Hampshire. While he was Governor, he appointed a little-known lawyer named Kelly Ayotte to the post of Attorney General. (In NH, the AG is an appointed position with a five-year term.) By the time her first term had come to an end,  John Lynch was Governor. He was a Democrat but he liked to play the bipartisan game, so he nominated her for a second term.

Before she served out that term, she resigned to run for U.S. Senate. And she won. And she’s now the only Republican member of NH’s four-member Congressional delegation.

The key moment in her ascendancy was her renomination by John Lynch. If he’d appointed a Democrat and sent her packing as a one-term Benson functionary, she would’ve had a much harder time continuing her political career. I firmly believe that there would never have been a Senator Kelly Ayotte if not for John Lynch being too clever for his own good.

Thus endeth the lesson. Back to Vermont, and the new nominee for Most Dangerous Republican.

Neale Lunderville.

At one time, he was the chief hothead on Jim Douglas’ team. He and Jim Barnett, who’s gone on to a very unsuccessful career as a balls-to-the-wall campaign manager, were dubbed “the Nasty Boys” by the late great Peter Freyne for their skilled knifework in Douglas’ campaigns.

Since then, little Neale has grown up — and gotten two great big helping hands from Democratic officeholders. Governor Shumlin chose him to be recovery czar after Tropical Storm Irene, and now Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger has engineered his hiring as interim head of the Burlington Electric Department.

In the process, the Nasty Boy has acquired a solid nonpartisan reputation as the go-to guy when trouble strikes. He’s been chosen by not one, but two, top Democrats to take on big administrative challenges.

Okay, here’s a hypothetical for you. In the next biennium, the Shumlin administration will unveil its plan for single-payer health care. It’ll be big, expensive, controversial, and a tough sell, even in a lopsided Democratic legislature. Win or lose, Shumlin will expend a lot of his political capital in the fight.

He also faces the whole issue of school funding and organization. Whatever he and the legislature do, more enemies will be made and more people will be alienated.

At best, Shumlin would enter 2016 having fought two extremely tough battles. Even if he wins on single-payer, he’ll be in that very dangerous period between passage and implementation, where everybody will be aware of the cost and the controversy but won’t have experienced any benefit from the new system. And if the implementation process for single payer OR school reform is difficult, contentious, or includes any stumbles, the Governor’s managerial reputation will take more hits.

And now comes, on a shiny white horse, Neale Lunderville.

Well, Lunderville 2.0, New and Improved with a track record for working under Democratic executives and managing the biggest challenges. In short, he’s Vermont’s Mr. Fix-It. The Governor won’t be able to depict Lunderville as a partisan ideologue because, after all, he chose the guy to manage the aftermath of Irene. At the same time, Lunderville will have solid Republican credentials from his tenure in the Douglas Administration. He’ll be more appealing to the conservative base than a Phil Scott will ever be.

The VTGOP won’t be in any shape to challenge the Democrats’ overall  dominance in 2016. But Lunderville could do what Scott Milne can’t do and Randy Brock couldn’t: topple Governor Shumlin.

Farfetched or believable? Just remember, if it happens, you can thank Peter Shumlin and Miro Weinberger for making Governor Lunderville a possibility.

There’s no need to fear. WonderBoy is here!

Semi-random thoughts upon the hiring of former Douglas Administration stalwart Neale Lunderville, who served as Governor Shumlin’s Irene Recovery Czar, as the interim GM of the Burlington Electric Department… 

— When did Lunderville become Mr. Fix-It for Democratic administrations? Is there not a single Democrat with administrative chops who could be called upon to fill a leadership void in the public sector?

— Between his two government gigs, Lunderville was co-founder of NG Advantage, a firm that deals in compressed natural gas. He was there for less than two years. When and why did he leave?

— Since the Douglas Administration came to its merciful end, Lunderville has held (if I’m counting correctly) at least four jobs. Coincidence, or is there a reason he keeps moving around? (Yes, I know the Irene gig was a short-termer from the gitgo. But even so, there seems to be a pattern here.)

— Lunderville was one of the more notable head-crackers in the Douglas Administration. How committed is he to the ideals of a publicly-owned utility? Especially one with a strong commitment to renewable energy?

— The above question is even more crucial when, according to the Burlington Free Press, “Lunderville will conduct a strategic review of BED operations.” Will his ideological bent inform his strategic review, and shape his conclusions? Hard to see how it wouldn’t.

— He is said to be BED’s interim head, with a six-to-nine-month appointment. At the same time, though, Mayor Weinberger “temporarily suspended” the search for a permanent GM. Seems an odd decision; it often takes more than nine months to fill a top administrative position. Why wait? It seems likely that either Lunderville will stay longer than expected, or BED will soon be searching for another interim GM. Are the skids being greased for Lunderville’s permanent appointment?

Just askin’. Maybe some enterprising member of our paid political media could seek answers to some of these fairly obvious questions.

One further observation. The thing I don’t like about Shumlin and Weinberger hiring a Republican for a tough management task is the same reason I don’t like it when a Democratic President hires a Republican for Defense Secretary, or a military man for a non-military administrative post. It feeds into the stereotype that liberals can’t be effective, tough-minded leaders, and can’t be trusted with critical security and military issues.

Which is nonsense on both sides: there’s no guarantee a Republican will be a good manager, there’s no guarantee a general without the protections of rank and uniform will be an effective leader, and there’s no reason to think a Democrat, or even a Progressive, couldn’t handle a critical managerial challenge or keep our country safe. When Democratic officeholders hire somone like Lunderville, leaving aside the question of his qualifications, it feeds into those stereotypes. And that, in itself, is not a good thing.